The Plympton Board of Selectmen met virtually on Monday, Feb. 28. They had an appointment with hydrogeologist Peter Newton of Bristol Engineering Advisors to review the Rocky Harvest Farm water use. Selectman Mark Russo said, “A little over a decade ago, some decisions were made in town that allowed the Rocky Harvest Company to harvest water in town…they are perceived by many as a misguided decision.” He said that hundreds of thousands of dollars had been spent fighting the decision for a decade and the courts were “not sympathetic.” Russo said that at last year’s Annual Town Meeting they asked for a modest appropriation to spend on having a hydrogeologist explore Rocky Harvest’s reporting and to provide information on the impact of the harvesting of the water.
Newton said that due to COVID he was unable to go into the State’s offices and review the “boxes and boxes of documents” pertaining to the matter. He said that his review was based on those documents that he was able to obtain. He did obtain the application that Harvest Farm filed for access as a public water supply. “They are authorized to withdraw up to 100,000 gallons a day,” Newton explained. He said that they don’t meet the criteria for the Water Management Act to apply. He said that those that fall under the Act’s purview are held to the guidelines and limitations placed on them by that Act. “They fall below the threshold for the State’s permit,” he explained. He said they have an approved rate of 50 gallons per minute or 72,000 gallons per day. Based on their reported withdrawal they are not subject to any State compliance. “Their water use has been creeping up over the past five years,” Newton said citing specific amounts withdrawn since 2016.
“I guess the short answer is there is nothing that I could see in the documents that I reviewed that says that what they’re doing is not consistent with what the State would require; the caveat there is… approval forward relies on them to submit their own documentation to the State and frankly the State doesn’t have the capability to audit,” he explained.
Newton also said that his job is far more complex than it used to be when the primary focus was strictly on ensuring clean drinking water. He explained that part of his job now is identifying the effects the water withdrawal has on streamflow, wetlands, species, etc. “It’s a much more complicated analysis now to address those questions,” he said. “It doesn’t seem to me likely that if they’re pumping at the rates they are reporting that there is likely to be significant impacts to homeowners or private wells nearby,” Newton told the Selectmen. Selectman John Traynor asked how often the water is tested that is taken out by Rocky Harvest. Newton said he was unsure but said they were required to test. He said it was regulated by the FDA not the EPA because it is bottled.
Russo said that the thing the town should be doing each year is checking on the annual reporting and max per day volume. Russo asked Newton if they should be doing anything else. “That’s really the only thing you have available to you,” Newton replied. “To be honest with you, DEP is understaffed and overworked,” he continued. Russo asked about the accuracy of Rocky Harvest’s reporting. Newton said the town could ask for the meter calibration records. “It’s good to know that we have something that we can do,” Selectmen Chair Christine Joy said.
Selectmen were scheduled to meet with Area 58 but there was no representative on the call, so they agreed to table the conversation for a later date. Selectmen and Town Administrator Liz Dennehy said that they would like to discuss a hybrid style meeting moving forward so that some members could be present in person while people could still attend virtually.
Selectmen discussed having the Council on Aging exercise class move back into the Old Town House. Dennehy said they were ready to have them return to the building. She briefly touched on getting Wi-Fi in that building but said first they would have to get a phone line installed. She said the cost would be roughly $110 per month. “My feeling is we ought to do it,” Traynor said.
The Selectmen also reviewed the right of first refusal option pertaining to a parcel on Ring Rd. Russo said that no one in town responded saying they were interested in purchasing the property. Russo said that he strongly recommended having a public hearing on the matter before deciding how to proceed. The hearing will take place during the next Selectmen’s meeting.
The Selectmen and Dennehy discussed town meeting preparations. Dennehy said they reached out to the company that had previously provided IT services for Town Meeting. She said the town will once again secure their services. Town Meeting will likely be spread across multiple rooms at the Dennett Elementary School.
Selectmen and Dennehy also discussed the process for Board of Selectmen appointments to various boards and committees in town. Dennehy said there were a few openings in town. “As far as the reappointment process for town employees; there seems to be a disconnect in town as far as who needed to be reappointed and who didn’t,” Dennehy explained. She explained that anyone that is customarily reappointed on an annual basis does not need to go down to the Town Clerk’s office every single year to be sworn in. She said they are also trying to get ahead of any members who may not want to be reappointed before the end of the fiscal year.
Dennehy gave a Town Administrator’s update saying that there were 27 applicants for the Police Chief position. She said the preliminary screening committee would be meeting with her to go over the interview structure. “It appears on the surface that we have a lot of qualified applicants including two internal candidates,” Dennehy told the Selectmen. She also told the Selectmen that the Board of Health lifted remaining COVID restrictions.
Dennehy told the Selectmen that they had correspondence from Silver Lake Regional Schools asking for support for upgrades to their HVAC systems. She said that the town had already previously agreed to their share of the project which is estimated at $190,000. The ARPA funds, which are limited in use, will be used to fund their share of the project. Joy said that it was one of the approved uses. Dennehy also shared that she had correspondence stating that Kimberly Russo was resigning from the Bylaw Review Committee.