By Susan Tordella
With final preparations being made for paving 750-space parking lot over the Spectacle Pond aquifer, more than 100 supporters attended a Rally for Water Thursday, Sept. 17 in Fay Park.
“They [Pan Am Southern] haven’t given up. I haven’t given up,” said State Sen. Jamie Eldridge. “We’re working closely with the (regulatory) agencies to stop the lot.”
Pan Am Railways, formerly Guilford, partnered with Norfolk Southern to build the 12-acre lot in the protected water resource area adjacent to Spectacle Pond. Guilford sued the town of Ayer in 1998 when the town imposed conditions to protect the source of 60 percent of Ayer’s water.
But the railroad is proceeding with construction. According to a Pan Am attorney, the project will be built to a ‘gold standard’ to protect the water under the parking lot that is slated for paving this week.
Railroad VP Cindy Scarano said she is “optimistic” that the project will comply with aquifer protection standards.
“We’re very sympathetic and we’re very concerned,” said Scarano. “We just hope that the facility as designed will meet those concerns.”
Scarano said the loading dock and lot will be completed in November.
But for Selectman Alex McCurdy, fighting the company is still worth the effort.
“We’re here fighting a fight we shouldn’t have to fight,” said McCurdy. When he asked the crowd, “Does everyone here want clean water for the next generations?” people shouted, “Yes!”
Rob Hartz, a member of the Coalition for Aquifer Protection for Littleton, Ayer and Westford, ran the rally. A vocal opponent and organizer to protect the water for more than a decade, Hartz called the railroad’s plan “inadequate and incomplete.” The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection agency reviewed the plans and found “a number of important details missing” from the proposed storm water system, Hartz said.
Hartz called upon legislators to fix a broken system that allows the railroad to pave and do business in a protected water resource district. “We have some good allies (DEP and the Environmental Protection Agency) who are not able to enforce existing laws,” Hartz said.
To that end, Hartz pointed attendees towards three places for people to take action and flex their political power, consumer power and protest power.
More than 60 people signed a petition to Gov. Patrick, Sen. Kerry and Rep.
Tsongas to change the laws to require railroads to be more accountable to protect the environment, and a letter with a “Ford Focus” to ask Ford to withdraw as the main client of the parking lot over the aquifer. Attendees were also invited to sign up for protest power — to take future action to protect the water.
“Our water is our life. We are fighting for our life,” said Carolyn McCreary, an Ayer selectman. She commended the attendees for their action, saying, “You spoke with great dignity, passion and intelligence and you have made quite a difference” in the movement to protect the source of 60 percent of Ayer’s water supply.
Eldridge pledged to take action to remedy what he called a dysfunctional system. “We need to change the law to make sure this never happens again,”
State Representatives Jim Arciero and Bob Hargraves were held up at the statehouse for the vote on the succession of Ted Kennedy’s senate seat, and sent messages to be read.