With rocks on the agenda, outlet plan review rolls ahead

MERRIMACK – Tying up loose ends is no easy task when it comes to the proposed outlet mall in Merrimack. For several weeks, the planning board has been inching toward the end of its site-plan review process with Chelsea Property Group, which wants to build 135 upscale shops west of Exit 10 on the F.E. Everett Turnpike.

In August, the board anticipated deliberations would begin this week and asked Chelsea for an extension to get to that point. On Tuesday night, the board requested another extension until Sept. 16 and Chelsea granted it.

The bulk of discussion was about rock-crushing operations necessary for leveling land and the effect on water quality. The town has a well near the property, which is in a protective district.

Mat DiPilato, a geotechnical engineer contracted by Chelsea, said the rock-crushing operator would use an “emulsions” blasting agent near the well because that type of agent is more water resistant and therefore safer than other options. He said there were still risks, but provisions are in place to protect town water sources, such as requiring that rock be removed the same day it’s blasted.

Jamie Emery, a groundwater consultant for the town, said Chelsea’s rock-crushing plan has come a long way, but said the town of Windham experienced problems with contamination when an emulsifying agent wasn’t cleaned up properly.

One issue, he added, is that there isn’t a lot of data on the use of emulsions, which would mean Merrimack would be something of a “test case.”

He was going to review Chelsea’s report on the emulsions and report back to the board about whether they should be used.

He suggested the board consider requiring videotape or a third-party expert to make sure blasts are being done properly.

Hours of operation for rock crushing were also a topic of debate.

Gordon Leedy, a landscape architect and planner who’s managing the project on Chelsea’s behalf, suggested crushing take place from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays.

Some board members were concerned about the noise and how it would affect neighbors, so a majority of the board agreed to bump the start time back a half hour on weekdays and trimmed Saturday hours to 9 a.m.-1 p.m.

Resident Jamie MacFarland asked the board to reconsider its vote because of neighborhood demographics, including stay-at-home-moms and telecommuters.

Fellow resident Mike Mills went one step further, asking that no crushing be allowed during weekends between April 15 and Oct. 15, when he said people are outside enjoying their properties. The board did not amend its vote.

The board’s next meeting is Sept. 16. Next Tuesday, Sept. 9, is primary day.