Tamworth — October 21, 2004 — The public comment period has officially closed on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers review of the proposed racetrack application in Tamworth, and the corps will now be focusing on sifting through the information it has received and determining whether or not to issue a permit.
Michael Hicks, of the Army Corps of Engineers, said he expects the review process to be completed by December, but there is no absolute date by which a decision must be made.
“We try to have a decision within 120 days. That’s a goal. But it’s not etched in stone,” he said. If new information comes up or if the corps’ analysis indicates a problem with a project, it may be returned to the company to be redesigned. For instance, he said, if the corps found that the company’s sound study did not adequately account for the noise created by the track, the project could be sent back to it for revision. Speaking in general terms, he said, “It could take six months or a year to redesign a project,” and that extension of time would not prevent a company from eventually receiving a permit.
He said the corps has gotten letters from people both for and against the project, many presenting emotional arguments for their point of view.
“Overall, I think when you evaluate something, being a human being, you sympathize with people,” he said.
Although there are more letters from people opposed to the project, Hicks said, the people who are in favor of the project are as passionate about their position as those who are against it.
“If you read their letters, they’re just as compelling as those who are against it,” he said. “It’s kind of hard not to sympathize with both parties, but you can’t base your decision on that. You’ve got the law. You’ve got regulations to follow. You can’t get around those.”
Ultimately, he said, such letters “do have an impact. But you can’t let that drive the permit decision.”
Much of the decision making depends upon whether or not the project follows the regulations, and such factors as how has the company performed in the past, do they have the right equipment and qualified people to do the work, are the projected effects on the surrounding land accurately predicted.
Among the factors to be evaluated in the Club Motorsports permit application, are the differing opinions about whether or not the sound produced by the project will bother people who live and work nearby.
Club Motorsports submitted a sound study done by Tech Environmental, Inc. of Waltham, Mass. that indicates that the proposed motorsports park would generate less noise than vehicles on Route 25 and local roads do. A previous study, done for the Tamworth Foundation by sound engineer Chris Menge of Harris, Miller, Miller and Hansen, of Burlington, Mass., indicated that noise limits would have to be imposed on vehicles or barriers would be needed to keep the sound levels at an acceptable level. He proposed a noise limit of 69 decibels at the property boundaries. Club Motorsports has contested the results of Menge’s study.
A number of residents of Tamworth and surrounding towns have also commented that they are concerned about the noise, which they believe will be too loud.
“As far as the sound study goes, we’re having an independent review of the sound,” Hicks said, adding that there are qualified sound engineers in the Army Corps of Engineers and other branches of the government who will review the material.
He said it is not so much a matter of reconciling where the opinions differ, but evaluating the merits of each study.
“We’re evaluating the applicant’s study. Then we’ll look at the merits of the other study,” he said.
Another issue that the corps must consider is whether or not to require a bond be put up before the work is done. Focus: Tamworth has asked for a bond to be required to return the land to its former state if the project is not completed. “We’re not sure if we’re going to require a bond. We’ve got the regulations. We can require a bond,” he said. The corps has required bonds on a few projects, he said, such as the Cape Wind project. But he said it is rare to do so.
The board will also consider the effects on wetlands, flooding, wildlife, plants and historic resources. Hicks said as long as the hydrology of the wetlands are maintained and factors such as sunlight and nutrients are essentially unchanged, the surrounding vegetation should remain intact.
The Army Corps will also be looking at such factors as the change in migratory patterns of animals because of the fencing required for the facility.
Hicks said the company has done a Phase I archeological survey of the property, which has led to a Phase II study. The work on that study is not complete he said.
The proposed project is expected to affect only about three-quarters of an acre of wetland directly. And Hicks said it is rare for the Army Corps of Engineers to hold a public hearing when such a small amount of wetland will be affected. But, he said, the corps was aware that there was a great deal of public concern about the project, and for that reason decided that a hearing would be appropriate.
“We hope that we satisfied the people in Tamworth that they were listened to,” Hicks said. “We decided in the public interest we needed to go up there and show them we are going to look at this. We’ve tried our best to be fair.”