D23 – Mitigating Impacts of Warehouses on Watersheds (NRWA)

Overall Project Description:

The goal of this project was to create a summary of potential impacts warehouses may have on municipalities and watersheds in Massachusetts and to use that summary to develop recommendations for communities. Information for this project was collected through visits to the case study location of Lancaster, Massachusetts, interviews, and thorough content analysis of warehouse documentation and permits. Through this research, we have found a variety of environmental, social, and economic impacts that warehouses can have that are both beneficial and detrimental in nature. We have also created recommendations for municipalities on matters such as mitigating unwanted impacts and reactions, increasing information availability and accessibility, and expanding communications.

Project Goal and Objectives:

The goal of this project is to develop a summary containing the possible impacts of warehouses on watersheds and municipalities in Massachusetts and strategies to help communities plan and coordinate construction.

The following objectives were utilized as we worked towards the goal of this project:

  • Objective 1: Develop Case Study of Potential Warehouse Siting in Lancaster, Massachusetts
  • Objective 2: Identify and Explore Other Warehouse Siting Situations
  • Objective 3: Develop Summary
  • Objective 4: Draw Conclusions and Recommendations from Summary
  • Objective 5: Run Recommendations by our Sponsors

Student Team and Advisors:

Our team is made up of three juniors from Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Diana Binney, Data Science Major

Axel Luca, Computer Science Major

Yicheng “Frank” Si, Mechanical Engineering Major

Our project is being advised by Paul Mathisen

Project Sponsors:

Nashua River Watershed Association (NRWA)

Sponsor Contacts:

  • Jessica Veysey Powell
  • Martha Morgan

We would also like to give a special thank you to Anne Ogilvie who, while not a project sponsor, has been invaluable to us throughout this project.

Expected Project Deliverables:

The project will present as a form of final deliverable that contains two parts. The first part contains potential impacts we have learned from our case study about Lancaster as well as studies about other towns in Massachusetts. The second part contains our recommendations for towns or small municipalities on how to mitigate some unwanted impacts brought by warehouse construction plans. 

Project Deliverables:

