Environmental Group Takes On Costco

The Branford Citizens for Responsible Development (BCRD) group was accepted as an official intervener by the Inland Wetlands Commission (IWC pictured above) Thursday in regard to the Costco complex proposal, whose public hearing begins next month.

Attorney Keith Ainsworth, who represents the BCRD, outlined the group’s concerns in an eight-page petition. He told the commission “the proofs of those allegations will be submitted at the public hearing.”

Ainsworth, an environmental attorney with Evans, Feldman & Ainsworth legal firm in New Haven, said the BCRD members are concerned about the effects of stormwater runoff on downstream properties and watercourses.  The BCRD are a grassroots group concerned about the impact of development on the environment.

The petition states the proposed projects may impair natural resources, including “the potential impairment of water resources from increased impervious surfaces, increased stormwater runoff volumes and duration, inadequate detention basins resulting in adverse changes in hydrology and erosion profiles to downstream watercourses.” 

The petition identifies alternatives that would help protect the air, water and natural resources—reducing the amount of impervious cover in the development, increasing storm water detention times and reducing volumes; and increasing wetland buffers.

Ainsworth submitted three petitions since there are three applications for the Master Plan properties. He said the projects are integrated and the group is considering the “cumulative impact of all three.”

Ainsworth is pictured above at right, next to town attorney Bill Aniskovich. Costco attorney Thomas Cody is seated at far left.

The BCRD were interveners when the Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission held public hearings on Costco’s request for a Planned Development District (PDD) and Master Plan that would include Costco and seven other commercial buildings on 44 acres at Exit 56. Click here to read that story.

The Connecticut Environmental Protection Act of 1971 gives residents the right to intervene if it is “reasonably likely” a project will affect air, water of other natural resources.

The petitions submitted by Ainsworth were signed by Kate Galambos on behalf of the BCRD. Galambos, a resident of the Brushy Plains section of Branford, has been an outspoken opponent of the project. Click here for a previous story about the BCRD.

The Branford Land Trust previously announced it may apply for intervener status and has hired an attorney and wetlands experts to help ensure that the Costco commercial complex does not endanger open space properties and waterways. Click here to read about that. 

The Land Trust has not yet made a formal request for intervener status. 

Peer Review Not Ready

Diana Ross, the Inland Wetlands Environmental Director, announced that the peer review report commissioned by the IWC was not yet complete. She said the engineering consultant from Milone & MacBroom was injured in a serious vehicle accident and that the report would not be submitted to the Inland Wetland Department until Wednesday.

Ross said the Costco team will have access to the report once it is submitted, and that it will also be posted on the town’s website.

The commission denied a request from Costco attorney Thomas Cody, of the Robinson & Cole law firm in Hartford. In a Nov 16 letter, Cody asked to meet with the peer review consultants and staff prior to the start of the review.

Commission member John Rusatsky summarized the letter and said both IWC chairman Daniel Shapiro and Ross felt Cody’s request was “inappropriate” and that all conversations “should be done in public hearings.”  Rusatsky was acting as chairman Thursday night since Shapiro was absent.

The commissioners also said Cody’s request was a moot point Thursday since the peer review was almost complete.

Costco’s Upcoming Public Hearing

The IWC public hearing for Costco and seven other commercial properties is slated to begin Jan. 14 at the Fire Headquarters. There are actually three applications, one for each of the undeveloped properties. The PDD and Master Plan were approved by P&Z July 9 by a 3-2 vote. Click here to read about that. As part of the process, the developers must also seek approval of detailed site plans from both the IWC and then P&Z.

Other IWC Business

The commission continued to discuss proposed revisions of the IWC regulations Thursday; and also listened to a presentation about upgrades to two sewage pump stations.
 
The commission has been holding public hearings about possible changes to inland wetland regulations for several months. Most of the regulations Thursday met with discussion and questions, but one elicited more debate.

The issue involved a regulation that requires mitigation for any project that results in filling 750 square-feet or more of wetlands. Developers are required to mitigate by creating or enhancing wetlands at a 2 to 1 ratio for the ones they filled. The proposed revision was that the square-footage would be reduced from 750 to 50 square feet.

Newly appointed commission member Merle Berke-Schlessel asked exactly what the regulation meant, and said 50 square-feet was too low and would require too many projects to mitigate wetlands.

Richard K. Greenalch, also newly appointed to the IWC, said 50 square-feet was too low and that perhaps 350 would be better. 

Commission member Suzanne Botta disagreed. “Our charge is to protect inland wetlands,” she said as she explained the regulation. She said it is difficult to create new wetlands. “Once the wetlands are filled, it’s impossible to get them back,” Botta said.

A motion was made to set the square-footage at 350, instead of 750. It passed by a 4-2 vote with one abstention. The four voting in favor were Rusatsky, Greenalch, Peter Basserman, and James Goggin. (Pictured above from left are Greenalch, Berke-Schlessel, James Goggin
and Rustasky.

Berke-Schlessel, who voted against the motion, said it should remain at 750 square-feet because “I think it becomes burdensome on property owners” if the number is lowered.

Commission member James Killelea voted no for the opposite reason—he thought the square-footage should be reduced even more.

Botta abstained from voting because she wanted a lower number but also thought that 350 was better than 750.

Pump Stations Upgrades

Following a presentation by town engineer Janice Plaziak, the commissioners agreed that her requests to upgrade two pump stations could be handled administratively by Ross, and did not need a ruling by the commission.

Plaziak, pictured above right, with Ross to the left, said the town is replacing or upgrading six pump stations and that two of those are near wetlands. There are a total of 51 pump stations in Branford that pump sewage to the sewage treatment plant.

Plaziak said the station at 46 South Montowese St. is outdated and will be replaced and elevated so that it is above the base flood level. She said the station at 329 East Main St. will be repaired and upgraded.
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