Lowell Sun: Littleton protestors: Our water is under threat

By Prudence Brighton
09/18/2009

LITTLETON — Drawn together by their opposition to the plans of two rail companies to pave over a 25-acre site located in close proximity to the Spectacle Pond aquifer, more than 50 people last night sent a message that they will not give up their fight and may take “drastic” action.

State Sen. Jamie Eldridge told the crowd attending the Rally for Water, “We’re here and we’re not going away.”

Organizers of the Rally for Water fear that Pan Am and Norfolk Southern rail companies will begin paving a 750-car parking lot within days. The lot would be located within 1,000 feet of the aquifer that provides up to 60 percent of the drinking water for Ayer and Littleton.

The preparatory work for the paving operation is complete. The companies plan to use the lot as a rail-to-truck automobile transportation facility for vehicles produced by Ford.

Rob Hartz of the Coalition for Aquifer Protection said the potential loss of the aquifer “would be quite disastrous for us.”

“Our water is under threat, and the paving could start any day,” Hartz added.

Littleton Selectmen Chairman Alex McCurdy demanded, “Does everyone want clean water for this generation and beyond?” He was answered with a resounding “yes.”

McCurdy described the regulations and legislation that he said have protected the railways from local intervention.

“I don’t think anyone intended that to apply to a situation like this,” McCurdy said. “We’re all going uphill on this one.

But maybe at the top of the hill is clean water.”

Ayer Selectman Carolyn McCreary said her town has monitors on site every day.

“We will continue to keep this travesty in the spotlight,” McCreary said. “Our water is our life. We are fighting for our lives.”

Coalition member Bev Schultz recalled a discussion she had with people in Framingham, which has had serious water issues for years. She said she was told to “stop what’s being done to your aquifer.”

The coalition has opposed the plans of the rail companies for 11 years with court action, protests, and appeals to Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Protection.

“But when a railroad is involved, their hands are tied,” Hartz said. “The laws are written so there is no good reconciliation between environmental concerns and interstate commerce.”

Rev. Marta Valentin, minister of First Church Unitarian, told the crowd, “We must raise up our voices together to let them know that we matter. As we raise our voices, we get stronger.”

Susan Tordella of Ayer, also an organizer of the rally, called for a commitment to action. She gave three choices — political, consumer and protest action.

She pointed to sign-up sheets to write to public officials and to Ford executives. She also asked for people to commit to protests.

“We might have to take drastic steps,” she warned.

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