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Sue Bush
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Barrett Will Battle For Nigro Development

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Wednesday, August 10, 2005

North Adams – A boundary line between the city and the Town of Adams may be becoming a proverbial “line drawn in the sand” between leaders of the two communities.

13 Pages of Questions

A 10-page Berkshire Regional Planning Commission report and a three-page letter from Adams Town Administrator William Ketcham submitted to the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act agency that raise dozens of questions and potential objections about a proposed Nigro Development LLC Route 8 /Curran Highway project has provoked a forceful response from Mayor John Barrett III.

Speaking during an Aug. 10 telephone interview, Barrett termed the two communications an eleventh-hour “sneak attack.”

“And we are armed and ready,” he said.

The two documents, which were submitted on July 27, two days before a MEPA public comment period ended, are “a well-orchestrated maneuver by Adams officials and the BRPC,” Barrett said. He stressed that BRPC Executive Director Nathaniel Karns has never approached city officials or the city’s BRPC representative with any concerns or issues about the proposed development.

Adams officials and BRPC officials attended a July 26 MEPA scoping session of the proposed development site.

Contacted at the town administrator's office, Ketcham said that the town wants opportunity to review potential project impacts on the town and also consider impacts to the town sewer system. Current project plans call for connection to the town’s wastewater treatment facility.

“We want to review the project factually and see if it is beneficial for Adams or if it is not,” Ketcham said “The town needs to have the facts to make a rational decision.”

BRPC Executive Director Nathaniel Karns did not return telephone calls and messages seeking comment. An answering machine message stated that Karns was not in the commission offices on Aug. 10.

The Proposal

The proposed Nigro project involves erecting a 137,000-square-foot shopping arena that would house a restaurant, bank, home improvement store and garden center, and also generate construction of a 744-vehicle parking lot. The planned development, expected to cost between $12 million and $15 million, is slated for a 21-acre Route 8 site that sits in proximity to another proposed development site, an already-existing but predominantly vacant plaza owned by the Starwood Ceruzzi development firm.

The plans call for the new development to be connected to the Adams wastewater treatment plant; the plaza now owned by Starwood Ceruzzi has been linked to the Adams sewer for years and the Robert Hardman Industrial Park in the city is also connected to the Adams facility. A formal agreement about the arrangement was established in 1986 and is set to expire on Oct. 7, 2011. The Nigro site is not included in the agreement.

Flow Woes

According to Ketcham’s letter, “The Town cannot provide sanitary sewer service to this site without an amendment to the inter-municipal agreement between Adams and North Adams. The City of North Adams has not requested such an amendment, although the Town has just recently been contacted by the developer’s attorney.”

Ketcham’s letter also asks why acquisition of a sewer extension or connection permit was not required in order for the project to proceed.

Barrett said that the Nigro project would require “very little” new sewer, and the associated fees would benefit the town.

“This would generate between $25,000 to $30,000 of new revenue to the town,” Barrett said.

Ketcham said that the town’s wastewater plant capacity is not an issue but the condition of some town-owned underground pipe is a potential problem. Ketcham acknowledged that an underground sewer pipe along Route 8 has generated some problems, and may not withstand additional volumes of wastewater.

“We are requesting flow data,” Ketcham said. “We don’t really know how much is coming in [from the city].”

According to Ketcham, the existing agreement allows 85,000 gallons of city wastewater to flow into town per day, and he said that currently, because the plaza is largely unpopulated, flow levels are likely well under the permitted amount.

But development would likely change that, and the town wants to know how much increase would occur, he said.

Analysis Requests

The BRPC report cites numerous environmental issues that the commission is asking MEPA to investigate. The report asks for a 21E report about possible contamination at two portions of the property, including an 8.1 acre area once used by the city as a gravel pit.

“Part of the Nigro agreement that was made public is that a 21E assessment had to be done,” Barrett said. “And it was done. This is a clean site.”

Other issues raised by both communications include a laundry list of traffic concerns about Route 8 and the Adams downtown, including concerns about truck traffic passing through Adams. The town is also asking for traffic impact studies that focus on the town’s Friend Street/Route 8 intersection, the juncture of Hoosac Street and Route 8, and the Route 116 [Center Street]/Route 8 intersection.

