Art (and you!) can Save Oswegatchie Hills

A traveling display put on by the founders of the Save Oswegatchie Hills Coalition shows why East Lyme’s Oswegatchie Hills and the Niantic River need to be protected and preserved.

On Thursday, June 9, sixty members and supporters of the Coalition gathered at East Lyme Community Center to see the colorful posters, banners, and photographs of flora and fauna found in the coastal forest and tidal estuary.

DSC_0035 copyConnecticut Department of Energy and Environment Commissioner Rob Klee (right) spoke and leaders of the founding Coalition organizations gave updates on their efforts.

“This is a special place,” said Commissioner Klee, who hiked the existing Oswegatchie Hills Nature Preserve (OHNP) in June, 2014 with East Lyme middle school students and has seen the last mile of undeveloped, unprotected saltwater Niantic River shoreline from the water. “You have laudable goals to protect these rich natural resources.”

Now more than ever, Commissioner Klee said, being strategic with land preservation is important to provide for coastal resiliency. Climate change, heavier rains, flooding, and storms increase the ecological significance of undeveloped coastal forests such as the Preserve in Old Saybrook and Oswegatchie Hills, two thirds of which already are protected in OHNP.

EL CC Display Save Last Mile June 9The display features detailed color maps of OHNP, which has grown to almost 460 acres since it was established in 2007, the adjoining 236 acres owned by a developer that proposes high-density housing on it, and the Niantic River watershed.

Kris Lambert, Friends of Oswegatchie Hills Nature Preserve (FOHNP), explained the significance of a 14-foot Save the Hills banner high on one wall. It contains signatures of 1,700 residents collected and presented to the East Lyme Zoning Commission in 2001 during its consideration and denial of the developer’s first proposal. The developer has appealed the town’s denials of multiple proposals.

“It is agreed by scientists and laypersons alike who care about the Niantic River that extensive development of Oswegatchie Hills will be a pollution nightmare,” Fred Grimsey, Save the River-Save the Hills (STR-STH) founder and president, told attendees. “The proposed development will destroy the beauty and usefulness of the river. It is a recreational treasure for water sports, swimming, water skiing and tubing, as well as shell and fin fishing.”

The photographic display highlights wildlife found in the existing preserve and estuary that could be at risk if the 700-acre contiguous forest and coastal shoreline are disturbed by construction and development.

June 9 RReynolds presents, Klee photosA third section illustrates concerns raised by civil engineers and soils experts with the most recent preliminary development proposal considered last summer by East Lyme Zoning Commission. After three nights of public hearings, the zoning commission gave conditional approval to an affordable housing zone in the northern end of the Oswegatchie Hills.  That decision also has been appealed by the developer.

Mike Dunn, FOHNP co-founder and director of land acquisition, and Roger Reynolds, legal director at CFE/Save the Sound (pictured) summarized these concerns, including inadequate mapping of wetlands in the construction zone, improper placement of dry wells on bedrock, calculated erosion channels resulting from proposed outlet pipes, and below-grade water quality basins that can not drain.

The traveling display is open for public viewing in East Lyme Community Center, 39 Society Road, Niantic, CT, through June 30.  Stop in the East Lyme Public Library Circulation Desk to pick up fact sheets and check out display copies of environmental and wildlife studies of OHNP.

June 9 SThompson, Coalition BannerSave Oswegatchie Hills Coalition was formed earlier this year by Friends of the Oswegatchie Hills Nature Preserve (FOHNP) and Save the River-Save the Hills (STR-STH), two local grassroots environmental advocacy organizations, with Connecticut Fund for the Environment CFE) and its bi-state program Save the Sound.  The Coalition welcomes individuals, organizations, and businesses to join in advocating for preservation and protection of these natural treasures.  A coalition sign-up sheet is traveling with the display, or go to to sign on.

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