|Williamstown Fire Station Project Clears Conservation Commission|
|By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff|
05:23AM / Wednesday, November 15, 2023
|Work continues Tuesday morning to prepare the site at 562 Main St. in Williamstown for a new fire station.|
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Williamstown Fire District last week cleared one of two local regulatory hurdles facing the new station project on Main Street.
By a vote of 7-0, the Conservation Commission approved and set conditions for the construction project to replace the aging station on Water Street. This Thursday, fire district officials will be back at Town Hall to seek the OK of the Zoning Board of Appeals for the $22.5 million project that district voters overwhelmingly approved in February
Charlie LaBatt of Guntlow and Associates represented the district before the Con Comm, which has jurisdiction over the former Lehovec property at 562 Main St. (Route 2) because of its location in the 100-year floodplain and the presence of a bordering vegetative wetland.
"A little portion of the drive would fall within the floodplain, and, as you can see [on the site plan], we have a row or two of solar within the buffer zone to the bordering vegetative wetland," LaBatt told the commissioners.
Much of the groundwork for approval already was done when the district sought the Con Comm's permission to begin early site work for the building in May
"This clearing limit is essentially the same clearing limit we had previously revised our plan to show for the early site work package in our [request for determination of applicability]," LaBatt said last Thursday. "At the request of the commission, you wanted to see what we anticipated, even though we weren't doing it at that time — what we anticipated the full clearing limit of the project to be.
"So you've seen that boundary before."
The main business this month was LaBatt's response to a comments on the project from the Department of Environmental Protection, which reviews projects that fall under the Wetlands Protection Act and essentially advise the local commission of issues that need to be resolved in the notice of intent (NOI) process.
One of the issues raised by DEP was how the floodplain was delineated in the project plan. LaBatt, who also led the Con Comm members on site visits prior to the May and November hearings, reminded them that the topography of the site makes that delineation "tricky."
He also walked them through a hydrology study that is more up to date than the 1980s Flood Insurance Rate Map, or FIRM, that gives a different picture of the floodplain.
"For bridge work on [Main Street], MassDOT re-evaluated the 100-year flood, the 500-year flood, they did a whole new flood study of this river corridor, using the original FEMA flood-mapping storm events," LaBatt said.
"The new modeling shows that the stream bed is actually 5 feet lower than it was [in 1983]. That resulted in a 100-year flood event that is 3 feet lower than it was then and a 500-year flood that is 2 feet lower than it was then."
Besides, LaBatt noted, critical infrastructure like a fire station is held to a higher standard than other construction projects in a flood plain.
"In designing the fire station, we had to be conscious of the 500-year flood, something not regulated through the Conservation Commission," he said. "But for emergency response facilities like this is, it needs to be at or above the 500-year flood or 2 feet above the 100-year flood. In this case, those numbers, luckily, end up being about the same elevation.
"On the outside, we've been designing this facility to make sure an essential facility ... is actually above the 500-year flood."
The Mass DEP also inquired about whether the Con Comm should treat the station as a "Land Use with Higher Potential Pollutant Load," or LUHPPL, and, thus, require stricter stormwater management standards.
LaBatt told the panel that unlike a typical fire station, the Williamstown facility will not be fueling its trucks on site. The district will continue to fuel its vehicles either at the town's Department of Public Works or local commercial filling stations.
"Realistically, from a hazardous chemical point of view, they have one gas can," he said. "It might be 5 gallons for their lawn uses. And it's really not much different than what would be expected at a residential home."
But, as with the floodplain question, the stormwater management plan exceeds what would be needed at a typical residence for a different regulatory reason.
"In this case, [the LUHPPL question] doesn't matter from our perspective because we're already in a critical area because of the [town's] Wellhead Protection Overlay District," LaBatt said. "The one thing that a Land Use with Higher Potential Pollutant Load triggers would be that trigger from a half-inch stormwater runoff treatment to 1 inch. It would trigger all the things we're already doing.
"From a Conservation Commission point of view, water supply overlay zoning districts are considered critical areas for stormwater treatment and such."
The DEP also said the Con Comm should require a separate Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan, or SWPPP, for the construction phase of the project. In Guntlow's written response to the state agency, the Williamstown-based civil and environmental engineering firm noted that a SWPPP already was in place for the early site work, a point that LaBatt reiterated at the Con Comm hearing.
"At the end of this contractor's work, they will winter seed, winter rye everything, try to stabilize it, and leave all erosion controls in place," LaBatt said. "The next contractor will end up adopting everything that was left. The next contractor will also, at that time, prepare and submit an [electronic notice of intent] and a SWPPP. So those things will be covered.
"The next phase of this project will benefit from the fact that they'll be able to start the building project immediately without having to do all the rest of the normal site work you'd have to do. In essence, it's stuff we've already done."
The commissioners had little in the way of follow up questions for LaBatt before unanimously agreeing to set the town's standard list of conditions on a project of this kind.
Henry Art, an emeritus environmental studies and biology professor at Williams College, often uses Con Comm hearings to critique planting plans for projects. This time, he had no notes.
"Kudos," Art said. "It's a fabulous list. These are native to the Eastern United States. Most of them are southern, but they're going to do well in our warmer weather conditions … It will be the new native."