The latest chapter in the town of Manchester’s bid to meet the demands of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection regarding an old burn dump site touches on one of the most time-worn flashpoints — a battle over what a city or town can or cannot do on private property over the owner’s objections.
And any such project is one into which any city or town must tread carefully.
But the town’s selectmen and Wayne Melville, now serving as acting town administrator while waiting for the town to name his own successor after he actually retired at the end of 2012, are right to press for a Town Meeting warrant article that would either use eminent domain or take out an easement to access the site, regardless of whether the property owner signs off on the paperwork allowing the cleanup.
For, this is one case in which a single property owner should not be able to essentially force the town to ignore the DEP, even if the cleanup involves her own land.
The quagmire involves a plot of land on Pine Street owned by Ana Costa, who remains the lone holdout from signing off on paperwork allowing the town to excavate and decontaminate her half acre that abuts the former burn dump site.
To date, the town has shelled out more than $2.4 million in 2010 to acquire the three properties that sit above the actual dump site, with the houses sold at auction and moved elsewhere. And town officials have signed easement agreements with owners of two other abutting properties, with a commitment for further environmental cleanup. But they have not been able to reach a deal with Costa.
Why is that so important? Because the town is under an DEP order to have the entire site cleanup complete by 2014, and the DEP has been working to come up with a proper proposal that would excavate contaminated material and sediments from a nearby stream, which runs just behind Costa’s property. Yet Costa’s refusal is keeping the town and the DEP from accessing the stream via her property.
Costa has refused any comment on her position, and her attorney, Shepard Johnson, has not returned a number of calls to the Times seeking further explanation. But the issue at hand is this: with all due respect to property rights, and all due respect to Costa, this is a case in which one resident cannot prevent a project that, by all counts, will help the public good and address a potential public health concern.
Melville acknowledges that any action by the town too side access to carry out the work may face a legal challenge, but he also notes it’s a step he believes the town must take — and he’s right. Let’s hope that town residents give this important step that town officials need.