NEWINGTON - The Newington Conservation Commission is running out of time for determining whether or not to allow Toll Brothers to develop the hotly contested Cedar Mountain, and questions remain.
The Commission, as well as the residents that continue to attend the hearings, is no closer to a definitive conclusion as to the danger the project may pose to the Swamp Cottonwood, an endangered tree species reported by George Logan of REMA, the independent consultant brought in to work with Toll Brothers’ team of experts, two hearing sessions ago.
Last time REMA told the Commission that the greatest risk posed to the Swamp Cottonwood is the growth of new trees, since the species cannot be shaded. The environment at Cedar Mountain accommodates these needs--for now--but Logan has yet to determine what impact construction at the site might have.
“Both the hydrology and the chemistry of the water is essential to preserving this population,” Logan said. “We’re concerned about it, and what we’ve asked the applicant to do is provide what can be happening post-development.”
Whether or not construction at the site will change the chemistry and hydrology to the detriment of the cottonwood has yet to be seen, but Logan’s statements regarding the current conditions contradicted the presentation from Russ Abrams of Dru Associates.
Cedar Mountain is experiencing the natural regrowth of forest that was cleared in the 1930s, according to Abrams. This, given the inevitable shading that will occur, puts the Cottonwood at risk, he said.
“Please understand the Cottonwood shouldn’t be there,” Abrams said. “The reason it’s endangered is because it’s at the very northern region of its geographic range.”
Abrams cited a Connecticut Department of Protection letter advising that the removal of certain trees in the area would be required in order to protect the species.
“The Swamp Cottonwood isn’t going to last if you don’t do something with it,” Abrams said.
Another issue, which Logan raised at the last hearing session, is the composition of the middle of Wetland 2, the focal point of the Cedar Mountain development discussion. Logan and Dru Associates, Toll Brothers’ consultant on the project, both determined that the outside of the wetland is made up of a “confining” clay layer, but have varying theories as to the texture once it slopes down into the center. Logan suspects that the confining layer is extremely thin, or non-existent.
“I don’t think it’s there, but I need to test it,” Logan said outside of the hearing room following his presentation.
Permeability, or lack thereof, can create problems for the Cottonwood, Logan said. He referred to the potential of hazardous “inputs,” or minerals from ground water that can pass through soil and into wetlands. Consultants from Dru have asserted that Wetland 2 is not in any way fed by ground water, but Logan has said that this has yet to be determined for sure.
The areas’ dryness during periods lacking rain or snow melt precipitation is evidence that there is no ground water influence, consultants from Dru have said. But this claim has been disputed by the Newington and Wethersfield residents fighting to stonewall the proposed project.
Newington resident John Bachand pointed to another piece known as Wetland 1.
“Only under the most extreme conditions did Wetland 1 dry out,” Bachand said. “I do believe there’s a strong ground water element on this mountain.”
Throughout the course of Tuesday night’s continuation of the ongoing hearing, the residents filling the audience fidgeted restlessly, waiting to have their say, as Toll Brothers went through an assembly line of consultants, each of which argued the case for the project while trying to assure the Commission that Cedar Mountain’s wildlife, as well the Russell Road homes and wetlands in Wethersfield, would be safe from blasting and construction site runoff.
“Although they say there is no direct impact to that area, there’s potential for indirect impact caused by the construction site and change of hydrology,” said Newington resident Allison Clark during the public comment segment.
Residents have also been unhappy with Toll Brothers’ failure to report the presence of the Swamp Cottonwood, which has not helped to reverse the general sentiment of mistrust hearing attendees have toward the developer.
“How can you approve this application when they did not report the Swamp Cottonwood to us?” Clark asked the Commission. “Was it neglect, or oversight? Which is worse?”