CHICOPEE – The City Council Licensing Committee has voted against a recommendation to grant permits for six fuel tanks and a gas station license to a Tennessee company that wants to locate a truck stop and travel center on Burnett Road .
The 3-2 decision will now go to the full 13-member City Council who are expected to make a final decision on the fate of the proposed Pilot Travel development for 357 Burnett Road at their next meeting on September 8. Council will need a simple seven-vote majority to grant or deny permits, said Councilman Shane Brooks, chair of the licensing committee.
Pilot Travel plans to build an 11,421 square foot travel center that includes a 16-pump gas station for vehicles, a seven-position refueling area for tractor-trailer trucks, a Wendy’s restaurant, and other amenities such as a convenience store and showers for truckers.
The decision came late Monday after a nearly three-hour meeting at City Hall where company officials presented the benefits of four 12,000-gallon aboveground tanks for diesel fuel, which are in short supply in the state. They also applied for permits for two 20,000 gallon underground tanks, one for regular gasoline and one split with one side for diesel and the other for super gas.
Company officials argued that a revamped intersection with a traffic light — upgraded by the state — would prevent tractor-trailer backups, which already plague the busy area where a Massachusetts Turnpike exit and the end of the Route 291 converges with Burnett Road.
But residents, who have been protesting the plan for months by attending meetings and setting up Facebook and web pages to spread their message, said adding trucks to the area would make a bad situation worse and create additional dangers. .
Their attorney, Seth Wilson, spoke about flaws in Pilot Travel’s traffic study, saying it failed to account for increased truck traffic. He asked the city council to commission a new study that also takes into account a new school and several businesses in the area.
“What’s needed is a company that complements and complements what’s already there,” Wilson said. He argued that Pilot Travel will simply compete with the existing truck stop, fast food restaurants and convenience stores already on Burnett Road.
“The Pride Truck Stop is the worst part of life on Burnett Road. Why would we approve a second truck stop on Burnett Road? asked Councilman Derek Dobosz, who represents the ward that includes the Burnett Road neighborhoods.
But John Furman, a VHB engineer who works for Pilot Travel, said the new venture is designed with at least 64 positions for stacking trucks to ensure they don’t spill onto Burnett Road and cause no traffic jams. The traffic plan has been approved by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and has gone through the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act process.
While the traffic study shows around 1,700 additional trips generated by Pilot Travel, most of these come from trucks and passenger vehicles that are already transiting. The only way to keep traffic from building there is to leave the site vacant, Furman said.
“Nobody sits at home and says, ‘I’m going to go to the Pilot for the evening,'” he said.
But Glenn LaPlante, who lives near Burnett Road, has previously said that area was so congested that his grandson took the bus to Dupont Middle School more than 90 minutes before classes start. He showed video of several trucks piled up on the road to park at the Pride Truck Stop.
“It amazed me how many people told me there was nothing we could do,” LaPlante said. “I don’t think there’s ever anything we can do.”
Furman argued that truck piling could be reduced somewhat because truckers who stop to refuel can first turn into Pilot Travel, which does not allow overnight parking like the Pride stop. The traffic light should reduce the traffic jams that occur at Pride.
The Planning Board approved the final site plan in July, which considered elements such as traffic flow, stormwater management and landscaping. The land is zoned for business and commerce and development is permitted as of right, so the Planning Board could require changes to the plan, but could not reject it outright.
The municipal council may, however, refuse storage tank and service station permits.
While underground fuel tanks are more common in Massachusetts, Brad Alsup, director of development for Pilot Travel, said the advantage of having above-ground diesel tanks is that the company knows immediately if there are has problems with them. He revealed the safety precautions on the four proposed aboveground tanks, which include barriers to protect them from damage in the event of impact, concrete slabs underneath that have sensors to alert employees to a leak and a fence locked around them.
The state does not allow aboveground tanks for gasoline. The two proposed undergrounds also have multiple safety features to ensure any leaks are detected quickly, he said.
Fire Department Lt. Katie Collins Kalbaugh said fire department inspectors examined above-ground tanks of the same size and located in a similar Pilot Travel in Sturbridge. Aboveground diesel tanks are primarily used in places such as fire stations and public works department garages and are typically 1,000 gallons or less.
She also cleared up confusion over an earlier permit for an underground tank that had been issued to another developer who planned a hotel and gas station on the site. This permit was granted to the applicant, who decided not to pursue the project, and not the site.
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