MONROE, CT — A hydrogeologist will be hired by the Inland Wetlands Commission to help members understand the environmental data and sampling for a wetlands restoration project in the Pepper Street Business Park.
Arnold Karp, the owner of the property on Cambridge and Independence drive, is proposing an ambitious plan to restore the site and prepare it for development. An estimated 75,575 truck loads of material will be needed to fill a massive hole left by the previous owner, a process that could take up to 10 years.
Chris Sullivan, executive director of the Southwest Conservation District, recommended that the commission hire its own expert to review the application.
During a hearing Wednesday night, Steve Finn, the attorney for the applicant, complained that Sullivan did not include that recommendation in the report he wrote for the town.
“There’s nothing new. Now Mr. Sullivan has an additional addendum to his report that the commission hire a hydrogeologist,” Finn said. “We did what we were supposed to, now we’re asked to do something else.”
Finn said “doubling up on every expert” places another expense on his client. He and Kevin Solli, the engineer for the project, also asked Sullivan if he believed their experts would do anything “untoward” that would make it necessary for the town to have its own expert.
Sullivan said he was not suggesting that, adding it would be positive if the town expert’s conclusions are the same as the applicant’s experts, because commission members could feel comfortable that they are making the right decision for the town.
Vice Chairwoman Lois Spence recalled a story of a third party consultant being hired on an application. She said the developer said it was the best money he ever spent, because the consultant agreed with his experts, leaving no doubt that his project was being done the right way.
“We are undertaking a huge responsibility for the town,” Chairman Keith Romano said. “We are volunteers. You may not feel it’s the greatest thing for your client, but we are asking lay people to step up and live in your world and try to understand. We are not trained for this. I want to make sure my commission is comfortable. It just boils down to there is disagreement over how much information these commissioners are allowed to have.”
Spence made a motion authorizing the cost and scheduling of an independent hydrogeologist to analyze data, review sampling locations and collection plans and any resulting data sets and interpretations. And to perform any other services deemed necessary by the commission.
The motion passed unanimously.
“We have no concern that an additional third party reviewer will do anything else, but confirm our plan and our results,” Solli said after the vote. “We never questioned the commission’s ability to hire a third party or tried to discourage it.”
The developer made some tweaks to his application in response to input by the commission, staff and the Southwest Conservation District.
Among them, Solli said the height of a pad was decreased, so less fill will have to be brought in, a reduction from about 1.3 million cubic yards to 980,000.
Water pooled into the hole on the site. The project would move the water back to the wetlands and raise the elevation of the pad, making stormwater flow back to the wetlands.
Other minor changes include adjustments to the location of the septic fields and of the design of an office building, as well as additional plantings in the landscaping plan.
Hiding the ball?
Attorney Joel Z. Green represents Peter Metropoulos as trustee to The Thomas C. and Stella Maganas 1988 Family Trust, the owner of 36 Timothy Hill Road, as an intervenor on the wetlands application.
Karp has said he is a real estate developer, not an aggregate salesman, but Green mentioned his ties to Rockhead 25 LLC, a rock crushing business of which he is a principal.
“This is a business opportunity for this applicant, and there is nothing wrong with it,” Green said. “If you go onto Facebook now, you can see Rockhead is advertising crushed rock for sale. He wants to sell the pile of stone dust there. He wants to sell crushed stone and, at the same time, be paid to bring in fill.”
“That’s irrelevant. It has no bearing on the merits of this application to restore the wetlands,” Solli said. “The desired goal is rehydrating the wetlands.”
Green also claimed the applicants were “hogging the ball” by opposing the town’s hiring of its own expert, so they can control the process.
Finn took exception to that characterization.
“I understand and sympathize that you are volunteers and lay people,” Finn told the commission. “We followed the report. But now Mr. Sullivan added to the original report. We will comply with what is asked. But we are not trying to hide the ball. We are a little reticent with the intervenor, because statements made on the property that are false. I just don’t want my clients to be seen in a bad light.”
The clock is ticking on the application and the commission will have to make a decision by Dec. 31. Romano said a special meeting could be scheduled if the application is not concluded by the Dec. 9 meeting. The commission’s next meeting is Oct. 14.
An independent expert is undoubtedly money well spent on a project like this, whether his report matches that of the developer or not. Consider the liability involved if the developer’s expert was fudging the data in someway. How would the town know unless it hired its own expert?