Asphalt operation obtains license

Board’s vote caps lengthy dispute

Members of Stop Norwood Asphalt Plant held a protest in front of the Pleasant Street operation in November 2007. Members of Stop Norwood Asphalt Plant held a protest in front of the Pleasant Street operation in November 2007. (Globe file)
By Michele Morgan Bolton
Globe Correspondent / February 5, 2012
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After five years and a protracted court case, a dormant asphalt plant is coming back to life in Norwood despite the continued objections of town officials and neighbors who fought the project tooth and nail, and lost.

Last week, the town’s selectmen begrudgingly approved a request by Norfolk Asphalt for a “volatile and inflammable fluid’’ license that will allow the Plainville-based company to store 25,000 gallons of liquid asphalt and 10,000 gallons of fuel oil in aboveground storage tanks at 601 Pleasant St.

The town granted the request after a review by the state fire marshal’s office, and a set of local concessions and conditions were imposed.

The total amount of materials allowed is considerably less than the 60,000 gallons that company owner Gerald Lorusso had requested in December. That, along with concessions from the company on matters such as traffic flow and hours of operation, is something of a win for the town, officials said.

“No one’s happy,’’ said Selectman Mike Lyons, the board’s chairman. “There was nothing we could do to stop them from being here. But we had an opportunity to take control. And the neighborhood really came together over this.’’

The state Supreme Judicial Court last year opted not to review an Appeals Court decision that gave Norfolk Asphalt the go-ahead to get back into the asphalt business at its Norwood plant, more than two decades after the facility was closed because of falling demand for its product.

“We are going full bore on construction,’’ said Timothy Higgins, a vice president at Edgewood Development, a Plainville company, also owned by Lorusso, that has been handling the permitting process.

“Obviously, it was politicized,’’ Higgins said. “But I said five years ago that we would prevail, and we did.’’

Lorusso operated the Norfolk Asphalt plant from 1983 to 1987. Since then, the company has stored liquid asphalt on the property, and maintained its required permits while waiting for a good time to get back into business.

In 2007, a Norwood building inspector declared the property to be abandoned, and said a special use permit would have to be obtained in order to restart operations. Norfolk Asphalt disagreed, and so the battle began.

The fight boiled over in August 2008 when Norwood’s Zoning Board of Appeals denied Norfolk Asphalt’s request for the special permit.

The company took the case to the state Land Court, where a 10-page ruling by Judge Charles W. Trombly Jr. in 2009 held that the local zoning board’s decision was legally untenable, since town bylaws didn’t specifically say that bituminous concrete, the plant’s product, was hazardous to the public health and welfare, and there is no language in the ordinances about making asphalt.

Bituminous concrete itself is not dangerous, both sides agreed. The disagreement between the town and the asphalt company involves whether the asphalt-making process itself is a potential health hazard.

On Wednesday, Higgins said it is unfortunate that the protracted fight caused parties on both sides of the issue to spend huge amounts of money on lawyers and legal fees. He said Norfolk Asphalt will provide a few jobs for the community, and plans to market its product to smaller clients, including companies that pave driveways.

“We are very pleased to be moving forward,’’ Higgins said. “We said we’d be good neighbors, and we will.’’

That remains to be seen, said Louis Santoro, a primary organizer of the group Stop Norwood Asphalt Plant, which rallied hundreds of opponents over the years for meetings to try to prevent Lorusso’s company from reopening its local operation.

Santoro has said he’s disappointed in the court ruling, which he said came down to semantics rather than the issue of whether reopening the plant could cause problems for the health, safety, and quality of life of the people who live near it.

But if the licenses were to be granted, Santoro said, he is gratified at the show of force from neighbors working together that persuaded Lorusso to withdraw one of the proposed 25,000-gallon storage tanks. That is a step in the right direction, he said.

“It’s still a no-win situation,’’ Santoro said. “But right now it’s not as bad as it could have been.’’

Norfolk Asphalt will have to be a good neighbor because it has no choice in the matter, he added. “The minute they go overboard they will be pounced on by 50 or 60 neighbors who will be watching every move they make.’’

Higgins said the plant is undergoing a number of technological upgrades, but is expected to be open for business by late spring. He said the fight continues for another proposed asphalt facility the company has been working to build in Rochester.

Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at michelebolton@

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