Category Archives: Issues

Green Acton Public Statement re: Proposed Piper Lane Building Project, 7/9/2019

[Sent on 7/15/19 to the Board of Selectmen and the Zoning Board of Appeals, from Debra Simes (President) and Jim Snyder-Grant (Co-President), along with a request that this be taken into account in any future deliberations on this project.]

This statement asserts Green Acton’s opposition to the proposed application currently under review for the Piper Lane 40B building project because it will cause a number of unacceptable environmental outcomes in Acton. 

This project proposes 28 townhouses in 8 buildings on what is known by many as the Magoon Property, at Piper Lane near School Street and abutting the Great Hill Conservation Area. The Magoon property significantly protrudes into the Great Hill Conservation Area. This project would negatively and irrevocably impact precious conservation land; disrupt wildlife habitat and vernal pool uplands; destroy acres of trees and wetlands; demolish hiking trails1; and increase our carbon footprint. 

Other shortcomings of the project are: it would decrease neighborhood access to greenspace and increase traffic in this South Acton neighborhood. Further, the developer has not committed to using renewable energy sources, water-saving fixtures, or environmentally responsible materials for the project. 

Beyond the environmental harms noted, Green Acton is mindful of the need for genuinely affordable housing for some of our most vulnerable residents — those with lower incomes (including some seniors) and people with disabilities. As proposed, this project would not provide affordable accommodation for such residents.2 

The Town of Acton identified this parcel as a priority conservation land acquisition, but has not reached an agreement with the property owner.3 The proposed project would disrupt this effort. Green Acton urges the Town to redouble its efforts to purchase the land for conservation. 

Especially in this time of climate emergency and tremendous biodiversity loss in our town and region, we believe that this project undermines the Town’s sustainability and other goals, and should not be approved. 


1 The Acton Conservation Commission has stated that there is a vernal pool on Town land abutting the parcel. That nearby vernal pool is home to creatures that live and thrive in the vernal pool and need an upland to go to for food. If the building project goes forward, the upland abutting this vernal pool would be made into a constructed wetland for drainage. Hence, the vernal pool and its wildlife are seriously threatened by the construction plan. We take this opportunity to remind readers that vernal pools are shallow depressions that usually contain water for only part of the year, and are often associated with forested wetlands. Vernal pools and nearby uplands are essential for healthy ecosystems. Vernal pools serve as essential breeding habitat for certain species of wildlife, including salamanders and frogs (amphibians). Amphibians associated with vernal pools provide an important food source for small carnivores, as well as for larger species. The uplands adjacent to the flagged wetlands are a natural habitat for many native species that utilize the wetlands, and this habitat would be eliminated as a part of the development. This project would disrupt this natural ecosystem. As the Acton Open Space Committee (OSC) stated in its October 29, 2018 memo, “This densely developed penetration into the Great Hill conservation lands will greatly impact both the passive recreational nature of the property and the habitat and habitat connectivity value of these lands.”  

The Acton Conservation Trust (ACT) is Acton’s local, non-governmental land trust. In its memo of October 22, 2018, ACT stated that it is particularly concerned about the proposed development for a number of reasons. ACT holds a conservation restriction on the adjacent property, known as the Gaebel Land. This gives ACT a perpetual responsibility for enforcing the terms of the easement that is part of the proposed project. ACT and OSC have attempted for several years to acquire the Magoon property as part of a long-term goal to preserve the remaining undeveloped land adjacent to the Great Hill Conservation Area. 

ACT has stated that “Great Hill Conservation Land [sic] is the last remaining intact large area providing passive recreation and appreciation of nature for people of South Acton,” and that the parcel is “important for maintaining wildlife habitat and corridors, and the frequently used human trails that cross the proposed development site.” 

Both ACT and OSC have expressed concern that a building project on the parcel at the scale proposed would destroy acres of trees, including many very mature trees. 

2 According to the project application and official, state-published income levels, relatively few (7 out of 28) units would be deemed “affordable,” and in order to apply for such a unit, a family of 2 to 3 persons would be required to earn $64,900 to $73,000 per year. A family of up to 6 individuals would be required to earn between $94,100 and $131,428 annually to be able to apply for an “affordable” unit. (Technically, a 2–3 person family could apply with an income as low as $56,800; however, as a result of decisions made by the developer, the units would be considered “affordable” for such a family beginning at the $64,900 level). This would leave out a crucial segment of our population (the many individuals and families earning less than $64,900 per year) and contribute to the number of individuals and families in Acton that, through no fault of their own, are at or near homelessness and are compelled to wait years on a waiting list, unable to afford units deemed “affordable.” Further, the decision by the developer to provide only duplex apartments, with no vertical access, makes the entire building inaccessible to many people with physical disabilities, including wheelchair users and those with mobility challenges. Our Acton 2020 plan has a goal to create a diverse town: this project, in failing to accommodate some vulnerable and diverse people in town — both very-low-income individuals and many people with disabilities — works against Acton’s stated goal. 

