, Newburyport, MA

June 17, 2014

Seabrook seeks groundwater reclassification

Move will protect the aquifer, restrict new businesses, town officials say


---- — SEABROOK — Selectmen plan to apply to state environmental authorities for an increase in the groundwater classification level for land west of Interstate 95. This move will bring restrictions to the type of materials businesses may use in the regions, as well as greater scrutiny and monitoring of those located there.

Selectmen voted yesterday to enter into the groundwater reclassification process and make an application to the state Department of Environmental Services, at the urging of Planning Board chairman Donald Hawkins.

Hawkins said he believes upgrading the groundwater classification of land along Route 107 will help protect the aquifer, as most of the town’s wells are located in that region. Hawkins said once the aquifer is contaminated, the town won’t be able to do anything about it, so it makes sense to take actions that can prevent contamination in the first place.

He believes land along Route 107, currently zoned Industrial, is ripe for development. Depending on the degree of classification requested, this new action can give the Planning Board the ability to reject certain companies that use certain possible contaminants or require special techniques to safeguard against pollution.

Hawkins said this move will also give the Planning Board the authority to require developers and businesses to build their sites in a manner that ensures that well water levels are protected by preserving the land’s ability to let rain and snow permeate the soil and filter down to the aquifer.

This can be possible by requiring new parking lots be built of porous matter that allows rain water to perculate through it, or install methodology that collects all stormwater, then cleans it and releases it into the aquifer recharge area.

There are four levels of groundwater classification town officials can seek, according to Julie LaBranche, of the Rockingham Planning Commission, who is working with the Planning Board on this issue. The most stringent would be the GAA level, or delineated wellhead protection area, which prohibits six high-risk land uses completely, namely: hazardous waste disposal facilities, solid waste landfills, outdoor bulk storage of road salt, junkyards, snow dumps and wastewater or septage lagoons.

This level requires periodic monitoring of businesses where proposed harmful substances are kept through a town-designed management plan that would regulate the use and storage of certain substances found in greater than household quantities, such as five gallons or greater. These materials might include gasoline or paint thinner, for example.

While the next highest level, GA1, does not have land use prohibitions, it would also require active monitoring and management of potential contaminants.

The other two classifications, GA2 and GB, require no active management, LaBranche said.

According to Hawkins, reclassifying the groundwater to GAA or GA1 levels would give Seabrook water superintendent Curtis Slayton the authority to go into every business in the reclassified areas to see what materials are on property and how they’re handled. This should help prevent accidental contamination of the groundwater should there be seepage or spills.

This would apply not only to new businesses but to existing businesses as well, LaBranche said; the management plan would require more stringent monitoring. Existing businesses may need to provide more documentation to the town concerning the materials they keep on property.

The Planning Board is also working on amending the zoning in this area, Hawkins said. With many discussing the Route 107 corridor as a place that could potentially hold a casino on the site of the greyhound race track, if New Hampshire were to legalize casino gambling, it would bring more hotels, restaurants and retail establishments. Therefore, the Planning Board has decided it’s time to review and perhaps change the current industrial designation this area has, he added.

Last year, the Planning Board rezoned the northern corridor of Route 1 to keep out more “big box” retailers and curb further traffic congestion by prohibiting stores with large footprints in favor of smaller businesses and mixed-use developments. Prior to that, the Planning Board rezoned the Smithtown’s section, which surrounds Town Hall, to make a more village-like atmosphere where pedestrians can walk to small stores and businesses.