Oswegatchie: Conservationists vow to continue to fight to protect the Hills

Organizations praise zoning commission’s inclusion of conditions to prevent environmental harm

August 21, 2015

Sarah Ganong, Connecticut Fund for the Environment, (203) 787 0646 ext. 128

East Lyme, Conn.—Local and statewide environmental groups reacted Thursday night to the East Lyme Zoning Commission’s conditional approval of a development proposal that would erect housing in a currently-wild section of the Oswegatchie Hills. Connecticut Fund for the Environment, Friends of Oswegatchie Hills Nature Preserve, and Save the River – Save the Hills, all interveners in the case, expressed cautious optimism that the extensive conditions laid out by the zoning commission would protect the ecologically fragile site from intense development while reiterating that the current plan was unacceptable.

“We were pleased to see that the Commission incorporated the concerns addressed by our civil engineer, Steven Trinkaus,” said Michael Dunn, land acquisition director for the Friends. “The conditions within this approval will help ensure that if this ever does proceed to a final site plan, the environmental impacts will be fairly considered, and any proposal similar to this last plan will be soundly denied.”

Fred Grimsey, president and founder of Save the River-Save the Hills, said, “Our position has always been that the least human disruption of all 236 acres of Landmark’s property is the most appropriate use of this fragile coastal terrain, for the health of the hills, the Niantic River and the Long Island Sound. That affects the water quality and human health in this watershed and the Sound.”

An application and preliminary site plan for rezoning 123 acres adjacent to the Oswegatchie Hills Nature Preserve to Affordable Housing Development was submitted to the Zoning Commission this spring by Landmark Development Group, LLC. The proposal is the latest in a decade-long battle between developers and conservationists which has already seen the involvement of the courts, the local sewer commission, and expert witnesses.

At a public hearing in June, the Friends of Oswegatchie Hills Nature Preserve presented evidence showing previously unmapped wetlands on the site, including one that appeared to be located directly underneath a proposed building. The wetlands agency subsequently issued a letter to the zoning commission finding that the proposal would constitute regulated activity and that a complete application would be necessary in order to evaluate the extent of environmental impacts.

“We have argued from the beginning that this application was premature and environmentally destructive,” said Roger Reynolds, legal director for CFE and its bi-state program Save the Sound. “The Zoning Commission clearly heard our concerns and put solid conditions, including a restriction of the zoned area and requirements for thorough environmental reviews.”

“Throughout this process, even Landmark’s attorney has repeatedly stated that the Preliminary Site Plan does not authorize Landmark to turn a single shovelful of dirt,” said Kris Lambert, president of the Friends. “The rubber meets the road if and when they submit an application for a wetlands permit and a Final Site Plan, and we will be there every step of the way if that happens.”


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