WAKEFIELD — The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has overturned the Wakefield Conservation Commission’s denial of Northeast Metro Tech’s plan to build a new vocational school on a wooded parcel across Hemlock Road from the current school.

The MassDEP decision means that Northeast Metro Tech can proceed with plans to build a new regional vocational high school to serve students in the district’s 12 communities, which includes North Reading. Work has already begun in areas outside of the ConCom’s jurisdiction, but the MassDEP ruling clears the way for work in all parts of the site.

After eight months of hearings, the Wakefield Conservation issued an order on June 6, 2023 denying the project based on its opinion that the proposed project could not be conditioned to protect the interests of the Wetlands Protection Act and associated regulations.

In its decision, the Wakefield ConCom asserted that the project’s proposed stormwater management system, amount of tree removal, wildlife impacts and snow management plan did not protect the interests of the Wetland Protection Act (WPA) and its regulations.

But, in its appeal of the Conservation Commission’s denial, Northeast Metro Tech (NEMT) argued that the proposed project could in fact be conditioned to meet all the performance standards and protect the interests of the WPA and associated regulations. The appeal states that the Conservation Commission failed to identify the specific performance standards with which the proposed project did not comply and substituted its own judgments and conjecture about the project’s future impacts in areas located outside the WPA’s jurisdiction.

In addition, NEMT maintained that a proposed stream crossing, as currently designed, meets the regulatory stream crossing standards and that impacts to the stream’s bank have been completely avoided.

On July 25, 2023, MassDEP conducted its own site visit. In attendance were NEMT representatives, representatives from the Wakefield Conservation Commission and other interested parties. At the site visit, MassDEP discussed the project and observed the areas where work is proposed.

In considering the appeal, MassDEP looked at proposed temporary impacts to the resource area associated with the removal of invasive plant species and re-planting of native plant species. The DEP concluded that “impacts to jurisdictional resource areas on the site have been avoided.”

In the course of its review, MassDEP requested modifications to the design of the proposed stormwater management system to better meet applicable regulations. NEMT’s development team responded with a revised stormwater management plan. Based on its review of the revised Stormwater Report and associated plans, MassDEP concluded that the changes demonstrate compliance with stormwater management standards and that the remaining portions of the stormwater system had been designed to meet the MassDEP stormwater standards.

MassDEP further determined that that the quality and quantity of the discharge meets the applicable stormwater management standards.

The MassDEP decision also addresses concerns related to the impact of constructing a new access road to the site of the new school.

Intermittent stream crossing

“The proposed access roadway will cross over an intermittent stream,” DEP notes in the decision. “A concrete 3-sided open bottom culvert will be installed that will span the bank of the intermittent stream to avoid direct impacts.”

Based on its review of the site plans, MassDEP concluded that clearing and grading of portions of the wetland buffer zone are needed for the construction of the new access road. “However, many of the impacts to buffer zone are temporary in nature with the intent of maintaining a vegetated buffer adjacent to the wetland and Bank,” DEP concluded.

The DEP decision also addressed proposed temporary impacts associated with the removal of invasive plant species and re-planting of native plant species. “Direct impacts to jurisdictional resource areas on the site have been avoided,” MassDEP determined.

Based on the information and plans contained in the file, information gathered at the site inspection and consideration of all issues raised through the appeal, MassDEP concluded that the project’s proximity to wetland resource areas and the extent of work will not directly impact riverfront areas or bordering vegetated wetlands. It is also MassDEP’s opinion that the proposed work within the riverfront area will not impact its functions.

As part of its decision overturning the Wakefield Conservation Commission’s denial of the NEMT building project, MassDEP issued its own 19-page Order of Conditions, which will now apply to the project as it moves forward.

The Northeast Metropolitan Regional Vocational High School, located in Hemlock Road, also known as “Northeast Metro Tech” (NEMT), is a comprehensive vocational and technical high school, which provides academic and vocational programs for approximately 1,250 students from 12 surrounding communities: Chelsea, Malden, Melrose, North Reading, Reading, Revere, Saugus, Stoneham, Wakefield, Winchester, Winthrop and Woburn.

The new 386,000 square foot school will be designed for Grades 9-12 and an enrollment of 1,600 students which is a sizable increase from the 1,250 students currently enrolled.