By Michelle Pelletier Marshall
---- — ROWLEY – The illegal butchering of deer at one of the town's wells has led the state to shut down the well, impose a $26,000 fine, and resulted in the resignations of the two water department employees who allegedly committed the act.
Jason Masse and Jason Kneeland, primary and secondary operators respectively, were arrested and charged by the Massachusetts Environmental Police Division on Feb. 6 for the illegal possession of untagged deer. According to the DEP consent order, the activities were “both inside and immediately outside of the Well #3 [Boxford Road] pump house and occurring within several feet of the well head. The alleged illegal activities described [in the police report] included butchering and draining the carcasses of untagged deer.”
These actions are in violation of the DEP’s drinking water regulations in such that the town failed to operate and maintain the system in a manner that ensures the delivery of safe drinking water to consumers; and failed to notify MassDEP within two hours of obtaining knowledge of a potential or actual emergency, as this instance would have been.
Town administrator Deborah Eagan reported that the actions of Masse and Kneeland were being investigated on Feb. 7, more than two months after the alleged incident occurred. Selectmen Chairman Bob Snow said that he was under the assumption that DEP knew about the incident since the environmental police had been involved.
It also was reported that water department superintendent John Rezza knew of the incident on Dec. 7, 2012 but did not report it. Neither he nor water Department Manager Laura Hamilton returned a call about this issue.
When asked if Rezza would seek any disciplinary action for not reporting this incident, Snow said he couldn’t comment on that right now, nor would he comment on the details of the actions of Masse and Kneeland, only saying “they no longer work for the town.”
The DEP ordered Well #3 shut down immediately after it heard about the incident, which was done on Feb. 7, 2013, and asked that water samples be collected from the well. Testing indicated that the distribution samples were free of coliform, a kind of bacteria that indicates potential contamination. The raw water was tested positive for coliform, which is acceptable, but was negative for E. coli, which is a potentially dangerous form of bacteria. The well will be reopened as soon as DEP gives approval after reviewing the town’s response to the consent orders, which have been submitted.
Subsequent to a DEP inspection of the well, the town was instructed to have the interior of the well pump house professionally cleaned, which was done on Feb. 12.
“We have complied thus far with all the stipulations of the consent order and will continue to do so as required to avoid additional fines and to bring the water department back into compliance,” said Eagan. The consent order also calls for the development of an Emergency Response Plan and Report, as well as a Standard Operating Procedures Manual for the water department. In addition, by May 1, a filing of the remedial actions taken by the town must be sent to the DEP.
If the town does comply as required, the DEP will suspend $10,000 of the fine, therefore leaving $15,875 to be paid via a payment plan that spans 300 days.
To help address the recent issues within the water department, including the recently reported overexpenditure of nearly $45,000 for the building of the addition at the 401 Central Street location, selectmen made a motion at their March 25 meeting to change the board of water commissioners from being elected officials to appointed officers. While additional approvals remain to ensure this change, the selectmen were hopeful to place an article on the town warrant to be voted on to make this happen.
“Due to the egregious and atrocious actions at the water department, I am left with no choice but to recommend these actions,” said Snow. “This move is necessary to restore the integrity and transparency at the water department, and the residents’ faith in this department.”
Selectmen Jack Cook and Stuart Dalzell added that this change was very important to bring the water department back to the people of Rowley and earn their trust again.
“The confidence [in the water department] is gone,” said Vice Chairman Bob Merry. “These things should have never happened and are a black mark on the town of Rowley at the state level. This is just horrendous.”