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Whately ZBA approves Bayer expansion

WHATELY — Thermoplastics company Bayer MaterialScience has cleared a hurdle in its quest to expand its factory.

The Whately Zoning Board of Appeals approved a special permit for the expansion and granted a variance for the building’s height Thursday night. Now, the company must receive approval of its site plan from the town’s Board of Health as well as from the Planning Board, which will continue evaluating the project at its Aug. 19 meeting.

Though the zoning panel agreed the expansion’s design met all of the criteria required by the town’s zoning bylaws for the special permit, members did raise questions about the safety of a piece of equipment used in the factory that contains small amounts of radioactive material.

According to Michael Nolen, a project engineer from Bayer, the tool in question is a gauge that is used to measure the density of the plastic film produced at the 8 Fairview Way factory in the town’s industrial park.

He said the radioactive material is self-contained and safe, and that the company already has about 12 of the gauges in use. The expansion would add one more.

According to Nolen, the company has all the proper certification from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and if any work needs to be performed on the equipment, the contractor that provides them comes and picks them up to be serviced off site.

The special permit was granted on the condition that the company provides proof of the certification and licensure.

“I think it’s important to be absolutely sure about this,” said board member Robert Smith.

Other criteria included minimizing possible problems with traffic, protecting local wetlands from erosion and sediment during the construction process, properly disposing of sewage and waste without overwhelming public utilities, and working to maintain the character of the community.

“There will be no dust, no noise, no fumes. It will just be an expansion of the current operations,” said Nolen.

The variance, which allows the expansion’s roof to be just under 41 feet high to accommodate the height of the factory’s unique production equipment, was granted after minutes of previous meetings from 2005 and 2009 were reviewed and it was determined that the board had granted similar variances to the company in the past.

To receive a zoning variance, the applicant must prove that the exemption is necessary due to a hardship. Project Engineer Michael Petrin, of Westfield-based civil engineering firm Tighe & Bond, said the other construction alternative, lowering the building into the ground, would not work due to handicapped and loading dock accessibility.

Bayer built the Whately factory around 1997, when it was known as Deerfield Urethane. In 2006, it expanded the building by 40,000 square feet to accommodate new equipment.

The expansion will add 94,485 square feet to the south side of the factory and will be used to accommodate additional employees and production lines. It is estimated that the expansion would allow the company to hire about 20 new employees. The company previously said the expansion would bring $1 million in salaries to the area.

Deerfield controversy

The expansion has been relatively controversial over the past year. In January, the company asked Deerfield’s selectmen for a hook up to the town sewer system. The selectmen agreed on the condition the company pays a fee and agrees to disconnect if it exceeds its allotted capacity.

Laying the lines that would be required to connect to the system would also require crossing a 100-foot piece of property in the adjacent Deerfield industrial park.

During Thursday night’s meeting, Petrin said the company was no longer pursuing plans to make the connection due to the politics involved. Instead, the company has developed plans for an on-site septic system and leech field.

“We’ve been trying to obtain approval, but given our schedule, we’ve opted to install a Title 5 compliant septic system,” Petrin said. “We have not withdrawn our request. If it is approved, we may change our mind.”

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