State halts public comment on controversial roundabout

  • Looking south at the intersection of North King Street (Route 5), left, and Hatfield Street, right, in Northampton, where a roundabout is planned. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Yellow caution tape marks the site of a completed archaeological dig on the west side of Hatfield Street in Northampton where it approaches North King Street (Routes 5 & 10). A planned roundabout for the intersection would go through the site where artifacts estimated to be at least 8,000 years old were found. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Traffic on Hatfield Street approaches and turns left onto North King Street in Northampton on Thursday. A planned roundabout would realign the problematic intersection. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A tractor-trailer prepares to take the sharp right turn from Hatfield Street onto North King Street (Route 5) in Northampton on Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Traffic in both directions on North King Street (Rt. 5) in Northampton stops to make way for a tractor trailer negotiating the sharp right turn from Hatfield Street onto North King Street on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. A planned roundabout for the intersection would go through a site where artifacts estimated to be at least 8,000 years old were found. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A view looking south on North King Street (Rt. 5), left, at the intersection with Hatfield Street, right. Photographed on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. A planned roundabout for the intersection would go through a site where artifacts estimated to be at least 8,000 years old were found. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The intersection of North King Street (Rt. 5), left, and Hatfield Street, right, in Northampton, looking south. Photographed on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. A planned roundabout for the intersection would go through a site where artifacts estimated to be at least 8,000 years old were found. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 1/7/2021 2:53:46 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A public comment period for a controversial roundabout has been put on pause by the state.

The project, planned for the intersection of North King Street and Hatfield Street, would go through a site where artifacts estimated to be at least 8,000 years old were found.

The state had announced a public comment period in December that would have extended through Jan. 12 as part of a Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) review, but it has been called off.

“On behalf of Secretary Kathleen Theoharides, the Environmental Notification Form (ENF) for the above project has been withdrawn from MEPA review at this time without prejudice. The site visit scheduled for today has also been canceled,” Purvi Patel of the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act office wrote in an email.

“MassDOT indicates that it intends to conduct public outreach on their own accord which will afford additional time to address the extensive public comments that have been received on the project through the MEPA process. It is MassDOT’s intent to refile the ENF once the public involvement plan (to be developed) has been implemented.”

According to a spokesperson for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, the state Department of Transportation informed the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act office Monday that it would withdraw its environmental notification form filing for the project.

“Due to extensive public comments received on the project, MassDOT informed Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act office that it intends to conduct its own public outreach for the project to properly address and respond to the comments received,” the spokesperson said.

The MassDOT filed an environmental notification form with the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs on Dec. 14, which triggered a public comment period and then the secretary’s office decision whether an environmental impact report — which the state’s website says would include impacts of the project, alternatives and mitigation measures — is needed.

A MEPA review is required when a project meets or exceeds certain thresholds and the project involves a state agency, according to the state’s website.

On the ENF form, MassDOT lists the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act threshold the project meets or exceeds as: “cut five or more living public shade trees of 14 or more inches in diameter at breast height.”

When asked why the environmental notification form was withdrawn, a MassDOT spokesperson said that “the pre-construction process produced many public comments on a wide range of issues and MassDOT is conducting a comprehensive public process to thoroughly evaluate and address public comments. Once that public process is completed, MassDOT will file any needed documents and ensure all MEPA requirements are satisfied.”

The spokesperson did not respond to a request to speak with an employee in the MassDOT office who is working on the project.

The withdrawn form was welcome news to Greg Skibiski, who started an online petition with more than 50,000 signatures, calling on local and state officials to prevent the construction. Skibiski’s father, John Skibiski, owned some of the land and filed a lawsuit this summer arguing, among other points, that the state performed a dig at the site before formally taking his land. 

“My interpretation is that I would say that finally the public outcry has had an impact and they’ve had to withdraw,” Greg Skibiski said. “This is the right thing that should have happened. I’m disappointed that it took so long.”

“I think this is great, actually,” Wayne Feiden, the city’s director of Planning and Sustainability, said of the pause in the review. He added that it’s an opportunity to set the record straight. “There’s a lot of incorrect information that’s out there.”

For example, some argue that the traffic issues could be solved with a traffic light. “You can’t make it safe for a tractor-trailer to approach an intersection at an obtuse angle,” he said. 

Putting in a traffic signal might make the project’s footprint bigger, Feiden said, because the Hatfield Road would need to meet North King Street at a right angle.

The city paid for the roundabout’s design and the rest of the project is paid for by state and federal funds. 

There is no date for construction. “MassDOT will notify the public and stakeholders at least two weeks in advance of any work being performed,” a spokesperson wrote in an email.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.


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