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Hawley, contractor to pay for Chickley River fix

HAWLEY — The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has reached a settlement with Hawley and E.T. & L. Corp. — the contractor who performed emergency repairs in the Chickley River last year — for removal of river boulders and for “man-made channelization of the river in Hawley” after Tropical Storm Irene.

Without admitting any wrong-doing, E.T. & L. agreed to follow a comprehensive restoration plan for the Chickley River, valued at $400,000, and to contribute to a $150,000 escrow account to be used for post-restoration monitoring and tree plantings.

E.T. & L. was also fined $175,000 by DEP, but the environmental protection agency will suspend $66,000 of the penalty if E.T. & L. completes restoration work in compliance with the settlement.

According to Hawley Selectman Tedd White, Hawley is to pay $109,000 of the escrow account and $75,000 toward E.T. & L.’s fine, for a total cost of at least $184,000. However, Hawley’s costs could go up to $259,000 — depending on how much reimbursement the town receives from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, White said.

“I feel bad for the taxpayers and I feel bad for E.T. & L.,” said White. “I also feel bad for the (28) landowners where remediation is taking place, because the work is going to be disruptive again.”

White pointed out that the town only has 334 residents. “That’s why this $184,000 judgement is a burden. People that weren’t even affected may have to pay for it.”

“We just feel this should have been handled within the town,” White added. “This is not how our small town historically has survived.”

In a news release, DEP Commissioner Kenneth Kimmell said, “MassDEP granted emergency permission for limited work to remedy damage from the storm, but the work that was conducted went far beyond this limited permission and had devastating environmental consequences for the river and its sensitive habitat.”

“This global settlement closes this chapter on the environmental damage of the Chickley River and opens up the next chapter to restore the river’s ecosystem to its natural state. I applaud the cooperation of the numerous parties that worked to finalize this comprehensive restoration plan.”

The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also investigated the dredging and channelization work of the Chickley River.

The requirements of this settlement will also resolve federal restoration requirements, according to MassDEP.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife also conducted investigations of environmental damage, through consultations with fisheries and endangered species biologists. Other groups involved in the settlement included the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Connecticut River Watershed Council and Trout Unlimited.

Speaking on behalf of the Board of Selectmen, the town’s lawyer Donna MacNicol said the board will hold a public meeting “to explain the settlement in its entirety” to residents. However, that meeting is yet to be scheduled.

A spokesman for E.T. & L. was contacted but couldn’t be reached for comment.

When Tropical Storm Irene hit the region on Aug. 28, 2011, Hawley was among the hardest-hit communities, with flooding, road and building damage. The Chickley River flood waters washed out parts of Route 8A, damaged the town’s highway garage and caused the loss of homes and property.

In advance of the storm, the DEP issued emergency regulations that would allow the clean-up of debris that normally requires permits under the state Wetland Protection Laws. After the storm, the ageny issued an emergency certification to Hawley to secure and remove storm debris from wetlands areas within the town.

On Nov. 15, 2011, DEP began receiving complaints about the work on the Chickley River; two weeks later, it revoked the town’s emergency work order and issued a cease-and-desist provision to E.T. & L., prohibiting further work on the Chickley. It also required the contractor to hire a consultant and prepare and implement a restoration plan. E.T. & L. later appealed the enforcement order.

The agency says the work performed “vastly exceeded” the activities allowable under the emergency permit. It also violated the Wetlands Protection Act, the agency said. E.T. & L. “moved, dredged and straightened approimately five miles of the Chickley River into a location and condition that did not exist before the storm, and depositied dredged materials from the Chickley River in protected areas along the river in violation of the WPA. All of these activities required the filing of a notice of intent with the local Conservation Commission, which did not occur.”

The Chickley River is a cold-water fishery, containing naturally reproducing brook trout, brown trout, salmon, slimy sculpin and long-nose suckers. The Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program said the work did significant damage to this habitat.

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at:
dbronc@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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