Putting the cart before the horse in Saugus

Town Meeting on Monday overwhelmingly approved three zoning changes aimed at longtime Saugus business and major property taxpayer Wheelabrator.

But questions are sure to continue dogging the changes even as they make their way to the state attorney general’s office for approval.

The changes originated with an organization that sounds less like a group of concerned local citizens and more like a band of environmental organizations intent on taking aim at Wheelabrator. The zoning articles were authored by Town Meeting member Ann Devlin, who viewed their passage as a way to help ensure the health and wellbeing of Saugus residents and their neighbors in surrounding communities.

This is a worthy objective but is it one supported by sufficient facts? A state report released last year concluded there is no elevated local cancer risk.

Where is the definitive, well-researched and documented health report on Wheelabrator’s operations? If the zoning articles are aimed at reducing health risks for current town residents and safeguarding future ones, shouldn’t they have been built on a foundation of solid, multi-sourced health research?

Two public officials on Monday used similar and interesting language to assess the impact of the zoning changes. State Rep. RoseLee Vincent said the changes are instrumental in helping Saugus control its destiny. Board of selectmen chairwoman Debra Panetta said “adding more control … makes sense” in referring to the bylaws.

Both women are experienced public officials but do their words make sense? As a major economic contributor to the town, isn’t Wheelabrator a force in determining Saugus’ destiny? As for Panetta’s comment, more controls make sense only if they achieve a goal that serves the town and Wheelabrator.

Any restrictions aimed at the firm’s Saugus operation should be drafted after extensive discussion between town residents and officials and Wheelabrator representatives. What good do the new zoning bylaws do if they simply toss Saugus into court to fight a protracted and expensive lawsuit?

What if Town Meeting member Bill Brown is right and Wheelabrator’s lawyers argue in a courtroom that the zoning changes were exclusively aimed at restricting “one business” in Saugus? Does it really make sense for the town to spend taxpayer dollars on a legal fight that could find town lawyers trying to explain why approved zoning changes were aimed at one local business?

The better use of town money and time is to find a forum or forums where Wheelabrator’s needs and town concerns can be analyzed, weighed and discussed with the objective of crafting a long-term working relationship between the community and the company.

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