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Inspector says dirt removed properly

Hingham’s building inspector has ruled that the removal of dirt from Hingham High School fields did not violate town bylaws, but some residents aren’t convinced.

The residents say they may take their complaint to the Zoning Board of Appeals, and possibly to the state attorney general.

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“I don’t plan to drop it with the decision from the building commissioner. I plan to pursue it,” said Peter Bickford, a Board of Health member who initially filed the complaint.

Ray Estes, chairman of the School Committee, welcomed the involvement of the zoning board, but said he was vindicated by the building inspector’s decision.

“Certainly having someone in the position to make such a determination, agree with us, makes me feel good about it,” Estes said. “The whole issue is just very troubling — the way it came about and the manner in which it was pursued.”

The dispute began in late June, when residents saw dirt being removed from the high school fields in preparation for the installation of artificial turf and other projects.

After the dirt was taken to Rockland, several residents and town officials argued this violated town bylaws that prohibit the removal of any dirt from the town. The belief was that the material was loam, an expensive type of planting soil.

“I think it’s a valuable commodity,” said John Hersey, a resident who opposed the removal of the soil.

However, school officials and the town engineer felt the material was merely waste. Officials said the actual loam had been preserved, but critics said the top layer should be preserved for town use as well.

The controversy eventually led to a complaint with the building inspector, who oversees the enforcement of zoning bylaws. In his written determination issued Aug. 2, building inspector Michael Clancy agreed with School Committee members.

“I believe the material, after the rototilling and scraping, is a byproduct of a grass layer which includes sod, roots, and sandy soil and not considered to be loam or any other material covered by the Zoning By-Law,” Clancy wrote.

Clancy added that the removal of material necessary for constructing a structure, street, or path exempts parties from the bylaw, as is stated in the bylaw’s contingency.

But Bickford wasn’t satisfied.

“If it turns out they did not need a special permit to remove the soil, I still believe the soil was dealt with improperly and that the town got no money for it as a valuable resource, regardless of what decision the building commissioner or the town makes,” Bickford said.

Bickford and others had intended to voice their objections at a selectmen’s meeting Wednesday night. However, board chairman Bruce Rabuffo quickly quashed discussion on the topic.

“This is not a matter for the Board of Selectmen,” Rabuffo said, reading from a statement. “The School Committee has care and control of matters pertaining to school facilities as given to them at Town Meeting.”

Rabuffo added that the procedure for the high school fields was also used for the Middle School and East School projects.

The brush-off perturbed Hersey, who came armed with two poster boards of photos as well as samples of dirt. A trail of dirt dropped like breadcrumbs behind him as he walked out of the meeting room.

“I just think it’s pretty sad. Disgusting. I’m kind of fed up. I am angry,” Hersey said.

Jessica Bartlett can be reached at jessica.may.bartlett
@gmail.com.

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