3 The parcel was identified as a priority parcel for protection 21 years ago in the 1998 Town of Acton Open Space and Recreation Plan; the designation was confirmed in the more-recent 2014–2020 Open Space and Recreation Plan, in which the parcel received a ranking of 10 out of 10 for open space value, and 8 out of 10 for habitat value. The Open Space Committee asked, in its memo, for the Board of Selectmen to consider the natural value of this property and “the irreparable damage to one of Acton’s finest conservation lands that will result if this development proceeds.” 

Acton’s Health Department and Water Quality

Water is essential to life, and thus to health.  Here in Acton, the town Health Department oversees many water-related activities and entities. It attends to public and private wells, swimming pools and the NARA Park swimming beach, potential sources of groundwater contamination (including septic systems, underground storage tanks, and two Superfund sites), and potential sources of surface water contamination (including car washes, stormwater runoff, and “manure compliance”). The department also interfaces with the Acton Water District concerning water quality in the public water supply, and with the Acton-Boxborough Regional School District for water quality testing in the schools.

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Lack of Progress on Remediation of 1,4-Dioxane at WR Grace Superfund Site

The previous post described the recent progress that has been made in reducing the levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) at the WR Grace Superfund Site by extracting and treating the groundwater, as called for in the 2005 Record of Decision (ROD). Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for 1,4-Dioxane.

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Progress on Remediation of VOCs at WR Grace Superfund Site

Since 1985, groundwater at the WR Grace Superfund Site in southeast Acton has been extracted and treated for volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Data from the 2018 annual monitoring report suggest that this remediation is making progress.

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Green Acton Provides Stakeholder Input for WR Grace Superfund Site Five-year Review

As part of its regular schedule of every-five-years reviews of each active Superfund site, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) seeks input from affected communities. The WR Grace site is up for review this year, and EPA sought input from Green Acton, the Acton Water District, and the Town of Acton Health Department.

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Acton Cleanup WEEK: April 27-May 5

Please mark your calendars and plan to participate

Acton Cleanup Week: April 27 – May 5 Continue reading

Minutes: 2019-03-12


Tuesday, March 12, 2019

7pm • Acton Memorial Library Meeting Room

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Town Meeting 2019 Warrant Article 28 – details

At a phone and video meeting on Saturday, March 30, 2019 at 4pm, a quorum of Green Acton directors agreed to take no position on Article 28, which is a change from our previous position of not recommending the article.

What’s Article 28?

Article 28 amends Section E39 (“Public Way Obstruction/Destruction”) of the General Bylaws of the Town of Acton to allow the Board of Selectmen to delegate the licensing of changes to the public ways.

What was Green Acton’s previous position?

2019 Warrant Article #28: Amend General Bylaws: Public Way Permits
Green Acton opposes this article because we have observed that the authority of the Board of Selectmen for public way permits provides important public access to policy implications of permitting decisions. We would prefer that public access and input on such matters not be forfeited.

What caused a reconsideration of that position?

We received new information, in an email exchange with Town Engineer Paul Campbell, concerning the implications of the article. The email exchange below may be summarized as follows:

  • We were opposed to the article largely because we wanted public access to such decisions to be preserved, and in particular, to have access to deliberation, and be able to comment on, any new (especially methane (“natural”) gas infrastructure.
  • We learned that this bylaw change would impact only repairs to existing infrastructure. New infrastructure still requires a Board of Selectmen (BoS) hearing, because of a state statute (see below).
  • In addition, expediting repairs to existing infrastructure by allowing administrative review (rather than a BoS vote) will speed up gas leak repairs, which is an important environmental goal.

Because of the variety of different responses by the directors to the information below, all directors were willing to agree simply to take no position on this article, rather than oppose it.

The email exchange

On Mar 28, 2019 at 9:40am, Paul Campbell, Acton Town Engineer, wrote to Green Acton via the website:

Name: Paul Campbell
Comment: Hello. This is Paul Campbell, the Town Engineer in Acton. I’d like to provide additional information related to your concern with Article 28 which proposes to allow the Selectmen to designate authority for work within public roadways. The purpose of this article is a mostly housekeeping matter which would align Acton with other communities. Permitting for repair work in public ways is administered by the Department of Public Works in most communities and was done this way in Acton as a matter of practice from 1969 until last year.

