To say the battle between Bancroft Road resident James Berberian and the town of Andover over the dumping of wastewater sludge on his property three years ago is a complex, layered, even potentially political charged one is a vast understatement.
Any time a community shells out a reported $500,00 in legal fees alone to deal with a situation that has resulted in a federal lawsuit, it is going to raise questions among townspeople, if not their ire.
This summer, it looked like a settlement — to the tune of $440,000 being paid by the town to Berberian — was within reach. That deal, reached through non-binding mediation, was devoid of any admission of liability or wrongful conduct by the town. But Berberian’s failure to also reach a separate agreement with a private contractor that had done work on his property, as he had stipulated, squashed the deal.
If one assumes Berberian will settle for no less than that previous $440,000, the town is looking at being on the hook, at the very least, for $1 million when all is said and done. And that “when” is still nowhere in sight.
The case dates to November 2010 when Berberian videotaped town Water Department employees cleaning out the 6 million-gallon water storage tank at Bancroft School. His video shows them dumping dark-colored water into leaking trucks and into a nearby storm drain. That drain flowed down Bancroft Road and onto Berberian’s property at the corner of South Main Street adjacent to Phillips Academy.
The brownish water contained dark sediment that ended up settling in about an acre of wetlands on Berberian’s property. When that sediment was tested, he says it showed high levels of toxic metals, including arsenic, cadmium and nickel.
After months of failing to get the attention and answers he expected from town officials, Berberian filed a federal lawsuit in February 2012.