The town recently discovered a man-made wall built directly into the town drinking water supply without its approval and wants it removed.
But the resident who built the wall says it has been there for decades, and the town just never noticed it.
In a July 25 Wetlands Protection Act enforcement order, Conservation Director Bob Douglas wrote that the installation of a retaining wall and foundation within a wetland and its buffers at 14 Evergreen Lane “is occurring with no permits under the Andover Bylaw” or the protection act.
The wetland Douglas refers to is Haggetts Pond, the body of water along Lowell Street from which Andover residents get their drinking water. The town’s water treatment plant is on Haggetts Pond.
“The work consists of large foundation stones being mortared into place and appears to be recent in nature,” Douglas wrote.
On the same day the enforcement order was issued, acting Inspector of Buildings Chris Clemente issued a cease-and-desist order against property owner Will Horsley.
Resident defends work
But according to Horsley, the construction itself isn’t recent, and even if it was, he should be able to protect his property.
In a letter to the town, Horsley wrote that “there have been preexisting retaining walls over the past decades on my lake frontage.”
In the letter, Horsley explained that when he discovered a pre-existing wall on the property in the mid-1980s, he went through the effort of rebuilding the wall. Five years ago, he started repairing the wall again after “it seemed to succumb to the elements” over the last two decades.
The reason for keeping the wall, he says, is obvious. With erosion, trees along the shoreline are exposed to the elements much more than normal. Without retaining walls, they commonly die and fall into the pond, causing greater issues.
A health issue stopped him from working on the wall two years ago, he said when reached by phone this week. So now, with the low amount of rain over the summer lowering the pond’s level, the retaining wall — as well as damage it sustained from recent ice buildup — can be seen for the first time in several years.
Recently, he used fresh mortar to repair the small section of the wall that was damaged, he said. He has also purchased patio blocks, which he said he plans to put on top of the wall to make it more visually appealing. That is when the town took notice of something being built in the town’s water supply, he said.
“When the water was high, everything was covered,” said Horsley. “This is not something new, nor is it something extensive... It’s been there for many years. Why the sudden excitement over a minor repair is hard to fathom.”
Drinking water safe
Douglas said Horsley never sought a permit to do the work but it’s very unlikely the town would have granted one if he had.
“Very few projects are permitted in resource areas, and very, very few are done in a drinking water supply,” said Douglas. “Reservoirs are almost sacred. Very little work is done on them for every good reason — the less disturbance, the better.”
Last week, the Board of Selectmen and Conservation Commission each met in closed door sessions with Andover’s town counsel, Tom Urbelis, to consider legal action, according to Town Manager Buzz Stapczynski.
Town officials, including Stapczynski, said the town’s drinking water is safe, despite the construction.
“We stand by the quality of the water,” said Stapczynski. “We’re concerned that someone would think that they can do that on a public water supply, that they could use that water for their personal space.
“That water supply belongs to all of us, and it needs to be protected,” said Stapczynski.
Chris Cronin, acting Department of Public Works director, said the town expects Horsley to take down the wall, and if he doesn’t, will likely take him to court to force its removal. Meanwhile, Horsley looks to the water treatment plant — which he says has a town-built retaining wall going directly into the pond - and similar projects completed by some other residents on the pond without the town knowing — as reasons why he should be able to keep his wall.
“The biggest retaining wall on the entire pond is ... Andover and its water works,” said Horsley. “It seems the residents should have all the rights of the town. The town shouldn’t be privileged beyond what the residents can do.”
Standing near a piece of his property that was built into the pond several years earlier, Geneva Road resident Jim Arnold said the town should work with Horsley to protect his land rather than fight him. But if town officials won’t work with him, Horsley should fight them, he said.
“We took them to court,” Arnold said, pointing to a wall he built with Andover approval several years ago. “They didn’t win with us.”
In Arnold’s case, a peninsula on Haggetts Pond had an in-ground pool that collapsed. He and his wife, Beth Arnold, started doing the work to put a basketball court in its place. The town came down on them like a hammer for doing it, he said.
“The town came after us pell-mell, until (then-DPW Director) Bob McQuade said, ‘Are you kidding me? They stabilized it. Why are you going after them for fixing the problem?’” said Jim Arnold.
After a lengthy court battle, the town and Arnolds settled. They moved the court to the center of the cul-de-sac they live on and stabilized the peninsula with a man-made, town-approved and designed, rock wall built onto the pond. In the end, the wall cost around $50,000, which Jim Arnold said came out of his pocket.
“Now, it is collapsing into the water,” said Jim Arnold. “We want to make it work, but it is a one-way street right now.”
When discussing Horsley’s situation, both Jim and Beth Arnold said they understood Horsley’s logic and encouraged him to defend his property.
“If I was him,” said Jim Arnold, “I’d say, ‘No way.’”
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