This article would not impact new construction for new gas mains or new utility poles, for example, which would still require a public hearing for a “grant of location” from the Board of Selectmen due to state law. That practice would remain unchanged. The purpose of this article is to allow the DPW to administer the day-to-day repair work that occurs in roadways such as the repair of gas leaks. By designating the Selectmen as the sole authority to approve these minor repair permits, gas leak repair work is delayed since the Selectmen meet as few as once a month during the summer; the height of National Grid’s construction season. Other minor work of concern to residents include installing new driveways or work for their water or sewer services.

National Grid applies for the vast majority of work in roadways (approximately 100 permits a year). Most permits are gas leak repairs or replacing old, leaking gas mains and are approved on the Selectmen’s consent agenda without much discussion. Having read Green Acton’s position on addressing gas leaks in Acton, I understand that gas leaks are an important issue for you. We have met with National Grid recently and due to their lockout having ended, they are anxious to address the large backlog of repair work in Acton. If they are required to wait for a Selectmen meeting it will only delay them and increase their deferred maintenance which causes these gas leaks in the first place

Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions. 978-929-6630 or Thank you——

From: Debra Simes [
Sent: Thursday, March 28, 2019 10:15 AM
To: Paul Campbell
Cc: Jim Snyder-Grant
Subject: Re: Feedback from website (contact us page)

Hi Paul,
Thank you for reaching out to us. This information may be helpful to Green Acton as we approach Town Meeting. 
We assumed this was largely a housekeeping kind of article, but, as you surmised, were concerned in part about public ability to address (particularly) the establishment of new NG infrastructure in town.
To be clear: are you saying that, although there’s nothing in the language of the article that would suggest it would NOT apply to N. Grid’s installation of new infrastructure, pursuant to some other regulation or bylaw (which?), Grid necessarily must come before BoS for a hearing on any such proposed NG infrastructure?
It would be most helpful to get that question answered definitively, with reference to where, in law, such hearings are mandated. Thank you! Debra Simes Co-president, Green Acton
[pronouns: she/her] 

On Mar 28, 2019, at 10:37 AM, Paul Campbell <> wrote:
Thanks Debra.
I understand your concern to address new NG infrastructure in town. As I said, new infrastructure is still the Selectmen’s responsibility due to state law: company desiring to construct a line for such transmission upon, along, under or across a public way shall in writing petition the board of aldermen of the city or the selectmen of the town where it is proposed to construct such line for permission to erect or construct upon, along, under or across said way the wires, poles, piers, abutments or conduits necessary therefor. A public hearing shall be held on the petition, and written notice of the time and place of the hearing shall be mailed at least seven days prior thereto by the clerk of the city

National Grid must apply for a Grant of Location anytime they propose new infrastructure. I’ve attached an example of one and our typical comments. That will not change if the article passes. The repair or replacement of any existing infrastructure does not require a Grant of Location. Existing infrastructure repairs were granted by a permit issued by our department. We updated the standards for construction in roadways last year and at that time it was noticed that the General Bylaw technically only vested authority in the Selectmen. The Engineering Department had been administering permits since 1969. Last year we had it on consent to address the housekeeping issue but the article was held and debated without any explanation of the article from staff or Selectmen. When it failed last year, that caused problems. Fortunately National Grid was locked out, so they weren’t doing any construction, but the residential contractors were delayed waiting for Selectmen meetings. Typically a residential contractor applies for a permit on the day they are doing the work. Because we had to make them wait 2–4 weeks for a Selectmen hearing, that caused problems for them and their residential client. This problem will only be compounded this summer with the National Grid lockout ended. We’re working very closely with National Grid on addressing gas leaks, particularly for them to address the high-volume leaks and all leaks on roadways we have scheduled to be repaved in the next 5 years (see attached). The summer is National Grid’s peak construction season and the Selectmen, only meeting once a month, will have 30+ permits on their consent agenda to be addressed. This proposed change is really just a practical matter to address. Thank you,
Paul Campbell
Engineering Department

———- Forwarded message ———
From: Debra Simes <>
Date: Thu, Mar 28, 2019 at 11:10 AM
Subject: Re: Feedback from website (contact us page)
To: Paul Campbell <>
Cc: Jim Snyder-Grant <>

Thanks for this, Paul. I’m aware of last year’s update to the “road-opening” regulations (a good thing, IMO), and Corey’s efforts to achieve better coordination with Grid on openings, and better reporting on leak repair (which, honestly, at least as of 6 months ago, could hardly get worse). All good stuff.
Jim (other GA co-prez) and I will confer to talk about whether to bring the current position back to the GA directors for reconsideration, and will let you know what happens if we do.
We really appreciate your paying attention and letting us know more about this article and attendant issues.

[pronouns: she/her]

2019 Warrant Article #5: Kelley’s Corner Supplemental Engineering and Appraisal Services

Neither recommend nor oppose

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2019 Warrant Article #28: Amend General Bylaws: Public Way Permits

Neither Recommend nor Oppose

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