Andover Townsman, Andover, MA


January 14, 2014

Toxic sludge case costs top $1.1M

Water customers, taxpayers will foot payout, legal fees

The three-year fight between the town and a Bancroft Road resident over the dumping of toxic sludge into wetlands on his property may be over, but Andover’s water users — and taxpayers — are left footing the bill.

Between legal fees, engineering expenses and a $450,000 payout to James Berberian of 2-4 Bancroft Road, the town will have spent $1.1 million since 2011 on the case.

Town officials remain mum on the controversy, and neither Berberian nor his lawyer have been available for comment since the settlement was inked last month.

The case started in November 2010 when Berberian saw dark, mucky water flowing out of a drain pipe and into a wetland at the corner of his property.

He videotaped it and found that the water was drained from an underground storage tank near the Bancroft School by Water Department employees. The muck that ended up flowing into the wetland was from sludge that had accumulated on the bottom of the 6 million-gallon tank over the years.

Later, it was determined that the sludge contained heavy metals, including arsenic. When Berberian asked the town about the spill, it was only partially cleaned up, he has said. As a result, he sued in U.S. District Court under the federal Clean Water Act to have the rest of the wetland cleaned up.

On Dec. 26, the town and Berberian signed an agreement reached after months of negotiations, depositions, executive session meetings and even a Fox-25 TV news report. The agreement was released to The Andover Townsman last week.

As it stands, the agreement calls for the town of Andover to pay Berberian $450,000 — a cost being borne by water ratepayers, Town Manager Reginald “Buzz” Stapczynski said Pennoni Associates, an engineering firm that did work for the town, is scheduled to pay Berberian an additional $50,000.

Not all of the money goes immediately to Berberian, however. The Bancroft Road resident remains embroiled in a dispute with another attorney over work done on the case. As such, some $253,000 of the $500,000 will be placed in an interest-bearing escrow fund until that dispute can be ironed out.

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