CFE intervenes in Oswegatchie Hills land battle

Environmental and community groups trying to halt development of 236 acres in Hills

May 15, 2015

Sarah Ganong, (203) 787 0646 ext. 128

New Haven, Conn.—Connecticut Fund for the Environment and its bi-state program Save the Sound is formally intervening in the development case surrounding East Lyme’s Oswegatchie Hills. CFE/Save the Sound joins the Friends of Oswegatchie Hills Nature Preserve and Save the River – Save the Hills in their long-running battle to preserve this important stretch of forested land adjacent to the Niantic River.

The Connecticut Environmental Protection Act establishes that there is a public trust in Connecticut’s environmental resources and allows citizens and organizations to intervene, as full legal parties, in proceedings that involve conduct that is likely to unreasonably pollute, impair, or destroy the public trust in the air, water, or other natural resources of the state. CFE/Save the Sound is intervening under CEPA to oppose the application of Landmark Development Group for rezoning and preliminary site plan approval pending before the East Lyme Zoning Commission. The pleading alleges that approval of the development would destroy important open space, pollute wetlands and the Niantic River, and violate state law, local regulations, and judicial orders.

Oswegatchie Hills property along the Niantic River. Photo credit Eileen Opasek.
Oswegatchie Hills property along the Niantic River. Photo credit Vivian Brooks.

“Oswegatchie Hills is an environmental treasure, overlooking the Niantic River near its mouth and teeming with wetlands and wildlife,” said Roger Reynolds, legal director for CFE/Save the Sound. “Stopping development here is critical to maintaining the quality of life and environmental integrity of the region, which is why we’re announcing our intervention today. Many proposed solutions to protect this property exist, including the possibility of a land trade under the recent Memorandum of Understanding signed by the town, and a future conservation sale. Development of the Hills, however, is not the answer.”

The current plan submitted by Landmark Development LLC seeks to construct 840 units of housing, along with 1,767 parking spaces: approximately 36 acres of total impervious surface. The development would be located on a steep slope near the top of the Hills and directly uphill from wetlands and the Niantic River.

“CFE’s official intervention is inspiring! When you’ve worked as long as we have, you can really use a boost from the pros,” said Save the River – Save the Hills president Fred Grimsey. “CFE/Save the Sound program has the credibility, expertise, and big-picture understanding that what happens to the Hills directly affects the long-term health of the Niantic River, for people and aquatic life. That, in turn, affects the sustainability of Long Island Sound.  All of these are interconnected.”

“Our organization is thrilled that CFE/Save the Sound are signing on as interveners with our concerted effort to stop development of the Hills,” said Kris Lambert, president of the Friends of Oswegatchie Hills Nature Preserve. “Even though Landmark and the Town of East Lyme have signed an MOU to pursue the possibility of a land swap and while the Friends certainly support the idea, we will continue to fight Landmark’s application to the end. Our goal remains to have it denied—and denied soundly. With CFE on board, we are confident this will happen.”

CFE/Save the Sound previously submitted a letter to the Town of East Lyme’s Zoning Commission and Inlands Wetlands Agency asking the Commission to deny the application for the rezoning and preliminary site plan because it has not yet gone through a legally required wetlands review. The letter was followed by an engineering report submitted by The Friends and STR-STH detailing the wetlands impact of the proposal.

The next step in the process is a public hearing, scheduled for May 21 at 7:30 p.m. Nett Hall, Camp Niantic Army National Guard Site in Niantic. Members of the public are encouraged to attend to learn more about, and speak out against, the environmental destruction that would be caused by this development and to ask their elected officials to oppose it.

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