Frustrated with what they believe to be stall tactics against the new Wilmington High School, town officials told Wilmington Patch that Massachusetts laws need a change. The spokesman for one of the latest appeals, however, believes things are fine just the way they are.
Town Manager Michael Caira spoke out against the structure of the appeals process, saying it is far too easy for residents to slow down a project that was overwhelmingly supported by Wilmington voters.
“The 10-resident appeal is being led by a man who was opposed to building a high school because he felt the one we have is sufficient. The state has allowed him to find a way to work to derail the project,” said Caira. “It’s illogical and poorly conceived by the state, and now we’re seeing it come home to roost here in town.”
MacDonald said there are many reasons he appealed the high school plans. His list includes the oil in the ground beneath the school, the plans for off-site mitigation and what he believes is an over-inflated construction cost.
“Sometimes people try to say, ‘Oh well there are only 10 people who want to appeal,’ but I could have gotten hundreds of signatures if I put the time in,” said MacDonald, who said if the laws need a change, it’s in the other direction. “I actually think it should only be one person needed to start an appeal.”
Board of Selectmen Chairman Mike Newhouse concurred with Caira’s sentiment that the laws make it far too easy for residents to file appeals in an effort to delay construction on projects they don’t agree with.
“These regulations need to be significantly revised,” said Newhouse. “It makes no sense to me that 10 residents who need not be registered voters, or even American citizens, only need one member having attended a Conservation Commission meeting to thwart the will of the people without repercussions of frivolous claims. That just doesn’t make sense.”
Several residents have questioned the use of four Deming Way residents as members of MacDonald’s appeal, which includes a total of 14 signatures. Residents have questioned if those senior citizens knew what they were signing when joining the appeal.
Despite what other residents have suggested, MacDonald said every Deming Way resident knew what they were signing and were not tricked in an effort to reach the number of necessary appellants.
“Everybody that signed the appeal was in their right mind and had the entire thing explained to them,” said MacDonald. “I had the package with me and told them specifically that they were signing a petition for the (Department of Environmental Protection) to review the superseding order of conditions that was issued.”
Caira said it is not only the inclusion of Deming Way residents that concerns him. The Town Manager said he believes there are other residents who joined a cause they might not have had all of the details about.
“I don’t know if they’ve been taken advantage of, but if they have that would be an egregious act on the part of any individual,” said Caira. “It’s not only folks on Deming Way, though I have heard that some of the people who were approached may not have understood fully what they were signing. It is a question that needs to be examined with everybody who signed that petition.”
The Town Manager said there is no update on the timeline of the appeals, as the town waits for the DEP to assign a hearings officer for the case. Caira said the town’s attorney has already consulted with DEP, since the two are working in concert to resolve the appeal and move forward with the project.
Newhouse said the town remains confident that it will prevail in the latest appeals. But the chairman said he remains frustrated by the state laws that have put the town in the position to delay construction of its new school.
“The whole idea of the laws is to allow due process,” said Newhouse. “There is abuse of any system. But the threshold to abuse the process with tactics, that bar just is not high enough.”
MacDonald and other petitioners, however, believe the problem isn’t with the laws, but instead with the plans.
“If one person in the country knew that the cigarette manufacturing companies were putting chemicals into cigarettes, and the rest of the country didn’t believe it, I think that one person should be able to be heard and appealed,” said MacDonald. “There’s a problem here, and we want them to take a hard look at this. If there is a problem, let’s deal with it.”