Board of Health Update

BOH addressed Ken's Warehouse noise issues, handling other noise, Fitzgerald's permit, and tightening regs for tobacco products

Above: BOH’s last meeting covered updates on resolving issues at two businesses in town. (images L-R cropped from Google maps and photo by Susan Fitzgerald)

For years, neighbors of Ken’s Foods facility in Southborough have complained about reverberating noises that have disrupted their lives. It appears some progress is finally being made towards a solution.

As long as I’m sharing that update, I’m including some other highlights from the Board of Health’s meeting two weeks ago.

Ken’s Foods and neighbors’ sound engineers collaborating on hopeful resolution

Since 2020, abutters of Ken’s Foods Distribution Center on Route 9 have complained to Town officials about noises emanating from trucks idling at their facility.

In spring 2021, abutters raised the issue to the Zoning Board of Appeals when Ken’s sought permission to expand the facility east. Public Health Director Heather Alker told the ZBA that she was concerned about the health impacts to neighbors caused by the vibrational noises. At that time, Ken’s said it took concerns seriously and was working with neighbors.

The ZBA granted the permit, agreeing with the applicant that the issues were irrelevant to the specific application. But the board agreed to issue a memo to the Planning Board advising them of issues to be aware of during the Site Plan Approval process.

Ken’s has been in hearings with the Planning Board since the fall. Based on Town Counsel’s opinion, Planning is seeking an agreed upon resolution to noise complaints before approving the site plan.

Public meetings over the past year have clarified the main cause of noises to be the truck’s refrigeration units. Even when the truck engines are turned off, the reefers are left on. (That’s based on health regulations. When any of the goods the trucks are transporting require refrigeration, containers must be pre-cooled prior to loading.)

In May, BOH held two meetings on the sound issues. On May 24th, sound engineers hired by abutters presented their findings and recommendations. On May 31st, Ken’s consultant presented his report. It appears both agreed that installing a new sound barrier would greatly improve the situation. But their specific recommendations for the design/location differed.

At the second meeting, the consultants agreed to collaborate on a plan for another sound test to help determine the correct design for a sound barrier. On June 21st, the Board heard an update on next steps. Ken’s consultant David Coates walked the Board through the testing plan. (You can find the memo, along with a proposed barrier location that was shared with Planning, here.) Abutters’ consultant, Marc Wallace of Tech Environmental, confirmed it reflected their collaboration.

The engineers hope to be able to soon conduct the tests (with 20 reefers on site) then agree upon a design for the barrier. Ken’s is targeting getting that done in time for a September approval by the Planning Board, and construction in November (after the appeals period closes).

Industrial Noise Complaint policy

Looking forward, the Board wants to make the reporting (and resolution) process smoother for future complaints about noise generated by businesses.

Under state law, regulations for industrial noise are the Board of Health’s responsibility. The Board has been considering creating a policy or writing regulations.

Chair Chelsea Malinowski said she thought it was important that it be clear what people should do if they have a complaint and what steps need to be taken.

An intern will be working for the Public Health department this summer. Among his tasks, they hope he can put together a recommendation for them.

Ken’s abutter Debbie DeMuria indicated she would like to see regulations noted in Town bylaws. As a member of the Planning Board, she noted that as part of permitting board decisions they point applicants to bylaws that must be followed but not to policies.

The Noise Bylaw passed by Town Meeting voters didn’t include a section on the industrial noises.

A draft of the bylaw had included language about the Board of Health’s responsibility/authority under state law. The Select Board (including Malinowski who also serves on that Board) opined that it didn’t make sense to include that language in the Article.

Tightening regulation of flavored Tobacco product sales

As I previously covered, the Board has been working to revise regulations for tobacco sales in town. In May, I listed some of the restrictions they plan to impose. I missed a key one – flavored tobacco products.

In their June 21st meeting, the Board added eliminating sales of flavored rolling paper to the draft regulations. Public Health Director Heather Alker noted that they hadn’t previously specified whether to eliminate all rolling papers or just the flavored ones. Member Safdar Medina recommended banning all. Members Nancy Sacco and Chelsea Malinowski proposed just banning the flavored products.

An earlier draft specified that “no person shall possess, hold, keep, sell, or distribute” flavored tobacco products. Dr. Alker informed the Board it doesn’t have authority over possession. Based on comments from Town Counsel, only the sale and distribution will be banned.

To allow the community to weigh in before they vote to adopt the new regulations, the Board plans to advertise a public hearing for the evening of September 19th. Stay tuned for the draft that will be discussed.

Fitzgerald’s considered to be on track

In May, I wrote about Fitzgerald’s General Store’s temporary closure over health, building, and fire safety code violations. Two weeks ago, Dr. Alker updated the Board on the latest inspection.

Since their prior meeting on the code violations, owners have been continuing to make progress.

Alker said that there were no repeat violations of food safety/priority issues. The store is no longer making food and kitchen equipment was removed. (There is still coffee and slushee/ice cream service, which is fine.)

A schedule was created for employees to check expiration dates of food weekly.

There was improvement in the area of pest control and the contractor will make visits twice monthly. Related to the pest issue: flashing needs to be installed at the bottom of one door, screen doors need to be installed (since the owner wants to keep doors open), tall grass near the building needs to be cut down, and holes in the foundation need to be plugged with cement.

Alker updated that the owner appeared to have also resolved the most serious issues with the building and fire code violations.

The Board will seek to follow up on compliance at their July 12th meeting before reissuing a permit.

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