Town admits misstep in Plainville wetlands

By James O’Brien
Globe Correspondent / May 8, 2011

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North Attleborough has promised to make amends for what amounted to a surprise clearing of wetlands on easements in Plainville.

The neighboring town’s water-main maintenance work during the week of April 15 left what Plainville officials say is a scar 40 feet wide and approximately 1,400 feet long in protected land along their border.

“They just went right through, right across through those wetlands,’’ said Burton Bryan, the conservation agent in Plainville, which hosts part of North Attleborough’s water system.

According to North Attleborough public works documents, the town hired contractors to clear trees and bushes from water easements it has in Plainville so that North Attleborough utility workers could reach two 14-inch water transmission mains. However, Plainville was not told beforehand.

“We dropped the ball on notification,’’ said William McDowell, project manager for North Attleborough’s Department of Public Works.

Plainville conservation officials raised a red flag about the wetlands clearing after several residents reported the damage. Part of North Attleborough’s water system stretches to wells off Fuller Street in Plainville, McDowell said.

Both towns agree that North Attleborough had the legal right to do the work, under state regulations governing the maintenance of underground utilities. But they also agree that North Attleborough officials did not properly alert the Plainville Conservation Commission prior to clearing the easements, as required under both state and local laws.

“There is no excuse for the work that took place in the resource areas in Plainville, and no reason for the department’s lack of notification,’’ McDowell wrote in an April 26 letter to the Conservation Commission. “We apologize for not meeting our responsibilities to the community.’’

After meeting with Plainville and state Department of Environmental Protection officials on April 26 and visiting the site, North Attleborough officials agreed to conduct the required notification procedure, which includes filing a notice of intent. The filing will prompt a public hearing, which Bryan said may be held May 24 in Plainville, and could provide the two towns with clarification about how such work and notification should be conducted in the future.

Bryan said the process would also allow Plainville officials to specify what remediation they might ask of North Attleborough.

“There is still chopped-up mulch all over the place,’’ he said. “While I think mostly the conditions might apply to future work, I’d like to see them clean up some of the cut-down logs and vegetation.’’

In the April 26 letter, McDowell said the oversight on notification stemmed from a hastily made decision.

When the order to create the access to the water mains was given, a town-contracted tree-cutting crew was already in the area, he wrote. The department told the crew to start work immediately and “did not consider the topography of the area the easement traversed,’’ McDowell wrote.