By Alan Burke
---- — PEABODY — Residents living to the rear of a Route 1 development went before the Planning Board last night, describing a suburban nightmare of mud, water and toxic waste running off the project onto their properties and into their homes.
“It’s tearing the neighborhood apart,” said Winona Street resident Karen Anderson.
The project is currently shut down thanks to a cease and desist order from Mayor Ted Bettencourt, who attended the hearing. “I’m gravely concerned realizing now what the neighbors have been dealing with,” he said. He asked that his order remain.
Dawn Irwin, another Winona Street resident, described water bursting through the windows of her home. “We had 7 feet of water in our house. ... Our house and land basically is worth nothing. We lost 90 percent of what we owned.”
She blamed toxic materials in the runoff for the recent death of her dog. “A young dog.”
Elderly home owner Louis Maio put the onus on builder Richard Marchese, who initially planned to develop commercial property on Route 1 and up to 14 houses beyond. Unfortunately, it’s believed his ambitious schedule was derailed by the collapse of the real estate market leaving key activities half done.
“Mr. Marchese came in and cut down every tree,” Maio lamented. “I never had a flood until he started that project.” Maio told the board his swimming pool has been filled three times with mud and water coming off the ledge at Route 1. “Nobody helped me. ... Marchese, he just rips things apart.”
“It’s heartbreaking,” added resident Jeffrey Grant. “I just don’t understand how someone can do that and not care about people.”
Representing Marchese, lawyer Jack Keilty did little to contradict the testimony of the witnesses. He explained that some of Marchese’s actions were efforts to alleviate the flood problem — but they apparently did little or made it worse. For example, a 15-foot ditch turned out to be a violation of state regulations and had to be mostly filled in.
The remaining ditch was 3 feet deep. “When we were presented with the rain event,” Keilty said, “the trench mechanism was too shallow.”
Keilty said that in the future measures would be taken to reduce the elevation of the property — which had been raised via filled land — and to direct water to storm drains. A toxic “plume,” he conceded, could probably be traced to degreasers used by an auto body or machine shop that previously existed on the Route 1 property.
“I’m very sympathetic with all the neighbors,” responded board member Joseph Gagnon. “You were harmed immensely. I’m emotional about it. ...And I’m very disappointed that Mr. Marchese is not here today. ... That really bothers me.”
Gagnon criticized Marchese for digging trenches with no engineering plan. “This is absurd,” he said. “This is the worst active subdivision I’ve ever seen.”
Working with the residents, city solicitor Michael Smerczynski suggested amending Marchese’s permit, requiring him first to pay for an independent engineer to “peer review” the project and second to refrain from continuing the work until a plan acceptable to the engineer and the city can be presented.
The Planning Board adopted the suggestion, while worrying that the developer’s responsibilities be spelled out and followed. “I want to make sure I see everything in writing,” said Gagnon.
But along with this was a concern that — with a massive snowstorm predicted — problems are swiftly resolved. “This needs to be done with the greatest possible haste,” said member Peter Arvanites. “One more flood is too many floods.”
Also attending the meeting in support of the residents was City Councilor Anne Manning-Martin.