Opinion: Is the Dartmouth Select Board really cooperating?

Oct 14, 2021

To the editor:

In a letter to the Dartmouth Board of Selectmen dated Jan. 11, 2019, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection requested that the Town provide “additional information that the Town may have relative to dumping, filling, and/or burning of waste material in this area.” Within the letter is an instruction summary and notice that an accurate and complete response is mandated, with certification of compliance with the request.

Included in this letter was a very extensive list of items requested, including “all complaints or correspondence received by the town or any of its subdivisions from any other subdivision of the town or from any person regarding fill, dumping, burning, solid waste… A copy of all documents and communications within the Town pertaining to potential fill or dumping of solid waste in this area…”

On Aug. 2, 2019 the DEP sent another letter to the Board of Selectmen requesting additional information. The DEP citing documents provided by the Dartmouth Board of Health states “in the Town’s response to the Request for Information certain documents purport to show that the Board of Selectmen approved and regulated junkyards in the Bliss Corner neighborhood.

In a letter dated Aug. 30 Town Administrator Shawn MacInnes submitted a list of items “related to the request for information….please note that the files searched were those that were known file storage locations (i.e. Town Administrator/Select Board office and historic file storage areas).

Included in this letter was a signed certification by Mr. MacInnes  that stated “based on my inquiry of those individuals immediately responsible for obtaining the information, the material information contained in this submitted is, to the best of my knowledge and belief, true, accurate and complete.”

Attached to the letter were approximately 50 pages of documents, almost all irrelevant to the issue at hand.

In a letter to the editor of the Dartmouth Week dated Sept. 12 2019, the Select Board indicated that “the Town has worked diligently to search for any relevant documents and disclose them in order to assist MassDEP in its investigation.”

On Oct. 7, 2019 in response to complaints voiced at a Select Board meeting that the Select Board had not thoroughly and completely researched the boxes stored in their office to comply with the two DEP Requests for Information the Board requested that “the Health Department under the direction of Public Health Director Christopher Michaud to complete a comprehensive search of records which are held by the Select Board.”

On Jan. 28, 2020, after a complete and accurate review of one hundred and eighty three boxes previously stored in the Select Board office, the Board of Health, sent a letter to the DEP, signed with a certification by Mr. Michaud. Included in this letter were hundreds of documents, many that are relevant to the DEP investigation.

None of these relevant documents appeared to have been provided to the DEP by the Select Board on Aug. 30, 2019

While the issue of the Town’s potential liability for the remediation of the effected properties in Bliss Corner is as yet unresolved it would possibly have moved the matter along more quickly if the information requested had been provided in a timely manner by the Board of Selectmen. And most importantly a certification signed by the Town Administrator purported to have provided complete and accurate information. 

On an issue of such significance to the property owners specifically, and to the Town residents generally, transparency is crucial to this investigation and the eventual outcome. And most importantly true and thorough cooperation, not just cursory attention by the Select Board, is essential.

Betty Ussach,