MONROE, CT — An ambitious proposal to restore damaged wetlands and fill a massive hole on land in the Pepper Street Business Park offered complex solutions and was ultimately denied by the Inland Wetlands Commission. If only a superhero could have swooped in to save the day.
On Wednesday night, the applicants asked commissioners their preferences to resolve the wetlands issues, during an informal conversation that will lead to the submission of a second proposal.
“If Superman could fly around the Earth a thousand times in reverse and it put all that material back, and that solid rock, and the impermeabilities and the layers of natural soil, that would be my preference,” Chairman Keith Romano said with a laugh.
But on a serious note, Romano agreed with Kevin Solli, of Solli Engineering, the engineer for the property owners, on the need to rehydrate the wetlands and start filling the hole to cover the groundwater table as soon as possible.
An illegal rock crushing operation under the previous property owner had damaged wetlands and left the massive hole, leading to a notice of violation from the town.
The new owners of about 72 acres at 64 Cambridge and 4 Independence drives, Astro Land Holdings LLC and Spacely Land Holdings LLC, had offered a plan to refill the hole, repair and rehydrate the wetlands, and build a small office building.
According to the proposal, trucks would bring in 980,000 cubic yards of material over a period of 10 years to fill the huge hole, which would also raise the grade of the property to redirect stormwater to the upper wetlands and rehydrate it.
In the meantime, water was going to be pumped from a bedrock well to rehydrate the wetlands.
In the denial on Jan. 26, commission members spoke against the massive filling operation, wanted quicker results for the wetlands, expressed doubt the plan would have restored the wetlands to its original state, and found there was a lack of details on the plan to pipe water to the upper wetlands.
On Wednesday night, Solli tried to narrow the scope of the notice of violation to address information that is relevant today and asked that it focus on what commissioners are most concerned about.
He also asked questions to help guide his team in coming up with a plan that can be approved by the commission.
“We obviously are very focused on trying to find a clear path forward for the properties at 64 Cambridge and 4 Independence drives,” Solli said.
He noted the criticism over the combining of a restoration plan and a site plan the first time around, and said they may only submit a restoration plan this time, and might consider ones for each parcel — on Cambridge and Independence.
The applicant plans to work with town land use staff and have a second informal discussion with the commission, before preparing a formal application for submission.
What commissioners want
“The biggest issue we found with this property was the watershed to the vernal pool at the top of the hill was substantially reduced,” Solli said. “Does the commission want us to restore this watershed?”
“I would like to see the watershed restored, preferably without a million cubic yards of fill,” said Vice Chair Lois Spence.
“I’m all for restoring the watershed,” said Clark Gingras, a fellow commissioner.
Ross Mastorocco, a commissioner, also supports a plan that restores the watershed, but expressed doubt over how the previous plan would work in drought conditions.
“The simple answer is yes,” said B.J. Hall, a commissioner. “But restoration to its original state, I think we all agree it was not going to be possible. My biggest concerns was the time it would take to see results and the amount of fill.”
Romano said he believes the commission should require the applicant to restore the wetlands to as close to its original functioning as possible, within reason.
Solli asked if commissioners want the applicant to rehydrate wetlands and vernal pools by pumping water there or by grading, which he said would require the 980,000 cubic yards of fill to accomplish.
Spence said she would favor pumping over the alternative, unless the engineers could find a way to raise the grading east to west, instead of north to south, in an effort to use significantly less fill.
“I’m not sure how doing it east to west doesn’t create two cliffs, one on Independence and one on Cambridge,” said Arnold Karp, managing partner of the two LLCs that own the properties.
“I’m trying to envision what you’re thinking about,” Karp continued. “I guess I would have to make a peak in the middle of the property to make the water flow toward the wetlands.”
Solli said they could discuss those ideas internally, adding they want to try to preserve as much developable land as possible.
Karp said he’s trying to figure out how to bring in less fill to the site and still have developable land.
“I was okay with getting it up to a certain grade level,” Gingras said. “But if you can pump and get it to work faster, I’m all for that. You’re going to fill the hole anyway, but that will take a long time to get enough fill. I’d rather have the pumps going now.”
Mastorocco also wants water pumped into the damaged wetlands as soon as possible. But he asked if there were other solutions that would require less fill.
“I would want to hear ways of protecting that area in the future, while the pumping is occurring,” Hall said.
Romano said he does not want to see pumping in perpetuity on the site, adding there could be maintenance issues.
Solli thanked commissioners and told them their input was helpful. “We’ll probably come back with schematics of how the application will look, before coming with a formal application,” he said.
Karp also thanked the commission.
“Nothing is getting better in the year that we put in on this — regrettably,” he said, “so we’re looking for some solutions that work for the commission, work for us as the property owner and is sensitive to the environment. But I agree with your sentiment of, ‘let’s try to get something going,’ because you know the prospect of losing another year … I think we can do better work together than that.”