The appellants of the Wilmington High School project filed their latest motion with the Department of Environmental Protection on Tuesday, their final step before the project likely heads to Superior Court.
Petitioners filed a motion to reconsider, hoping the DEP Commissioner will reconsider accepting Hearings Officer Tim Jones’ recommended decision to dismiss both appeals.
Tuesday was the deadline for the motion, and petitioner Kevin MacDonald confirmed that the group did submit to DEP just before the 5 p.m. deadline.
“We feel the dismissal was irresponsible and should not have happened,” said MacDonald. “We don’t feel justice was serviced, and we think the Commissioner should allow at minimum a hearing to be held. People deserve their day in court.”
The move came as little surprise to town officials. Board of Selectmen chairman Mike Newhouse said he expected this motion to be filed, but remains confident that it too will be dismissed.
Several residents expressed frustration that the appellants waited until just hours before the deadline to file, as has been the case at past deadlines. Newhouse said his frustration remains with the big picture, rather than when items were filed.
“My frustration is that we’re not in the ground building the school that residents overwhelmingly supported,” said Newhouse. “I know I’m not alone and I share that frustration with many people in town. I would encourage anyone to look at the record from the DEP hearings process, because I think that speaks for itself. In the end, the timing of when things are filed is not really as important as the bigger picture, which is that we should be building a new high school right now.”
MacDonald said there is no truth to the thought process that he and other petitioners are waiting until the last minute as a stall tactic.
Instead, MacDonald placed blame on the town for the timing of the filings.
“We feel the DEP deadlines are not long enough. They gave us very little time to compile things and submit them,” said MacDonald. “When you’re trying to gather information and you’re being stonewalled at Town Hall and you have to research things and make copies, it’s difficult. Maybe if we didn’t get stonewalled and delayed there, it would be a different story.”
With the latest motion filed, the town is again in a waiting period. Newhouse said he does not believe there is a specific time frame for the Commissioner to make his ruling on the motion, but added that he does not believe it will take long.
In the meantime, Newhouse said that while he praised the work of DEP representatives throughout the current appeals process, he believes that in the bigger picture it’s time to begin reconsidering the state’s appeal laws.
“The rules are broken and need to be fixed,” said Newhouse. “I think folks should continue to do whatever we can collectively to change the rules. The hurdle for folks to get over in order to avail themselves of this process is far too low without punishment for frivolous appeals. That needs to change.”