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December 20, 2013

Andover settles toxic sludge case

ANDOVER — The town has officially settled a District Court lawsuit with Bancroft Road resident James Berberian, bringing an end to a toxic sludge case dating back to 2010.

Berberian stands to be paid $500,000 in the settlement, finalized by a unanimous vote from the Board of Selectmen at an open meeting last night, according to Town Counsel Tom Urbelis.

Of the money in the settlement, $450,000 will be paid by the town while $50,000 will be paid by engineering firm Pennoni Associates, according to Urbelis.

Pennoni Associates’ involvement in the matter came after the company had done work on Berberian’s 2-4 Bancroft Road property.

The settlement approved yesterday follows a similar agreement, which included a $440,000 payment from the town and a contingency for a separate agreement from Pennoni, which fell apart in October.

Other changes to the agreement from the previous one amount to rephrasing of some wording, Urbelis said.

The agreement was not available after the meeting last night. Berberian’s attorney, Joseph Wadland, couldn’t be reached for comment.

The lawsuit case began in November 2010, when water department employees were cleaning out the 6 million-gallon water storage tank at the Bancroft School as part of routine maintenance on the water system.

However, town workers were videotaped by Berberian dumping dark-colored water into leaking trucks and into a nearby storm drain. That drain flowed down Bancroft Road and onto Berberian’s property at the corner of South Main Street.

The brownish water contained dark sediment which ended up settling in a wetland on Berberian’s property. When that sediment was tested, it showed high levels of toxic metals, including arsenic, cadmium and nickel, among others.

The town attempted to clean up Berberian’s property, but he claimed that some sediment remains. In February 2012, he then sued the town in federal court over what he said was a violation of the federal Clean Water Act for discharging contaminated water into a wetland.

Following months of closed-door meetings, the Board of Selectmen voted in August to accept the earlier settlement agreement.

By the end of the month, with a counter-proposal filed by Berberian, it appeared the agreement was in jeopardy “through no fault of either party,” Wadland said at the time.

The full agreement will be available in the coming days, according to Urbelis.

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