Weston Selectmen Vote To Sue University Over Sale of Contaminated Property

The Board of Selectmen of the Town of Weston, Mass. voted on Mar. 26 to file a lawsuit against Harvard for allegedly failing to comply with the terms of a 2010 contract which required the University to “remediate” contaminated portions of the 62.5-acre Case Estates property it had agreed to sell to the town.

This decision, which Selectman Michael Harrity characterized in an interview as “reluctant” but unanimous, comes after more than two decades of discussions between the University and the suburban town located 10 miles outside of Cambridge about the Case Estates land.

The property, located on near the intersection of Ash, Wellesley, and Newton Streets, was bequeathed to Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum by the Case family in the 1940s. According to the Weston Town Manager’s website, the Arboretum used the land for educational and experimental purposes before deciding in 1985 to begin to sell portions of the land, the first 35.65 acres of which went to the Town of Weston.

In 2006, the University agreed to sell the remaining 62.5 acres to Weston for $22.5 million. Harrity said that after the agreement, there was a discovery of a high level of contamination of pesticides and agricultural chemicals from before Harvard’s ownership, when much of the property was apple orchards.

Harrity alleges that, consequently, the University agreed in 2010 to lower the price to $19.5 million and commit to a partial cleanup of specific portions of the property, which contained potentially dangerous levels of arsenic, before its sale.

However, Harrity said that before the cleanup was finished, the University informed the town that it had found more contamination than it had previously expected in a specific portion of the property and, according to a statement issued by the Weston Board of Selectmen, “did not want to proceed with the cleanup to the full extent required under the contract.”

The statement also alleges that the University has since made a “take-it-or-leave-it” offer in which Weston would purchase the property as-is for $14 million.

“We met with them to see if there was a common ground we could find to deal with these circumstances,” Harrity said. “But Harvard just said, ‘Hey, here’s what we’ll do, take it or leave it,’ and we didn’t think that was a good faith effort.”

University spokesperson Brigid O’Rourke wrote in an emailed statement that the University does not comment on matters subject to litigation.

“As we have stated in the past, Harvard University and the Town of Weston have had many discussions surrounding the sale, and the very complex environmental history, of the Case property, and we had hoped that we could reach mutually acceptable terms. Harvard remains committed to responsible stewardship of the property,” the statement read.

Harrity said that the Board of Selectmen ultimately hopes that the University will agree to abide by the 2010 proposal.

—Staff Writer Christine Y. Cahill can be reached at christine.cahill@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @cycahill16.

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