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Restoring the Environment | Redevelopment Highlights
Water Resources | Natural Resource Management | Local Services & Redevelopment
Five-year Devens Reuse Plan |
Public Involvement Opportunities | References/Contacts

Devens’ Influence on the Environmental Quality of the Nashua River
by Aisling Eglington and Liz Kotowski

Devens is situated north and south of Route 2 along the main stem of the Nashua River. It encompasses 9,280 acres in four communities: Ayer, Shirley, Harvard, and Lancaster. Once part of New England’s largest Army base, the 4,400 acres of the North and Main Posts were officially closed in 1995. They are now under development as a planned residential community and industrial park. The remaining 4,880 acres are located in the South Post, which is still used for military training.

Prior to the closure of Fort Devens, a public planning process began to establish a blueprint for the economic development of the property and the region. Plans to address site contamination and natural resource management were also developed. The Massachusetts Legislature created the Devens Regional Enterprise Zone by passing Chapter 498 of the Acts of 1993. This legislation established the legal parameters for governance of the property over the next 40 years.

The Devens Reuse Plan was completed in 1994 as a joint effort between the Massachusetts Government Land Bank (now MassDevelopment) and the Joint Boards of Selectmen of the towns of Ayer, Harvard, Lancaster and Shirley. It became effective when the Army closed the base the following year. Responsibility for implementing the Devens Reuse Plan is shared by two public agencies: MassDevelopment and the Devens Enterprise Commission (DEC) (see section on Local Services below for more information on roles of these agencies).

A major goal of the Reuse Plan was sustainable development, defined as “achieving a balance of economic, social, and environmental needs, while maintaining and enhancing the natural resource base.” Although implementation is not yet complete, many positive steps have already been taken to enhance the environmental quality of this impacted portion of the Nashua River Watershed.

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Restoring the Environment
Devens is a Superfund site, meaning that under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) it is required to clean up contaminated sites that pose threats to human health and the environment. CERCLA remediation efforts are managed by a team that includes representatives of the Army, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). MassDevelopment also works closely with the team. Additional sites containing petroleum-contaminated soils are being cleaned up by MassDevelopment under the Massachusetts Contingency Plan (MCP), also known as DEP’s 21E Program.

Many of the clean-up goals have been achieved. Remediation efforts are still ongoing at several sites, including the former Moore Army Airfield, Shepley’s Hill Landfill, Barnum Road, and at sites containing pesticide-contaminated soils. Investigations were recently completed at Grove Pond, and plans are being developed for investigations in the vicinity of Plow Shop Pond.

The Consolidation Landfill was completed in December 2002. More than 340,000 tons of construction and demolition debris from six unpermitted historical Devens landfills were excavated and removed to this site. The landfill was constructed as a CERCLA remedy for Devens' historical solid waste but was sited and permitted using DEP solid waste regulations. The cost of the remedy was in excess of $24 million.

Long-term monitoring plans (LTMPs) for groundwater are in effect or are under development for the following sites: Shepley’s Hill Landfill; West Rail Area; South Post Impact Area; Army Enclave property; Parker Charter School site; Barnum Road; and the former Airfield-North Post. An LTMP has not yet been developed for the Airfield but will be prepared at a later stage in the remediation process. A monitoring plan also will be developed for the Consolidation Landfill.

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Redevelopment Highlights
Approximately 64 percent of the proposed build-out has been achieved at Devens. More than 75 businesses and other organizations are now operating at Devens, representing business and industry, government, educational institutions, recreational developments, and residential communities. Much of the industrial redevelopment has occurred in the West Rail Industrial Area and parts of Jackson Technology Park. MassDevelopment plans to attract more biotech companies to the Jackson Technology Park and will continue with redevelopment of residential areas and the Downtown Devens area in the near future.

The Reuse Plan for Devens also includes 282 residential units. Of that number 102 existing units were made available under Phase One of the housing development plan and some new residents have already moved in. Phase Two of the housing development, expected to begin in 2003, includes construction of 180 new homes.

Special environmental projects related to Devens’ redevelopment include the Devens Ecostar program for businesses, the Devens Solid Waste Management Planning project, and the Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility, and the Devens Open Space and Recreation Plan. A total of 2,100 acres of open space have been preserved and 1,400 of those acres are available for public use and recreation.

