Reporting Joe Shortsleeve
DUDLEY (CBS) – It’s a story of David and Goliath.
Two sisters say their 300-year-old family farm in Dudley is slowly being destroyed by the wealthy college next door, and there’s apparently nothing they can do about it.
The I-Team found they may be right, given the financial interests and cozy relationships aligned against them.
“It’s 200 feet long and 15, 10 to 15, maybe even 20 feet wide in places,” said one of the sisters, Janice Williams, as she walked through the gaping erosion channel carved by water running through their farm.
The sisters said the erosion channel is getting bigger every year, washing away the earth supporting a grove of towering sugar maple trees.
“These trees are just sitting on air,” said Williams.
“They will fall on her house,” said her sister, Jeanne Davis. “They’re a hundred feet tall and they’re 30 feet from her house.”
Williams and Davis, twin sisters and both retired school teachers, said the erosion is caused by water runoff from their next door neighbor, Nichols College .
Now the private college is building a new parking lot they fear will cause even more damage.
“Right now what they’re doing, they’re expanding a parking lot directly above us by an acre and a half,” said Davis . “The overflow channel ends right at our property, who knows what’s going to happen.”
Engineer Matt Marro is the town consultant who reviewed the Nichols plan. He says the college has taken steps to limit water runoff into the farm.
He was asked if he thinks the sisters have a legitimate complaint, Marro said, “In my personal opinion, no.”
But the sisters aren’t buying it, and now they’re suing Nichols College for damages.
“We’ve received no help from anybody,” said Williams.
“It does seem that the long arm of Nichols College is everywhere in Dudley,” said Davis .
The sisters point to the fact that the contractor hired to do the work expanding the parking lots at Nichols College also has another job.
The I-Team confirmed the contractor is also the chairman of the Dudley Conservation Commission, the very commission with the authority and power to stop the project.
It’s that kind of influence that have Williams and Davis convinced that they don’t stand a chance fighting Nichols College.
Richard Androlewicz is the chairman of the Dudley Conservation Commission, but he also owns Rampco Construction, the company Nichols is paying to build its new parking lot.
According to video shot by a local cable television channel, at a June 2008 Conservation Commission meeting, Androlewicz announced: “I have to recuse myself from this discussion as I do work for Nichols College. “
Androlewicz left the hearing room before the vote, but that didn’t stop him from later signing the decision which allowed the Nichols project to go forward.
After the chairman declined our request for an interview and gave us a written statement saying he had recused himself from the Nichols College deliberations, we caught up with him outside Town Hall.
Androlewicz said he has not seen the erosion damage on the sisters’ farm, but said he was concerned about it.
When asked what the farmers should do about it, he said, “I think it’s an ongoing problem. I think that’s an action between them and God.”
When we asked him if he understands the concern the sisters have that he is both the chairman of the commission and the contractor on the job, he said, “I’m allowed to work.”
“It seems a conflict of interest to me,” said Williams.
The sisters also went to see their State Senator, Richard Moore, but he’s a member of the Nichols College Board of Trustees and he’s received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Nichols officials.
“He sat with his arms folded and listened to us for about a half hour and he said, ‘No, I told you at the beginning I couldn’t help you.’ And so we left,” said Davis talking about Richard Moore.
We asked Moore if he thought the sisters’ case has any merit. “From what I know of it, it seems like basically it’s like fighting against the tide,” the Senator said. “The water goes downhill.”
Nichols College declined to talk to the I-Team, citing the pending lawsuit. Both the college and Androlewicz refused to disclose the dollar value of the parking lot construction contract.
Davis and Williams previously sued the Town of Dudley and Nichols College in Massachusetts Land Court and lost.