Snow Plowed Into Lake Quannapowitt Raises Environmental Concerns
Snow from Comverse parking lots at Beal property dumped into Lake
As Wakefield, Massachusetts resident Bob McLaughlin pulled off the Route 128 exit ramp on to North Avenue one day last December, he decided to take a slight detour en route to his Water Street home. The region had just been hit with the second of two back-to-back major winter storms, and as he drove down Quannapowitt Parkway through Wakefield Office Park, McLaughlin noticed something.
Large mountains of plowed around the parking lots of both Comverse office buildings appeared to have been pushed or dumped into Lake Quannapowitt and the surrounding wetland areas. One enormous snow pile sat half on land and half on the lake ice, directly across from an entrance to one of the parking lots.
“This big behemoth snow pile lined right up with a parking lot,” McLaughlin noted. “It was so obvious.”
On the entrance side of the main Comverse building, McLaughlin observed several trenches carved through the mud and snow which were allowing snow-melt runoff to flow from the pavement into the adjoining reedy wetlands. He returned to the site later that day with his camera.
Because snow plowed from roads and parking lots can contain numerous contaminants, state and local regulations prohibit placing plowed snow into or near bodies of water.
On March 8, 2001, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection issued guidelines that apply to both municipalities and private businesses regarding the disposal of plowed snow. These guidelines note that “collected snow that is contaminated with road salt, sand, litter, and automotive pollutants such as oil also threatens public health and the environment.”
Citing “water quality impacts,” the DEP guidelines specifically address storage of plowed snow. “Avoid dumping of snow into any water body,” the guidelines state, “including rivers, the ocean, reservoirs, ponds, or wetlands.”
McLaughlin has long had an interest in the lakeside area. He was a founding member of APPLE PIE, a citizen’s group that in the mid-1990s appealed a Wakefield Planning Board decision to allow construction of a second office building and parking garage on land owned by the Beal Companies of Boston.
Beal was proposing to build two additional office buildings and a parking garage at Wakefield Office Park on Quannapowitt Parkway at the head of the lake. McLaughlin and his fellow APPLE PIE activists were concerned that, in the process, pedestrian access on the property between the buildings and the Lake would be permanently prohibited.
Among other things, their appeal resulted in the construction, at Beal’s expense, of a pedestrian pathway across the grassy area between the present Comverse building and the Lake, providing a safe means for walkers and other recreational traffic to get from North Avenue to Main Street.
At their meeting of January 28, 1997, the Wakefield Planning Board placed 18 modifications and conditions on Beal’s plans to construct the new office building and parking garage. Condition 13 states: “There shall be a designated area to hold plowed snow. The designated storage area is to be approved by the Conservation Commission. If no such designation is made, the snow shall be removed from the site.”
McLaughlin finds it all very frustrating. “They approve projects with conditions, and then nobody enforces the conditions,” McLaughlin said. “And that’s why we have a pile of snow on the lake. This is nothing new. It’s been going on for a long time.”
CB Richard Ellis (CBRE) is the property management firm that arranges snow plowing of the parking lots and areas around the Comverse buildings. Elaine Carroll, a senior property manager at CBRE, denied that parking lot snow was being pushed into the Lake and wetlands. “Our contractor would never do that,” Carroll said.
Repeated phone calls to the plowing contractor, Environmental Landscape Management of Danvers, were not returned.
Wakefield Conservation Commission chairman Frank J. Luciani, Jr recently viewed McLaughlin’s photos of snow piles partially on Lake Quannapowitt. “Parking lot snow should not be put into a resource area,” Luciani said, noting the possible pollutants contained in such snow.
Conservation Agent Elaine Vreeland believes that snow removal operations at the office park have not been in compliance with the 2001 DEP guidelines. Vreeland has initiated contact with the property manager and plans to meet with her at the Comverse site and review the DEP guidelines. “The photographs are undeniable,” Vreeland said.
Selectman Albert Turco is a member of the Friends of Lake Quannapowitt and has been closely involved with the effort to restore Col. Connelly Park at the head of the Lake.
“I’m dismayed by the way that snow removal activities have been conducted at the Beal site at the head of the Lake,” Turco said. “However, I’m confident that the Wakefield Conservation Commission will take appropriate action to see that snow removal in the future is handled in a way that protects our lake and surrounding areas.”
McLaughlin points out that the town is preparing to spend big money, including a $500,000 state grant, to clean up pollution in another part of the lake, at Hartshorne Cove near Veteran’s Field.
“It’s appalling that they’re plowing snow into the lake in 2008,” McLaughlin said, “when we’re trying to clean up the lake at the other end.”
[This story originally appeared in the January 17, 2008 Wakefield Daily Item.]
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