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Devens’ Water Resources
Eight miles of rivers and streams flow through Devens, including the main stem of the Nashua River. Other water resources include abundant aquifers, wetlands, and approximately 100 acres of open waters, including Mirror Lake, Little Mirror Lake, and Robbins Pond. In addition to its location in the Main Stem subbasin of the Nashua, Devens also lies in the North Nashua River, Mulpus Brook, Catacoonamug Brook, and Bowers Brook subbasins.

Studies conducted for the Devens Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and Reuse Plan estimated the safe yield from the aquifer underlying Devens at approximately 5 million gallons per day (mgd). Water resources required for full build-out were estimated at approximately 3 mgd. Average current use is estimated at 0.7 mgd. Four public water supply wells are currently permitted at Devens in addition to an irrigation well for the Red Tail Golf Course. The total permitted withdrawal amount (for all wells combined) is 4.2 mgd (1999-2004). That amount will increase to 4.6 mgd for 2004-2009 and 4.8 mgd for 2009-2014.

Wastewater is handled by the Devens Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility (WWTF), which was originally built in early 1940s and provided primary treatment to the wastewater collected from the former Fort Devens Army base. Under an Administrative Consent Order entered into in 1995 between the DEP and the Mass Land Bank (now Mass Development), the treatment plant has been upgraded to provide advanced treatment (secondary treatment, nitrogen removal, and disinfections) though sequence batch reactors and ultraviolet disinfections. The WWTF is designed to treat 3 mgd of wastewater and is operated under a DEP groundwater discharge permit.

The upgraded WWTF has been in operation since September 2001 and treats less than 1 mgd of wastewater from Devens and the Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Shirley. Additional flows may be expected from the towns of Shirley and Ayer in near future. The treated effluent is discharged to the groundwater via rapid infiltration beds (not directly to the Nashua River). The groundwater is tested through monitoring wells placed up and down gradient of the discharge. The Nashua River is also monitored six times per year upstream and downstream of the discharge, and no noticeable impact to the river has been reported.

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Natural Resource Management
Main and North Posts
The framework for managing and conserving the natural resources at Devens’ Main and North Posts includes the Devens bylaws and regulations; a water resources protection plan; a stormwater management plan; an open space and recreation plan; a trails plan, spill prevention, control, and countermeasures plans; zone II delineations and protection measures; wetland protection measures; and conservation restrictions.

Current priorities relevant to natural resource management include design and development of a Devens trails system that will link surrounding communities; enhancement of Mirror Lake to prevent run-off and to improve opportunities for public access; review and updating of the Devens Open Space and Recreation Plan; design and implementation of the Devens Stormwater Management Plan; and a stream daylighting project to uncover portions of the streams that are currently culverted underground.

The open space and environmental network was a key element of the Devens reuse planning process. Critical natural features, including wetlands, rivers, aquifers, were identified in the site analysis and designated for protection and enhancement by inclusion in the open space network. In 1999, approximately 830 acres of land were turned over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, expanding the Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge. Land around Mirror Lake, Robbins Pond, the Eskers region, and Cold Spring Brook will be conveyed to the Trustees of Reservations.

The new Squannassit Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) extends from Groton westward to Ashby and from Ayer northward to New Hampshire. It encompasses 36,480 acres and includes portions of Devens, in particular the North Post area. The central themes for the Squannassit are the protection of its basic ecological system and the creation of wildlife corridors to link fragmented habitats. The inclusion of U.S. Fish and Wildlife property (to the west of Devens’ Main Post) will provide an important link between the Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge and the habitat included in the ACEC.

South Post
(Source: Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan 1998-2002, Devens RFTA, Massachusetts. Gene Stout and Associates/Stone & Webster, April 1999)

Still managed by the U.S. Army, the 4,880 acres of the South Post are largely undeveloped. The habitats found in this area include 3,000 acres of forest (1,630 acres of hardwood, 920 mixed, and 450 softwood), 800 acres of wetland such as marsh and wooded swamp, 300 acres of grassland and open area, and 30 acres of vernal pools and riparian habitat.

