SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

May 10, 2014

State rejects road through landfill in Beverly

Mayor says city will build Brimbal connector on current location

Paul Leighton
STAFF WRITER

---- — BEVERLY — The controversial plan to build a Brimbal Avenue connector road through a former landfill has been rejected by the state, leaving the city with no alternative but to build the new road in its current location.

In a letter to Mayor Mike Cahill and developer Steven Cohen, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation said building the road through the landfill would take longer, cost more money, and leave the long-term stability of the road at risk.

"(T)he multiple risks associated with the relocation of the Connector Road are not commensurate with any potential benefit to the public," wrote Frank DePaola, an administrator with the state Highway Department.

Read the DOT's letter about the Brimbal connector road.

In response, Cahill said the city will proceed with plans to build the new connector road along the alignment of the existing roadway. He said the city will work with the state to complete the design and permitting of the new roadway by October, in time to secure a $5 million economic development grant to pay for it.

"My No. 1 responsibility is to deliver a fully designed and permitted road this fall to the Secretary of Economic Development so we can secure the funding," Cahill said.

Read Cahill's response to the DOT's letter.

The state's rejection of the landfill road plan negates the need for a proposed land swap between the state and Cohen's CEA Group, which owns the former landfill. The swap would have allowed the connector road to be built 500 feet from its current location, a move that officials originally said would create a better traffic flow off of Route 128.

The land transfer would have also given CEA Group a larger piece of land to build a proposed shopping plaza anchored by a Whole Foods Market.

Cohen could not be reached for comment on his plans for the plaza. He has said in the past that he would build a plaza on his current land if the land swap was rejected.

Cahill said it is "our hope and expectation" that Cohen will build the shopping plaza on his land. Cahill said he expects to talk to Cohen next week.

"We are interested in him putting forward a proposal that will be good for him and good for the city both," Cahill said.

Cohen had proposed a plan to the state to reinforce the landfill by drilling crushed-stone piers. But in his letter, DePaola said shifting refuse in the landfill may create voids that could allow the crushed stone to migrate away from the piers and lose support for the road.

DePaola cited several other potential problems that would cause the road to settle, including decomposition, methane gas, and the presence of tires, boulders and tree stumps that could obstruct the installation of the supporting piers.

DePaola also said the state would face "significant risk and liability" in taking over a closed landfill, including inheriting responsibility for installing monitoring wells and conducting groundwater tests.

In addition, the state could incur increased costs and delays due to more complicated storm water management, environmental permitting, and land acquisitions along Sohier Road and Brimbal Avenue, he said.

Cahill said he is confident that building a new connector road in its current location will alleviate traffic problems in the area. The new road would include roundabouts at both ends, at Sohier Road and Brimbal Avenue, eliminating the current dangerous left-hand turns.

"The levels of performance are very comparable to if we had built the road on the CEA property," Cahill said.

The state's rejection of the land swap is a victory for the North Beverly Neighborhood Association and others who opposed the swap in February's special election.

Voters approved a zoning change that would have led to the land swap. But Brimbal Avenue resident Dan DeAngelis said the Department of Transportation's decision validates what neighbors have been saying all along.

"We're grateful that the DOT recognized that this was an unbuildable location for the road," DeAngelis said. "This was something we were suggesting long ago. So many of the issues that were raised (by supporters of the land swap) turned out not to be true. The (state) money is still there and a road can be built. It wasn't contingent on taking over the landfill."

DeAngelis said the state's letter about potential problems with putting a road through the landfill raises concerns about what can be built there, including a shopping plaza.

"Everything that's in this report would certainly raise questions about the viability of that land for anything," he said.

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.