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Hopkinton to hold special meeting on proposed transfer station changes

Responding to pressure from some residents over possible changes at the Hopkinton-Webster transfer station, Hopkinton leaders decided last night to hold a joint meeting with Webster selectmen to raise public awareness about the changes being discussed.

The towns have applied for an amendment to their state waste permit that would allow the facility to accept certain lucrative recyclables from nonresidents. The change would take effect only if both boards of selectmen subsequently approved a similar change to their joint waste ordinance, which supersedes the permit. Though any ordinance change requires a public hearing, some residents who live near the facility have said they are concerned that the decision would not involve a public vote.

The board said last night it would not withdraw its application at this time.

Gary Rondeau, who lives near the facility, has been the most vocal opponent to date. At the board’s monthly meeting last week he presented a petition with 146 signatures from residents requesting that the board withdraw the application. Rondeau has said he is uncomfortable with the blank check the board effectively has to change the ordinance.

“There’s no parameters,” Rondeau said. “Do we want to be known as Hopkinton, the pretty town with good schools or the town where people bring all their trash? Let’s see how big this would be. Let’s see how many towns would be involved. Let’s see what it’s going to look like. I want it out in the open.”

But Selectwoman Sara Persechino said any changes the board decides to make will be mindful of neighbors.

“I have faith we can come up with an ordinance that is respectful of everyone,” she said.

Persechino suggested a compromise in which the board, though it has the authority to change it on its own, requires that any amendment to the ordinance be approved by voters at a town meeting.

But Selectman George Langwasser cautioned that could lead the board down a “slippery slope” in which it no longer has the power to make any decisions on its own.

“I think the board then gets caught in a pretty tricky situation, because then you’re starting to have to take every decision to the town,” he said. “How do you separate? Where does that line get drawn?”

Langwasser, talking to the five residents in attendance at the work session, seemed to take offense to the persistent criticism he has heard of the board’s handling of the permit application.

“There seems to be a complete mistrust of the selectmen,” he said. “Somewhere someone has to bite the bullet. The board has chosen that we authorize the permit change. We have no idea what (possibilities are) out there. All we’re saying is give us a chance to explore this. And only then, after proper vetting – vetting – will we move forward. I don’t know how to make that any plainer.”

Selectwoman Sue Strickford agreed with Langwasser.

“We have a landfill committee made up of public members, and no one comes to them,” she said. “So how much outreach do we have to do? If someone is so concerned, they can always ask to join the committee.”

But board Chairman Jim O’Brien acknowledged that the selectmen have not been as vocal as they could have been about the application. He said he would be fine with holding a joint public meeting with Webster leaders to provide residents from both towns with information about the possible changes and to raise concerns.

Persechino supported that idea.

“I don’t think it can harm us to be more proactive,” she said.

The board agreed to schedule the public meeting with Webster selectmen within the next two months.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

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