Blasting at the Fieldstone Way condo project site at 135 Great Plain Ave., has had nearby residents rumbling over the past week or so about the possible impact of such activity on their homes and the environment. One online commenter said she thought she felt an earthquake. Another worried about how animals on their property would react. A development exec relayed an anecdote about a neighbor he met right after a blast who didn’t even realize it had happened.
We’re not going to dive into the particulars of the developer-neighbor relations and negotiations on this project: Some abutters have come to terms with it but not everyone is seeing eye-to-eye in the wake of town approval for the 40B project a year ago and the start of construction more recently.
But it does seem like a good time to at least review Wellesley’s blasting rules given that more neighborhoods could be in for fireworks of their own in the months or years ahead as other 40B projects make their way from town hall into the neighborhoods (and then who knows what the reverberations could be like if Upham Elementary School its rocky surroundings are in for new construction). Seismographs, shot cast, and matting might suddenly become common lingo. Maine Blasting and Drilling vehicles might become more recognizable than those from Roche Bros. or Capt. Marden’s.
While the various 40B proposals in Wellesley in recent years have dragged on for many months, the reality is that once construction gets underway, blasting schedules can explode onto the scene. We’re talking days, not weeks or months.
The actual blasting rules in Wellesley largely boil down to adherence with a bunch of state requirements, including that the blasting outfit has a copy of a $20K bond from the State Treasurer, boasts assorted certifications and gives 24-hour notice before any blast. Wellesley has averaged about 4 blasting permits per year over the past decade, according to the Fire Department, which issues them.
There’s not much in the way of prior public review of the actual blasting permits—some would like to see that change. The opportunity for public comment appears to largely take place during development proceedings at town hall, though those plans can change after the commenting period is complete. Developers and their partners are required, however, to keep neighbors in the loop in advance of and during the blasting process.
Having a blast on Rte. 135
You can’t miss the emerging Fieldstone Way project if traveling along Rte. 135 in Wellesley near the dump: Acres upon acres of trees were obliterated toward the end of summer to make way for a 44-unit condo complex with 11 relatively affordable units that will contribute to Wellesley’s overall efforts to boost its affordable housing stock. While residents and other passersby have lamented the loss of the woods and disruption of wildlife, the changes to that landscape were no surprise to those following the ins and outs of a wave of 40B development proposals in town.
What has surprised some is the blasting that has now begun to further transform that land. Wetlands, traffic and stormwater concerns were raised by the town and residents during public discussion about the Fieldstone Way project. But blasting wasn’t a huge focus of the original Fieldstone Way discussions like it was with the Stearns Road 40B project, which sits near homes, a capped landfill, Sprague Elementary School and an Alzheimer’s facility.
“We fought long and hard on the dangers of blasting at 16 Stearns Road during the ZBA hearings,” says Pete Buhler, an abutter of the Stearns Road project and frequent spokesman for the Our Affordable Wellesley group. “But in the end, the ZBA determined that, in the grip of 40B, the risks were minimal and did not outweigh the community’s need for affordable housing —even though it abuts Sprague School, the nursing home, the fields, the footpath, neighboring homes, the capped former landfill and the below ground infrastructure of culverts, connecting piping, drains and retention basins.”
Wellesley Executive Director Meghan Jop says that when the Comprehensive Permit was issued by the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) for the Fieldstone Way project about a year ago, the ZBA “addressed blasting by stating in condition 20e (vi) that the Construction Management Plan must address blasting if there was blasting.” The original plan was submitted to the town in April prior to the issuance of the building permit and was approved by Wellesley’s Planning Department as required. As work commenced on the site, the developer identified rock that needed removal. The developer then submitted an application to the Fire Department on Oct. 17 for a blasting permit.
“The blasting company did go to neighbors’ houses seeking a pre-blast survey before the Town was made aware or the neighbors that a blasting permit was necessary,” Jop says. The Fire Department, ZBA, Building Inspector and Planning Department then reviewed materials and in the end, the Construction Management Plan was updated and neighbors were notified by the town.
Additional seismographs were requested by abutters, but the blasting application itself was not subject to public review. Keep in mind that one of the main perks for 40B developers is that they gain leeway on zoning rules, so once they get a Comprehensive Permit for their project, it can be full-speed ahead. But again, blasting rules themselves are set by the state.
Peter Crabtree is the executive who led the Fieldstone Way townhouse condo project through permitting and approvals with the town, and interactions with neighbors to gain trust. He detailed for us Northland Residential’s efforts to reach out to neighbors in advance of blasting in recent weeks. This included emails and texts about the schedule, and he shared his email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) and phone number (781.229.4706) with us to disseminate to those who might still have questions. He pledged to extend the radius of his communications from properties 250 feet away from the development site to those 600 feet away in all directions after we chatted by email.
“I made a point to be at the site this past Monday when the first ‘shot’ was detonated at around 10:15 am.,” Crabtree wrote on Oct. 30. Typically, 2 shots are detonated in a day during the blasting cycle, he says, and techniques such as laying down heavy pads are used to contain debris.
Wellesley Fire Department on the job
The Wellesley Fire Department plays a key role in blasting oversight, both in terms of issuing permits and serving details on site. You can get a peek at permits, if you know they’re being issued, at the Fire Department’s Fire Prevention Office, and the department is working toward online permitting. All regulations are set by the state, which seeks to ease residents’ concerns about blasting.
“Any blaster filing for a permit is required to supply specific documentation to ensure all State guidelines are met before a permit is issued,” says Wellesley Fire Chief Rick DeLorie. “This documentation includes a Massachusetts Explosives License, certificate of explosive storage and handling, blast analysis design plan, pre-blast inspection surveys, bond with the State Treasurer and an insurance certificate. Every blasting project has a fire detail assigned to it to ensure the work follows all state regulations; each firefighter has a list—called the Uniform Blasting Site Detail Check List —that is filled out on site for each blast.”
DeLorie says the Wellesley Fire Department is closely monitoring work at 135 Great Plain Ave., and “is confident there have been no violations of state regulations at that site since blasting began. All of the blasts have been well below the allowed threshold.”
Of course, that still doesn’t mean people are going to like it or future blasting in Wellesley. Though from the sound of things, we might all need to get ready for more of it.