All those areas have carried significant truck and vehicle traffic, Barrett said.

“They had more trucks going through the [Adams] downtown for the Curtis Papers [a recently-closed paper mill on Route 8] and W.R. Grace [a closed mill] in one day than would come here [to the Nigro site] in a month,” Barrett said, and added that during the days when Sprague Electric Co. and General Electric were prospering, volumes of traffic traveled north and south along Route 8 and other roadways day and night.

Ketcham’s letter charges that the planned development would “undermine” about $6 million of grants and other revenue aid granted the town by various state entities and used to benefit an Adams downtown revitalization effort. That effort has included property rehabilitations, attempts to capitalize on the Ashuwillticook Trail, a state-funded bicycle path that runs behind Park Street, through creation of a pedestrian link at Armory Court and other development efforts.

“We believe that the proposed project would likely serve to undermine the substantial public investment directed at revitalizing the Town’s downtown core,” Ketcham’s letter stated.

And therein lies one big rub for Barrett: much of the revitalization grant monies and other revenues benefiting downtown development were secured through the efforts of the town’s Community Development Director Donna Cesan, who is the wife of Karns.

“I believe this is a real breach of public trust,” Barrett said.

When asked if he believed that Cesan and Karns influenced each other for purposes of the public comments, Ketcham said “No, I do not believe that.”

When asked if there was joint discussion between BRPC and town officials prior to the writing of the two documents, Ketcham answered in the affirmative.

Ketchum said he could not recall exactly when or how he learned about the July 26 session - the town was not included on a MEPA notification list - but said that he did remember receiving a telephone call from Karns after learning that MEPA had scheduled the visit.

Karns asked Ketcham about town concerns focused on the North Adams project and the two did discuss the concerns, Ketcham said.

“The [BRPC] report does reflect some of the concerns that Adams has,” Ketcham said, and added that some of the concerns were mentioned during the tour.

Ketcham also noted that because the town was not aware of the MEPA session until shortly before it occurred and because the MEPA public comment period concluded on July 29, the town had to work quickly to submit their comments within the time constraints.

Cesan was not available for comment.

Briony Angus of MEPA said that public comments from entities such as the town and the BRPC are valued by the agency because of their “insights.”

Angus said that the Nigro project is already on the list for an EIR [Environmental Impact Review] because it meets the state criteria for such a review. Public comments from planning commissions and other government agencies are useful to MEPA officials, she said.

“The MEPA review is a public process and we rely on public comments to give us insight about projects,” Angus said.

Ketcham’s letter strongly questions whether the development is appropriate for the Route 8 corridor and states that the jobs created by the project could do harm to the local employment situation.

“Moreover, we cannot foresee how the proposed development will generate any additional jobs,” Ketcham’s letter stated. “It will simply transfer employment from existing businesses to big box retailers.”

“The history of big box retailing appears to indicate that new retail space tends to draw customers away from existing business rather than draw new customers to the area,” Ketcham’s letter said. “This may cause the closing of existing jobs and existing tax revenue through the abandonment and abatement of taxes on vacant properties. The development may ultimately serve to reduce jobs and tax revenues rather than increase them.”

Barrett challenged Ketcham to point to one job he’s created since becoming the town’s administrator in 2004.

“Could he [Ketcham] tell me where this will cause the loss of jobs?” Barrett said. “The Town of Adams hasn’t produced one new job in 10 years, and one can see why.”

Barrett also noted the frustration that Adams town officials felt when state and regional environmental groups repeatedly attacked Greylock Glen development plans, and chided them for acting in tandem with the BRPC.

“They are hypocrites,” he said.

Barrett noted that three of the Adams Industrial Park’s occupants launched their ventures in the city and then moved to Adams without any public outcry about city job loss from city officials or himself.

Barrett said that some of the information contained in the documents relies on data that is 10 years old, and expressed his determination to bring the project to the city.

“Do not underestimate my tenacity in this thing,” he said. "They forgot that I am the mayor of North Adams and I will not let this go. I will fight this all the way."

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at or at 802-823-9367.
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