Residents irate about land clearing; demand action

Michael Towle of Susan Drive decries the clear cutting on East Mountain Road. (Photo by Amy Porter)

WESTFIELD – Dozens of area residents attended the Conservation Commission meeting Oct. 22, which had on its agenda a cease and desist order for the property of Mark and Chris Dupuis, LLC at 0 East Mountain Road, which is being cleared for a hemp farm.
New Conservation Coordinator Meredith Borenstein, who has been on the job for three weeks, informed commissioners that due to multiple complaints from residents, she had attempted to access the East Mountain Road property to ascertain whether there were wetlands there.
Not being able to gain access, she made her observations from an abutting property. Based on the clearing that she observed in the buffer zone to a stream, she said she wrote a cease and desist order that required a vote by the commission. She said she did not observe any work being done while she was there on Tuesday, but was told that clearing had continued through the previous weekend.
Borenstein said she also saw bags of cement on the path to the wetland area, and wanted to update the order to add the cement, and ask the Dupuis’ to cease all work until they get a wetlands delineation from a professional.
Borenstein said the city’s Law Department has been in contact with the landowners’ attorney to gain access. She said MassWildlife issued a cease and desist order effective Oct. 11, and was also working with their attorney. There are also cease and desist orders from the city’s stormwater and building departments, she said.
“If we’re not granted the right to the property, then (the Law Dept.) will go to a judge,” Borenstein said. First Assistant City Solicitor Shanna Reed has reached out to the landowner’s attorney to try to arrange for a site visit Oct. 24.
Commissioner James Murphy said there is a need to speed up the process, saying resources they are responsible for protecting are being lost every day that goes by.
Borenstein said she also confirmed with the Department of Conservation and Recreation that there is no forest cutting plan on record for that site.
Chairman David Doe then said he would take comments from the residents, but first explained to them that the commission’s concern is the wetlands. “So far, we’ve only seen one small wetland from the abutters. We have to get on the property,” he said.
Michael Towle, a longtime resident of Susan Drive, spoke first. He said there are several streams that go through the area, which he accesses through the woods when he hikes.
“Wetlands and endangered species, they’re done; thousands of trees, thousands of animals, thousands of plants,” Towle said, adding, “We talking about land that has been wrecked.”
Towle said hundreds of trucks have been through the property, and while neighbors can’t see what they’re doing, they hear them all day long.
“I have pictures of animals you may have never seen that used to live there. This is 1000% wrong,” Towle said, later adding, “I’m here speaking for the animals and the plants, because they have no voice.”
Sherri Morini, an abutter on East Mountain Road, said she is concerned about the cement bags next to her property, and the impact on drainage in the area after the clearing is done. “We’re really concerned about the backup,” she said.
Richard Morini said their property was documented as wetlands in 1990, and they have ducks in their pasture during the season. “This guy does exactly what he wants,” he said, including tearing down his fences and letting his horses out.
“His philosophy is ask for forgiveness, not permission,” Sherri Morini added, saying he did all of the work in less than two months.
Patti and Dan Williams, who live directly across the street from the property, said they have observed “trucks after trucks” entering the property. She said after the MassWildlife order was issued, they continued to see the trucks daily.
Dan Williams said he had spoken to Chris Dupuis a couple of times, and was told that they are going to put in a hemp farm. He said they are bulldozing the land.
“Everybody who came up here today had a plan and asked permission,” Dan Williams said, referring to the property and business owners applying for permits from the commission, “But not Mark and Chris Dupuis.”
Patti Williams asked why the commission had done nothing when work started in September. Borenstein said there were no permits filed for them to review, and other commission members said they were not aware of the work going on until residents started calling.
At-large City Councilor Matt Emmershy said when they first started clearing, he had a conversation with Public Works Director David Billips and Highway Superintendent Casey Berube, because they were clearing right at the base by the road. Emmershy said a stormwater cease and desist order was filed, because land clearing requires a stormwater permit.
“There have been eyes on this. We’re slow in my opinion to react to this,” he said.
Resident John Bacon asked the commission how they are going to determine what the wetlands are or where they were in the condition the land is in now.
Borenstein said a wetlands scientist can assess the soils, and see the drainage patterns. “We’ll be able to see drainage,” she said, acknowledging that with no vegetation it will be challenging.
Murphy added that they can dig through any non-native soil that’s been added. “It can be done. It’s part of enforcement,” he said.
Asked whether Karen Leigh, former conservation coordinator had reviewed the plans, Borenstein said Leigh had never been on the property. “She told them not to do any work without a wetlands delineation,” Borenstein said.
Doe said once the enforcement order is ratified it goes to the landowner. He said the photos and testimony of residents will be part of the permanent file on the property. He said they would enforce the order, but if not followed, they could only issue fines.
Following the meeting, Stephen Oleksak of Green Meadow Lumber on Western Avenue, who by contrast received a permit Tuesday to build a dry stream crossing on his farm property that took four meetings over eight weeks, had a few observations from his years of experience in the field.
Oleksak said cutting timber is allowed if there is a change of use on a property, but not if there are wetlands or endangered species impacted. He said the owner must file a cutting plan with the state and notify abutters, which takes weeks. He said under no circumstances would someone be able to clear cut without a permit.
Oleksak also said a truckload of timber is worth about $4,000.

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