DCR vows to repair scars left by Lenox Mountain project (copy)

A portion of land owned by Mass Audubon on Lenox Mountain was disrupted by a state project to remove utility poles and bury electrical lines to the summit underground. After an eight-month impasse, the Department of Conservation and Recreation has vowed to submit a plan to repair the damage.

RICHMOND — The state has agreed to repair damage and remove debris left in the wake of a botched woodland trail project on Lenox Mountain last summer.

After an eight-month standoff on the matter, a representative of the Department of Conservation and Recreation said it will submit a restoration plan for review by the town’s Conservation Commission.

Senior ecologist Nancy Putnam attended a remote meeting Tuesday — the DCR had rebuffed previous invitations to join the committee — to describe the proposed work to be done in collaboration with Mass Audubon.

Portions of the land conservation organization’s forested land had been disturbed during last year’s state project to update utility connections and replace power lines with an underground cable to a communications tower on the summit. Two residential properties were affected, and a wide gravel road was constructed by the state along its right of way, eliminating a popular hiking trail.

After strong complaints by neighbors on View Drive, the Conservation Commission issued an enforcement order in November calling for a restoration project and imposing weekly ticketed fines on the state agency and its two contractors, now totaling $33,500.

The commission’s conservation agent, Shepley Evans, welcomed the state proposal, describing it as closely aligned with the town’s demands outlined in the enforcement order that cited violations of the Scenic Mountain Act by the DCR.

“It sounds like they know exactly what needs to be done,” he said. Along with Harley Keisch, a commission member and concerned View Drive neighbor, Evans called for clarification of the town’s role as defined by the state, and whether Richmond is “subordinate” to Mass Audubon.

The proposed restoration plan complies with the concerns of the town and Mass Audubon over erosion and other environmental damage along the disrupted trail as well as long-term issues involving access to the summit’s tower, Putnam acknowledged.

Officials of the statewide nonprofit met with the DCR last week, she pointed out.

The site visit, expected by the end of this month, will include DCR environmental engineer Rob Lowell and Mass Audubon regional scientist Tom Lautzenheiser, among others.

“We will walk the entire area that was disturbed to try to determine the specifics of what is needed initially to address any stormwater runoff, erosion and sediment control concerns,” Putnam told the commission.

The first step will be to develop an immediate erosion and sediment control plan to temporarily stabilize the site, she added. The proposal will be submitted to the town commission and to Mass Audubon for approval.

Discarded utility poles and debris stemming from the construction project in June will be removed as soon as possible, Putnam noted.

A state DCR surveyor will develop a strategy to remedy all disturbed areas along the state’s half-mile right of way access road.

After a review of the preliminary plans with Mass Audubon, a more specific restoration document will be prepared for an agreement to restore the site in the long run, Putnam stated. The goal is “complete transparency with everyone,” she said, including a review of last summer’s work “and what we need to do to repair the damage.”

A seeding and replanting program with all-native species will be developed in collaboration with Mass Audubon, as well as any grading needed for the right of way to avoid “any long-term degradation of the forest,” she said.

“We’re open to doing whatever grading is necessary out there to restore the site,” she emphasized, with the work to be completed by this fall.

The final plan, including long-term monitoring of the restoration by DCR engineers, will be presented to the Conservation Commission for its approval. The monitoring, including control of any invasive species, would continue on a preapproved schedule for several years, Putnam said.

Evans, the conservation agent, stressed that the town’s commission will oversee the entire restoration effort.

“We have to agree with what’s going on, too, even in the Audubon area, and I think Audubon knows what it’s doing,” he said, “so we won’t have a problem there. We’re also looking out for the other two property owners, as well as the town. It’s our Scenic Mountain Act.”

Putnam clarified that her role is to be the principal state DCR contact for the commission for restoration of the affected properties.

“I’m not at liberty to discuss the legal issues associated with jurisdiction,” she added. “It is DCR’s position that we will make every effort to address all of your concerns on the site.”

Commission member Keisch responded that “I want to make sure there’s a clear understanding that we’re not an afterthought or an adjunct, we’re the primary hearing authority for this project going forward, and for the damage and violation that has occurred in the past. I want to be very clear about that.”

Putnam acknowledged his assertion but noted that it’s up to the DCR’s legal counsel to make a determination on the issue of “the local bylaw versus the state Scenic Mountain Act.”

But, she has marching orders in writing “to do our best to comply with all of your concerns on the ground,” she said. “I do understand your frustration and the delays that have occurred here.”

Commission Chairman Ronald Veillette, in a motion approved by the members, asked Putnam to submit a restoration plan by April 28, ahead of the commission’s monthly meeting May 11, at which the proposal will be discussed and a vote might be taken.

If the plans are submitted on that timetable, the $33,600 in fines levied by the town against the DCR and its two contractors will be held in abeyance but not forgiven, according to another motion by Veillette and approved by the commission. None of the fines has been paid.

Veillette also noted that a “humongous scar” can be seen on the mountainside when viewed from Summit Road, just east of the railroad bridge.

“Everybody in town can see that thing,” he said.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter

@BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.