MONROE, CT — Inland Wetlands Commission members may soon decide on a plan to restore wetlands at 64 Cambridge Drive, a site in the Pepper Street Business Park that had been damaged by intense excavation that left a huge hole in the earth.
The hearing is expected to wrap up on June 9, on the heels of a proposal the commission had denied after a marathon of lengthy meetings.
Peter Metropoulos, a neighboring property owner concerned over environmental impacts associated with the proposal, applied for intervenor status through his attorney, Joel Z. Green. This would allow him to participate in the hearing with presentations by his own experts and questioning of the applicant.
On May 26, commissioners discussed whether to grant him intervenor status.
Commissioner Clark Gingras said he believed intervenors could only get involved if they found proof something was happening to create a problem with the environment. “There was nothing proven, so they really don’t have anything to say,” he said, alluding to the hearing for the last application.
But Barbara Schellenberg, the town’s land use attorney, said there is a new application and Metropoulos has a right to petition for intervenor status, though it is up to the commission to approve it.
Green disagreed with Gingras’s comment that no negative environmental impacts were proven.
“We are in the process of reviewing this site,” Green said, adding of a previous filling operation there, “we believe there was an improper receipt of demolition materials in violation of the zoning regulations and DEEP regulations.”
Green also said he believes the application goes beyond a simple remediation, seeming to go into the development of the site.
Chairman Keith Romano recalled how the intervenors spent a lot of time on the quality of fill that had been brought to the site during the hearing on the last application, only for the commission to learn that was not their purview. Romano said he does not want to repeat that and waste time during this hearing.
“My client wants to see this site restored in an appropriate way,” Green said. “My client is here, because he is concerned about aspects of the restoration. But be assured that he wants to see this site restored as quickly as possible, but in a manner that protects the air, water and natural resources.”
“The intervenor dragged out the hearing for six or seven months — and had his experts speak multiple times,” Steve Finn, an attorney for the property owners said of the last application. “This commission found there was no basis for the intervention. This is clearly an application that is meant to remediate the property. I don’t want him to drag it out like he did last time for months and months.”
Finn said he would not dispute that the intervenor has a right to be heard. But said when the hearing continues on June 9, a month will have passed, which should be enough time for Green to conclude his comments on the new application.
“I don’t think the intervenor has a right to ask for additional time,” Finn said.
Green said, to be fair, a lot of the delays during the last hearing were for the site inspection and the commission’s approval and hiring of its own expert, though he added both were invaluable.
Green asked the commission to impose a timeline requiring the applicants to submit all of their materials within a week, so the intervenor would have enough time to review it and make a presentation on the full proposal on June 9.
Romano said he was not sure the commission could impose a timeline, though Solli said he would submit all materials for the application by June 2.
No town expert
During the previous application, Inland Wetlands commissioners hired Russell Dirienzo, a licensed environmental professional, who is principal geologist and associate vice president of Arcadis, a Sandy Hook firm, to serve as its consultant.
However, this time around, the majority of the commission decided hiring their own professional was unnecessary.
Romano, Gingras, James R. Stewart and Ross Mastrorocco agreed a hire was not needed, while Vice Chairwoman Lois Spence and BJ Hall said they thought the commission could benefit from having their own independent expert.
Those opposed to hiring an expert reasoned the commission already has a lot of information from the current and previous applications, and some expected more of a rehash from any new expert and did not want to delay the process.
Romano said the commission could still decide to hire an expert should any new information be presented, which members need help understanding.
Some concerns expressed
After Solli finished his presentation on May 26, commissioners asked questions.
The applicants own two adjacent properties, 4 Independence Drive and 64 Cambridge Drive. Hall said he wants all rehydration activities for Cambridge to be on the same parcel.
Solli said part of their Planning and Zoning Commission application will include a lot line revision to achieve that.
Spence expressed “serious reservations” on aspects of the application. She said the commission does not know if the water being pumped in to rehydrate the wetlands is the right quality. The commission also does not know if the pumping will work, she said.
Spence said she does not want any future development to be close to the clay liner the applicants would install as part of their remediation plan. She also wants natural filtration into a vernal pool on the site.
Arnold Karp, managing partner of the two LLCs that own the properties — Astro Land Holdings and Spacely Land Holdings — said they are bringing forward a plan based on feedback from commissioners in their denial of the last one.
“We were told a million cubic yards of fill was a foolish amount and that 10 years was a foolish ask,” Karp said. “That’s why we’re here requesting half of that. I can’t give you the watershed area without bringing in more fill. We’re trying to take both sides and balance it.”
This time around the applicants participated in informal discussions with the commission to garner more input before submitting the current proposal.
Karp said he is now hearing the new plan is not exactly what all of the commissioners want, but he added, “exactly doesn’t move this forward.”
“What moves this forward is the ability to try some things,” he said.
Romano said it may alleviate Spence’s concerns to know that if the plan is approved and does not work, the commission can require a new plan to address an existing environmental violation on the site.