A total of 756 plant species have been identified on the South Post, including 22 species designated as endangered, threatened, of special concern, or on the watch list for Massachusetts. No federally listed plant species have been identified. Also found on the South Post are a wide variety of animals: 41 species of mammals, 152 species of birds; 15 amphibians, 17 reptiles, and 546 invertebrates. Forty-four species of fauna have been designated as endangered, threatened, of special concern, or watch-listed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

The South Post still contains areas contaminated by metals, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), petroleum hydrocarbons, and explosive chemicals detected in soils, sediments, groundwater, and/or surface water. However, there have been no unacceptable human health or environmental risks associated with monitored-area groundwater.

The natural resource management plan for the South Post includes the following objectives:

  • Sustainable forest management to support military training and enhance ecosystem integrity
  • Rehabilitation of damaged areas
  • Protection of water and soil quality
  • "No net loss" wetland management policy
  • Improve habitat quality for wildlife
  • Protection of land from wildfires
  • Protection for areas of special ecological interest

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Local Services and Redevelopment at Devens: Roles of MassDevelopment and DEC
When Fort Devens was closed, MassDevelopment was designated to oversee Devens’ redevelopment, establish a department of public works, contract for fire and police services, and serve other functions of a town government. The agency plays a key role in attracting new businesses to Devens and various community development initiatives. The Devens Enterprise Commission was authorized to serve as the board of health, conservation commission, zoning board of appeals, planning board, and historic district commission. The DEC is responsible for issuing development permits and for administering and enforcing Devens’ bylaws and regulations. The DEC also plays a key role in ensuring that the sustainable development goals of the Reuse Plan are achieved through the planning process.

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Five Year Review of Devens Reuse Plan
During 2000 and 2001, MassDevelopment, the DEC, and the local Devens communities of Ayer, Harvard, and Shirley participated in a five-year review of the Reuse Plan. Some of the concerns identified by the Tri-Town review were the need for effective remediation of contaminated sites with clear timetables, the potential for discovery of new contamination without clear assignment of clean-up responsibility, and the need for effective protection of aquifers and all other water resources. The Tri-town review also recommended a more integral role for the towns in decision-making on Devens redevelopment, and the establishment of subcommittees on open space, transportation, housing and Devens disposition.

The MassDevelopment review highlighted achievements in meeting the goals and guidelines of the 1994 Water Resource Protection Plan for Devens; expanding and upgrading the Devens wastewater treatment facility; and on-going efforts to design and implement the Devens Stormwater Management Plan. DEC recommendations included preparation of a Master Plan, including a detailed analysis of environmental resources and constraints for the North Post, consideration of more housing on Devens, greater emphasis on sustainability, and a prototype Integrated Pest Management Program. The second phase of the five-year review is now underway.

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Public Involvement
The public has many opportunities to participate in the Devens remediation and redevelopment efforts. Those opportunities include attending meetings and hearings, reviewing documents, and participating on committees related to open space and recreation, transportation, and water resource management.

Local communities continue to participate in Devens’ redevelopment through the Joint Boards of Selectmen (JBoS), which meets monthly and DEC public hearings. In addition, citizens and organizations such as the Nashua River Watershed Association and PACE (People of Ayer Concerned for the Environment) have contributed to the planning process through public meetings, committees, and forums. The Army holds monthly Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) meetings for public participation in CERCLA clean-up activities and MassDevelopment holds bi-annual public meetings to discuss MCP clean-up activities.

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For more information, please contact one or more of the following organizations:

MassDevelopment: (978) 772-6340
Meg Delorier, Vice President Community Affairs
Ron Ostrowski, Environmental Coordinator.

Devens Enterprise Commission: (978) 772-8831
Peter Lowitt, Director/Land Use Administrator

Massachusetts DEP, Central Regional Office (Worcester): (508) 792-7650
Aisling Eglington, Regional Planner-Devens Redevelopment
John Regan, Section Chief Solid Waste Branch/Devens Remediation

US Environmental Protection Agency
Carol Keating (617) 918-1393

Army Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Environmental Office
Ben Goff, (978) 796-2205

Town Administrators/JBoS Contacts for Devens Communities
Ayer: Anita Hegarty, (978) 772-8210
Harvard: Paul Cohen, (978) 456-4100
Shirley: Kyle Keady, (978) 425-2610

Nashua River Watershed Association: (978) 448-0299
Elizabeth Ainsley Campbell, Executive Director

Web Resources

Devens Enterprise Commission:
Devens Community:
Devens Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Environmental Office:
Devens Reserve Forces Training Area:

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