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Railing against railroad construction

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Residents unanimously called for officials and Pan Am Southern Railroad to explore creative alternatives to avoid the imminent paving of 25 acres on top of a Zone 3 aquifer for Littleton at a July 29 meeting, according to the Littleton Mass., Independent.

“Unloading toxins over an
aquifer is a really dumb idea,” said Rob Hartz, president of the Spectacle Pond
Association. Hartz spearheaded the movement to protect the aquifer for more
than a decade. Hartz asked for “creative solutions” to resolve the issue. “We
see this [meeting] as the start of something, not the finish.”

 

 More than 172 residents
from Littleton, Ayer, Harvard, Acton and Maynard attended the three-and-a-half
hour standing-room-only pow-wow hosted by Rep. Niki Tsongas’ office at Ayer
Town Hall. The conflict between the rights of the railroad and the wishes of
the community to protect the Spectacle Pond aquifer has been going on for more
than a decade.

 

“I’ve received numerous
calls and e-mails asking ‘how do we stop this thing?’” said Shaun Suhoski, Ayer’s
town administrator. The railroad sued the Town of Ayer and won in 2002. Ayer
relies on Spectacle Pond wells for 60 percent of its water.

 

The panel unanimously
decreed that the railroad cannot be stopped because of federal law and a
regulatory gap, similar to the gap that allowed the mortgage crisis. Hartz
asked the panel to speak to the regulatory gap that allows Pan Am Southern to
build whatever it wants on the site.

 

 

The railroad is protected
by federal preemption to guarantee interstate commerce will not be interfered
with by local bylaws and municipalities, said Evelyn Kitay, associate general
counsel for the Surface Transportation Board.

 

 “The board has done what
it can to insure there are appropriate precautions,” said Kitay. “The [Surface
Transportation] board did more than was required” in approving the facility,
she added.  “This project will have significant transportation benefits,”
and we “found the aquifer would be adequately protected.

 

At least 30 residents
peppered a panel of representatives of the EPA, DEP, STB [Surface
Transportation Board], Ayer Town Administrator and John Edwards, counsel for
Pan Am Southern.

 

Edwards fielded many of
the questions from the audience. He avoided answering if his company would take
responsibility and instead assured Schultz that a spill would not occur. Pan Am
Southern has taken precautions on the “front end to make sure [a spill] doesn’t
happen in the first place,” said Edwards. “If all 800 cars lost all their fuel,
the [storm water] management system is designed with a capacity to handle that.
We believe we’re building one of the highest quality facilities.”

 

 

Edwards had little
credibility among the speakers and audience members, who frequently heckled
speakers and asked questions without being recognized.

 

“What’s in the way of
using the other lot?” asked Don MacIver of Littleton.

 

Pan Am Railways owns a
similar auto-unloading lot across Willow Road from the site under construction
that has been used for years to unload cars from trains and upload them to
car-carriers for delivery to auto dealers throughout New England. CSX, a competitor,
holds the lease on the now-empty and unused lot until 2016.

 

Edwards said, “It would
be a lot cheaper and easier to use that” lot. The railway failed to
re-negotiate the lease with CSX, and he refused to share further details. “The
CSX lease is not in our control,” he said.

 

“The railroad has come to
the plate,” said Suhoski. “In the spirit of communication, it has been helpful
for our staff,” and allowed town personnel access to the site. The railroad
broke ground in March and paving is expected by September.

 

Coincidentally, on March
30, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts fined Pan Am Railways $500,000, the
largest criminal environmental fine in the history of the state, for an
unreported spill of more than 800 gallons in downtown Ayer in 2006.

 

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