Disputes arise over stormwater bylaw
By Chris Maza email@example.com
EAST LONGMEADOW – The Board of Public Works (BPW) hosted a public hearing to discuss the proposed rules and regulations for the maintenance of stormwater basins on April 2.
The 13-page document outlining the regulations was drafted in response to the passage of a by-law at Town Meeting that, among other things, allows the Department of Public Works (DPW) to perform inspections of detention basins on private property.
While the by-law allows access, it does not outline the manner in which inspections should occur or procedures for addressing issues with basins that are not cared for. “We have been mandated [by
the federal government] to come forward with this,” Sean Kelley of the DPW said. “The bylaw that was passed at town meeting is just entitled ‘Maintenance of Stormwater Basins.’ It gives a little bit of history and says we have to come up with a manner to control the maintenance of these basins.” BPW chair Daniel Burack, member John Maybury and Kelley explained that the town previously had no mechanism in place to enforce maintenance standards. “One of the other things we found out is there is no legal access to a lot of these basins, based on the historical documents I have looked at,” Kelley said. “There should have been easements recorded giving the town the right to go on private property, go back to the basins and inspect them. In a lot of cases, that never happened, or it happened, then the homeowners in the area would put in their lawns and driveways and garages and in order to get back to the basins, we would, in fact, have to trespass. “The new by-law that was
approved gives the town the right to do inspections and in a worst-case scenario do remedial work on those basins,” he continued. Kelley further explained that
many of the 50 basins in town were built under the agreement that a homeowners’ association would be responsible for the care of the basins.
“It was always understood that
the DPW would take care of the catch basins in the street, should the street become public, and the pipes under the street, but once that water went off-site into the detention basin area, it would be the responsibility of the homeowners in that area,” he said. The BPW’s primary concern,
Kelley added, is the “catastrophic failure” of a basin that is not properly maintained. “In a larger case where the basin is actually holding water, it could be like a dam breaking and that water could flood out other peoples’ property and could affect basements,” he said. The rules and regulations include a section outlining definitions and guidelines on what responsibilities the homeowners and the town have. It states, “Each owner of a
stormwater basin shall be required to complete specified inspection, operation, and maintenance procedures” and that inspections will be carried out once a year,
after “significant storm events” and during any repair or improvement of the basin. The DPW would provide a checklist for the inspection to the homeowner and the inspection must be conducted by qualified personnel. The duties of a basin owner, according to the proposed regulations, include the observation of any erosion, cracking or tree growth, the management of sediment accumulations, the semi- annual mowing to a height no higher than four inches, and the removal of vegetation from emergency overflow weirs. Those who fail to maintain the basins to adequate standards could receive a ticket. Written notice stating the name and address of the property owner, the possible action against them, the violations and notification that the property owner may present evidence regarding the violations would be hand-delivered or sent via certified mail. Violators would have 30 days
to correct the violations. The regulations also state that
any repair and maintenance costs would be split equally between all members of the development or homeowners association. Should costs not be paid within 30 days, a lien may be placed against all those responsible for its maintenance and repair.
Maybury told the audience that the BPW would employ a phased in approach to the implementation of the rules and regulations. “We’re not going to go out in a
two-week period and go screaming through all [50 basins] and send out a bunch of legal E’s and legal I’s,” he said. “The intent is to go out and address ones that have some known deficiencies that we’ve seen through one issue or another and approach it in that manner.” Residents stated their disappointment that there wasn’t better communication regarding the by-law or the proposed rules and regulations and that written notice should have gone to all residents it affects.
Residents also balked at the possibility of municipal liens, and resident Peter Cokotis requested that the DPW take responsibility of the costs of the maintenance because the basins benefit the rest of the town, like other services residents in certain neighborhoods pay for, but don’t receive. “We pay for street lights,
which we don’t have. We’re paying for the rest of the town,” he said. Cokotis also questioned the
portion of the document that states property owners are responsible for “portal-to-portal” travel costs for inspections. “That’s abrasive,” he said.
“Why would we want to pay for travel for a consultant coming from Boston, in theory? In my opinion, that’s an unallowable cost.” Kelley told him that requirement was included for worst-case scenarios, such as a complete failure of a basin, in which case, the hiring of a consultant would be necessary to repair it. “If we have to hire someone, I
don’t anticipate hiring from Boston.
There are enough
engineering consulting firms in this area,” he said. “I don’t see that happening, but it’s got to be in there.”
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For news & advertising call 413-525-6661 APRIL 9-15, 2012 Page 15
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