Haddad told selectmen that: “We tried to draft a report that was fair and equitable.” and “I believe that the report is accurate in its conclusions.”
Selectmen responded with hopes that the town and the boards and commissions involved will both move forward and improve their internal processes and work well with each other in the future.
The letter from the GELD Commissioners reaffirms that the Electric Light Department thinks the report is a solid piece of work, with one exception:
“We feel that as written the report unfairly characterizes the work of Places, Inc. as inadequate, and the engineers from Places, Inc. as being ineffective in their presentations.
Places, Inc. prepared the material necessary for this project using accepted engineering practices under the direction of the Groton Electric Light Commission. The engineers who presented this material did so in a professional manner. In addition to the Station A venue site presenting many unique issues, the controversies associated with this submission hindered them in that regard. It is simply not accurate or fair to attribute the difficulties this project encountered to Places, Inc. or to its engineers.” stands behind its civil engineering firm, Places, Inc.
The first draft of the report, presented to the BoS and GELD Commissioners in mid-July, slammed GELD’s use of Places, Inc; the final draft presented Monday is far less aggressive. The first draft of Item 7, the “Places” item, was written by Haddad, Kelly said.
The two versions of Item 7, related to GELD’s civil engineer read like this:
7. GELD was not served effectively by their Engineer.
Places, Inc., the Engineer hired by GELD to deal with the civil engineering design of the project, did not serve the Department well. From the beginning, their work in dealing with issues before the Conservation Commission and stormwater related issues was ineffective. This was displayed by their decision to utilize the Conservation Commission approved GIS map to determine the location of the wetlands, instead of doing a field survey, when there was no evidence of wetlands in a substantial area marked on the map as wetlands. This created a substantial delay in the project approval. It took several meetings and site walks to make sure that the plans had the accurate wetlandâ€™s line. Ultimately, to great expense by the Light Department, they had to bring on another engineer to properly flag the wetlands and correctly depict them on the plans. Public presentations by Places were difficult to follow and did not completely address issues raised by the various Boards. While one cannot say definitively if another Engineer would have done a better job addressing the wetland concerns, Places did not adequately address them in both their plans and public presentations. It appears that matters improved significantly when Ducharme & Dillis took the lead presenting GELDâ€™s plans to the Conservation Commission.
7. GELD and their consultants were not able to successfully address the concerns of the Conservation Commission in both their plans and public presentations. GELD Manager, Kelly, and GELD’s civil engineer, Places, Inc., began the pre-submission review process with the Conservation Commission. At the second pre-submission review meeting they were joined by the GELD Board and by the end of that meeting, GELD felt very positive about the process going forward. Things changed so substantially at the first public hearing on the Notice of Intent that manager Kelly began looking for legal services from a local attorney very experienced at presenting plans and public presentations. GELD ended up retaining attorney Collins with an expected budget of $4,000 to communicate the plans and public presentations for the permitting process. Public presentations by Places were difficult to follow and did not completely address issues raised by the various Boards. While one cannot say definitively if another Engineer would have done a better job addressing the wetland concerns, Places did not adequately address them in both their plans and public presentations. It appears that matters improved significantly when attorney Collins combined with Ducharme & Dillis presented GELD’s plans to a new and improved Conservation Commission in mid 2012. By the time successful communication had taken place, GELD had spent over $40,000 on legal for the permitting process.
The Conservation Commission submitted a reply to both the GELD Commissioner’s Letter and to the report in a “Groton Conservation Commission Statement August 12, 2013″ that outlines the commission’s charge and reviews the GELD process from its side of the table.
There is one zinger on page 3: “Machinations by an applicant to influence appointments to the Conservation Commission, demands that Conservation Commissioners be fired or the Commissionâ€™s budget reduced to zero, and to do away with the Wetlands Protection Bylaw are not in the Townâ€™s best interests.”
The statement includes the Conservation Commission’s own list of betterments to the permitting process:
- The Commission should require a written disclaimer on plans confirming a wetland boundary when the wetland flagging is located by GPS and not a field survey. The original (2007) wetland delineation filing for Station Avenue was for planning purposes, not building construction.
- The Commission should strive to provide concise and direct statements to applicants.
- When conducting a continued public hearing, it would be worthwhile to re-cap the proceedings from the previous hearing at the beginning of the continued hearing. When a hearing is continued, the Commission should summarize the information it expects to have by the next hearing. .
- As previously noted, the Commission is looking forward to clarification in the wording of the Wetlands Protection Bylaw during the committee review process.
- For a project of this complexity, it is worthwhile to utilize a peer reviewer earlier in the process. The 2nd Notice of Intent process moved much more expeditiously.
- The Commission concurs with Mr. Haddadâ€™s analysis of the benefits of utilizing the expedited permitting process.
Another potentially significant change is an addition to the Report Concerning The Permitting Of The Proposed GELD Building’s Conclusion. The conclusion now reiterates that communications between all boards needs to be improved, both inter-board and to the applicant. An example provided by Kelly was if an issue arose in a hypothetical project where the Planning Board and Conservation Commission took contradictory positions that the boards and the applicant should meet together to resolve the issue rather than each board talking only addressing the applicant and putting the resolution on the applicant.
The new paragraph adds:
The Town will continue to strive to improve its delivery of services. It is recommended that the Town schedule a seminar with Town Counsel on how to properly conduct a public hearing and the role of Board Chairman. It is extremely challenging for any applicant when receiving input from all of the individuals on a board rather than “official” requests from the majority of a board. Outlining what issues are relevant and what issues should be avoided would be very helpful. A two-way communication procedure has to be created and should be followed for all decision makers. The process should be similar to:
1. An applicant needs to provide the proper information needed for the permitting Board to make their decision far enough in advance so the Board has time to digest it.
2. The Board needs to clearly communicate back what the Board as a whole needs and the timeframe involved in that request. The list of deliverables should include everything needed or missing.
3. Return to step one. This is a cycle that should have a clearly defined limit of iterations.