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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Conservation group wants Pennichuck project halted

NASHUA – The city Conservation Commission will ask the state to revoke a necessary permit for the commercial development of 33 acres owned by Pennichuck Corp.

The commission has no binding authority, but as in other municipalities, its recommendations carry weight. So on Tuesday, after being excluded this summer from the planning process of the development, the commission unanimously voted to ask the state to stop any changes to the property.

Commission members worry a housing project slated to be built on the Concord Street parcel could harm the watershed.

Pennichuck is in the process of selling the land to developer North Concord Properties LLC for $2.2 million.

The principals of North Concord are developers Bernie Plante and Kevin Slattery, and in July, they received approval from the city Planning Board to build an 85-unit senior housing project on the property.

In March, before securing city approval, North Concord received a permit to alter the terrain from the state Department of Environmental Services.

The period to appeal the permit expired in April, according to DES spokesman James Martin. But DES will review any information forwarded by the Conservation Commission, he said.

DES could revoke the permit if there was “overwhelming evidence” that the project could harm the environment, Martin said. “We do have that right,” he said.

Martin added the commission’s request will be “outside of the appeal process,” and North Concord could “construct that project tomorrow if they so choose.”

Slattery didn’t return a phone call seeking comment. It is unknown when North Concord intends to start the housing project.

On Tuesday, after seeing a presentation of photographs, video and documents from a resident who has concerns about the project, the Conservation Commission voted to ask DES to revoke – or, at the least, reconsider – North Concord’s permit to alter terrain on the site.

The commission also voted to hire a wetlands consultant to clearly define the wetlands area and a hydrologist to determine the path of underground water flow.

The resident, Geoff Daly, said the flow of water from the parcel doesn’t endanger the city’s water supply, but rather poses a threat to a nearby supply pond.

The development would erode the environment and, by many measures, the parcel sits on a protected watershed area, Daly said.

Since July, Daly and a group of residents have presented documentation – including a 2002 report issued by Pennichuck Corp. – that they claim proves the Concord Street parcel is within the boundaries of the protected watershed area.

Several members of the Conservation Commission on Tuesday echoed Daly’s claim that the parcel – known as the Hayden Green development – sits within the watershed.

Commission Chairman David MacLaughlin said DES will see “a really big contrast” in the information provided by North Concord in applying for the terrain permit and the information that his board will soon forward.

Some commission members also complained about not being asked this summer to provide an opinion on the project to the Planning Board.

After the Planning Board gave a green light to the development, several city officials – including Mayor Donnalee Lozeau – said that the development doesn’t sit on the Pennichuck watershed.

Pennichuck officials also have said the development isn’t part of the watershed, and that city drinking water would not be jeopardized. They also have added that the housing complex would be 500 feet away from the water supply and any drainage from the 85 housing units would flow away from drinking water.

A telephone call to a Pennichuck official wasn’t immediately returned Wednesday.

The city is in the process of buying Pennichuck Corp. and its water systems. It entered a merger agreement this year with the company, and shareholders approved the deal in June. The last hurdle is an approval by state regulators.

Daly contends that Lozeau and aldermen have a fiduciary responsibility to act now, preventing future damage to the watershed and a risk to public health that will cost the city money when it owns Pennichuck.

On Wednesday, Lozeau said she has heard Daly’s concerns and has not yet had a chance to fully review the information he provided to her office and aldermen.

Albert McKeon can be reached at 594-5832 or amckeon@nashuatelegraph.com. Also check out McKeon (@Telegraph_AMcK) on Twitter.