  1. The Summary and Recommendations:
    1. Summary of Potential Impacts and Recommendations
      In this section we present our final findings in a deliverable that contains two parts. The
      first part contains potential impacts we have learned from our case study about Lancaster as
      well as studies about other towns in Massachusetts. The second part contains our
      recommendations for towns or small municipalities on how to mitigate some unwanted impacts
      brought by warehouse construction plans.
      7.14.1 Potential Impacts
      The potential impacts by warehouse construction plans include several categories, we
      have divided them into environmental impacts, social impacts and economic impacts. The three
      categories are listed below in our deliverable. Environmental Impacts
      The broad environmental impacts collected were as follows:
      ● Water pollution
      ● Air pollution
      ● Land pollution
      ● Noise pollution
      ● Light pollution
      Each of these types of pollution also lends itself to additional impacts, such as habitat
      destruction. This can be of great note, especially if the warehouse is built on or near an Area of
      Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). Furthermore, each of these types of pollution can not
      just create negative health effects on the flora and fauna of the municipality, but also the
      The listed environmental impacts can be expanded to include the following specific
      – Water pollution related
      – Surface and groundwater hydrology and quality
      – Water-based animal species and habitat destructions
      – Scenic qualities
      – Air pollution related
      – Air quality
      – Greenhouse gas emissions
      – Warehouse pollutants
      – Other pollution related
      – Scenic quality disturbance
      – Pedestrian risk increase
      – Topography, geology, and soils
      – Infrastructures Social Impacts
      The broad social impacts collected were as follows:
      ● Roadway congestion
      ● Increased Traffic
      ● Emergency response delays
      Increased warehouse construction may lead to vehicles being required to go at slower
      speeds whenever traveling on roadways. This itself leads to additional issues such as increased
      traffic on roadways due to vehicular queuing, and that it may take longer for emergency services
      like the police, ambulance, or fire department to reach their telecommunicators who may need
      serious attention. Economical Impacts
      The broad economic impacts collected were as follows:
      ● Increased revenue
      ● Decreased taxes
      ● Increased jobs
      ● Decreased property value
      With increased jobs and town revenue, warehouses can potentially bring a good amount
      of money to a financially struggling municipality. The demographic of the town and types of new
      jobs being offered are two important factors to consider when weighing what percentage of local
      residents will likely be filling these positions. If the people in the municipality are not the majority
      of the workers of the warehouse, then revenue may increase in other ways. Due to the resulting
      increase in commute through town, these new individuals are likely to make purchases for
      things such as food or gas. With more revenue to the town, taxes may decrease. Decreased
      taxes can also help residents, allowing goods and services in town to potentially become more
      affordable and may even aid in drawing in more people to the town. On the other side, potential
      decrease in property value for areas near the warehouses may also occur, and may lead
      residents away from these areas.
      7.14.2 Recommendations
      Our project led to a number of recommendations that we have identified to help towns or
      municipalities to mitigate unwanted impacts by warehouses or warehouse construction plans.
      The recommendations are listed in three main categories: mitigation of unwanted impacts and
      reactions, increasing information availability/accessibility, and expanding on communications.
      The categories are listed below.
      ● Keep information about the development as easily accessible as possible
      ● Maintain active communication with both proponents and opponents of the development
      in the community
      ● Discuss with developers their efforts to mitigate unwanted impacts
      To strengthen these recommendations we recommend the town make them public by including
      them into the official town bylaws when possible. Doing so will give people more assurance that
      these measures will actually be followed through.
      Increase Information Availability/Accessibility
      We have two primary recommendations on how to improve information availability and
      accessibility in municipalities in regards to warehouse development.
      ● Create ease of access to notable documents
      ○ Provide easy electronic access to all permits, applications, reports, etc.
      regarding the construction project via the town website
      ■ This can be done under the Planning Board or under the Town
      ■ All of these should be accessible without the requirement of any
      sort of town account or proof of residency
      ○ Provide easy physical access to copies of all permits, applications,
      reports, etc. regarding the construction project through the town hall
      ● Provide an edited version of notable reports that state the main points and are
      easy to read by the average resident
      ○ All acronyms/initialisms used should be clearly defined
      ○ This should not take the place of the original report, and the original
      report should be linked at the top of the edited report
      ○ These should be available both electronically and physically
      Expand Communications
      In order to help towns or municipalities to better mitigate unwanted impacts and ensure a
      relatively positive relationship within the community, we have the following recommendations
      about setting up meetings if given time and resources to expand communications:
      ● All stakeholders are involved
      ● Give free time to let concerns be expressed
      ● Active participation from all sides
      ● Provide specific examples of tangible mitigation plans
      ● Provide a specific estimation of monetary values with all factors possible included
      In addition to that, we also recommend finding a middle ground between two groups of
      people with different opinions. The recommendations of how to find a middle ground is listed
      ● Find a reputable person in the town as a mediator
      ● Find someone outside this situation as a mediator
      ● Make a definitive list of matters that are important to either side
      ● Try to listen to the point that the other side is making, and try to understand them
      from their perspective.
      ● Hosting more meetings to allow for more people to be able to have a chance to
      say their piece
      We also have some recommendations related to increasing the transparency of the
      developers, it would help the residents if brought up in one of the meetings mentioned above.
      The recommendations are as follows:
      ● Even in situations where a Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is not required by
      MEPA, the town can require the developers to do one for clarity and
      ○ This would include MEPA requirements for an EIR, of which the following
      are a few examples of:
      ■ The status of the project
      ■ Details about the size and nature of the project
      ■ The availability and plans for mitigation efforts
      With these recommendations the town or the municipality should be able to mitigate
      some of the unwanted division between different groups of people holding different opinions
      about warehouse constructions or even with other matters.
      Mitigate Unwanted Impacts and Reactions
      We have some recommendations on how to mitigate possible unwanted reactions such
      as rising tensions among the residents due to increased warehouse construction in town.
      ● Provide a descriptive, thorough cost-benefit analysis or analyses of the
      ○ Make sure that it is widely shared amongst the residents of the
      ○ Make sure that people can clearly see what factors were considered in
      the analysis or analyses, how each one was weighed, and also what the
      project net outcome will be
      ● Make the town agree on (a) time period(s) where there will be no/minimal traffic
      to and from the constructed warehouses
      ○ An example of such time periods would be typical peak commuting hours.
      We also have some recommendations on how to mitigate some unwanted impacts of
      warehouse construction such as potential environmental impacts like pollution and social
      impacts such an increase in traffic.
      ● Possible features that warehouses could be built with to mitigate environmental
      ○ Construction and maintenance of a stormwater management system
      ○ Restoration and/or replication for impacts to wetland resource areas
      energy management systems
      ○ Solar-ready roof space on the building roofs
      ○ Stream crossings
      ○ Drought tolerant plantings
      ○ Techniques to reduce irrigation losses due to evaporation
      ○ Water conservation equipment on irrigation infrastructure
      ○ Low-flow plumbing fixtures
      ○ Implementing maintenance and employee education programs
      ○ Passive House design
      ■ To achieve the passive house standard, a building must have
      an annual heating/cooling energy demand of at most
      15kWh/(m2year) and a total primary energy demand of less
      than 120kWh/(m2year) (Dan et al., 2016).
      ○ Incorporation of renewables and inclusion of LID in site design
      ■ Low Impact Development (LID) is an approach to
      environmentally friendly land use development.
      ■ It includes landscaping and design techniques that attempt to
      maintain the natural, pre-developed ability of a site to manage
      ■ LID techniques capture water on site, filter it through
      vegetation, and let it soak into the ground (Low Impact
      Development | Mass.Gov, n.d.).
      ○ The implementation of construction-period best management practices
      ■ Typical BMPs on a construction site are silt fences, inlet
      protection, and site-stabilization techniques.
      ● Possible mitigations developers can do to minimize social impacts of warehouse
      ○ Pedestrian and bicycle accommodations
      ○ Install traffic lights at road intersections if needed
      ○ Widening roadways
      ○ Improving and/or adding entry/exit ramps
      ○ Conduct traffic evaluations beyond what is required
      ○ Make warehouse construction sites more than a thousand feet from the
      nearest residential areas (Preventing Warehouse & Distribution Center
      Impacts To Neighborhoods, n.d.)
  2. Brochures:
    1. NRWA General Trifold
    2. NRWA Mitigate Trifold

Lancaster Site Visit Media:


Carbon Footprint:

We estimate a 240 miles travelled for this project, and with an combined mileage of 20 miles per gallon of 2012 Audi A4 Avant Quattro, the fuel consumption for this project is estimated to be 12 gallons of 93 unleaded petrol, yielding an estimated 240 pounds of CO2.

Final Report

NRWA IQP Final Report