Editors’ note: A link to a video of the entire meeting is included below.
The Board of Selectmen held its regular meeting on Aug. 4 with all members present in person. The board began by unanimously approving the minutes from our July 21 meeting with some minor revisions.
The board members discussed a proposal by Selectman Sogofsky to amend the ordinance regarding the Planning and Zoning Commission so as to have members of the commission elected rather than appointed by the Board of Selectmen. She pointed out that, like the Boards of Education and the Board of Finance, this is a major policy making board and, therefore, members should be elected as is the case with those boards. However, the Boards of Education and Finance have full-time professional staff to assist in their work and the Planning and Zoning Commission does not. Also, some members of the public have, from time to time, expressed dissatisfaction with individual members of the commission. One way to address these concerns could be to elect members rather than appoint members.
There are many issues to consider including, but not limited to, whether such a change would have the desired effect, how to stagger terms to accommodate a transition from appointed to elected, whether electing members would limit the pool of available candidates, whether electing versus appointing members increases transparency and accountability or not, how is the candidate pool developed, and whether elected versus appointed boards require enhanced professional employee support to perform the departmental work?
Across the state, many towns elect members and many towns appoint members. Easton has always appointed its members. There is no clear consensus as to which method is best. The board will continue to explore this issue and invites the public to offer input on the matter.
The board received the first draft of the text of a conservation easement for the property located at South Park Avenue. As a reminder, the town owns just under 30 acres at this location. Earlier this year, the Town Meeting voted to sell approximately 19 of the 30 acres located directly along the river to the Aspetuck Land Trust, a local open space preservation organization. The town is exploring what to do with the remaining approximately 11 acres.
At a separate Town Meeting earlier this year, the voters approved the concept of placing a conservation easement on the remaining land. The board reviewed the proposed text. The members discussed issues related to the portion of the remaining property that will likely be leased to the current occupants so those tenants can continue the work of the New England Prayer Center on the site. The board also discussed modifications to the restrictions on the use of the remaining property included in the draft.
The board will continue to explore the text and invites the public to offer input on it. The plan is to settle on the language of the conservation easement and then convene a Town Meeting to consider formally adopting the easement. That meeting will likely be scheduled sometime after Labor Day.
The first selectman updated the board about a soil contamination situation at the former Easton Village Store. Earlier this year, the store owner decided to remove the underground gasoline storage tanks on the site. As required by law, the property owner secured a permit from state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and an approved contractor removed the tanks and a quantity of contaminated soil and water. Also, as required by law, the local fire marshal was notified. After this point, the details are somewhat uncertain. For reasons that are unclear, the contaminated soil was being stored on the site awaiting removal. A different contractor, doing unrelated work, used some of the contaminated soil as part of the fill for another project on the site. This resulted in contaminated soil being spread around the east side of the site and possibly into nearby wetlands. Once this was discovered, action was taken to remove the contaminated fill from the site.
Testing has been completed in the area and it shows there is no longer any contamination. A final report detailing this fact and making other recommendations has not yet been received. It is expected that testing of all water wells within 500 feet of the site will be recommended. Because this site is within the watershed, extra care is being taken to insure there is no continuing problem. One challenge is that the town has no jurisdiction over the removal and disposal of commercial fuel storage tanks. However, the local health department does have jurisdiction over wells. Further, since there is a question about whether there are, in fact, nearby wetlands, there is a dispute as to whether local permitting rules regarding activity in wetlands applies. The first selectman will keep the board updated about this matter. He also pledged to complete an after-action assessment to determine what steps the town might take to prevent a repeat of this situation. That said, there appear to be only two other places in town where there are underground commercial fuel storage tanks.
The board heard public comment from several residents:
June Logie, Dori Wollen, Tom Dollard, Dwight Senior and Dana Benson spoke about the EVS soil contamination event, commented on the draft conservation easement and reacted to the notion of changing from an appointed to an elected Planning & Zoning Commission.