Thursday, August 5, 2010

Inland Wetlands Denies Cost-Cutting Plan for Wetlands Mitigation

Businessman Phil Armetta's request to alter the conditions of his permit for wetlands destruction on Newfield Street was unanimously denied by the Inland Wetlands Agency last night. Commissioners all agreed that they could not alter the plan devised by wetlands expert Richard Snarski without any expert testimony that the substitution of a low-cost seed mixture would be just as good at wetlands creation as the original plan, which called for planting already growing plants.

"We're 95% Complete"
Seth Sevimli, owner of the Auto Store II used car dealership, opened the discussion with an explanation of what they had done on Newfield Street since their excavation and placement of a stone surface on the former wetlands. The retroactive permit for this work was based on a plan which mandated an earthen berm, 1.5 to 2.0' high between the lot and the Newfield Street, seeded and mulched. It further mandated that topsoil be used to restore the natural grade of the wetland, and then seeded with a wetlands mix. Finally, the plan called for paving of the parking area and the construction of a curb and leak-off to protect the remaining wetlands from parking lot run-off (full plan here).

Sevimli said this work was nearly complete. He said that Matt Dodge, environmental specialist in the Planning Department, had inspected it and asked only that more topsoil be added to restore the elevation of the wetlands. He said that this would be done shortly and then the wetlands
seed mix would be planted.

"We don't have anything from Mr. Snarski."
Sevimli then turned to his request to change the conditions of the permit for the paving work. He asked the Agency for permission to alter what was to be planted at the wetlands mitigation site near the Mattabessett River. Citing the high cost of the originally planned plantings, and the approval of the much cheaper seed mixture around the parking lot, he asked why it wouldn't be possible to use the same seed mixture in the back property, near the River.

Joe Carta, Chair of Inland Wetlands, asked whether there was a letter or any other evidence that the seed mixture would be just as good at wetlands creation. Sevimli readily admitted that he had no letter from Snarski or any other expert in soils or wetlands vegetation. He pointed to the similarity in the list of species in the seed mixture to those in the wetlands mitigation plan approved by Inland Wetlands, "I didn't think I needed a scientist."

Sevimli told the commissioners that he had not contacted Snarski because of the high fees he was being charged. He said he had paid $3500 to Snarski for the initial report which allowed him to get the parking lot permit, and that further consultation with Snarski would lead to costs he was unwilling to bear.

"I've done a lot for this city."
Carta's continued skepticism over the justification for changing the plan brought a very agitated Phil Armetta to the podium. Armetta owns both the car dealer lot and the lot where the wetlands mitigation is planned. He reiterated Sevimli's argument that if the seed mixture was good enough for the front, around the parking lot, it ought to be good enough for the back, "They want to smell the flowers, we'll put a rose plant in the front, they can smell the flowers there. ... Who goes back there to look at it anyway?"

Armetta blasted the Agency for not understanding or supporting businesses, "This is why Connecticut is last in job creation--this kind of stuff."

A Soil Scientist Speaks
James Sipperly, Environmental Resource Specialist for the City, and a registered soil scientist who works in the City Water and Sewer Department was at the meeting for another matter. The commissioners asked Sipperly to speculate on the reasons why the plantings used adjacent to the parking lot on Newfield Street might be different from the plantings used adjacent to the tidal wetlands of the Mattabesset. He suggested that the quality of the wetlands functioning might be different, that there was more emphasis on biodiversity near the river, and that putting in already growing plants could help compete out the invasive plant species more effectively than planting seeds would do.

The Plan Remains the Same
Extensive further discussion between the commissioners and Armetta largely consisted of each charging the other with a lack of understanding of what was important. In the end, the commissioners voted unanimously to deny the request to change the mitigation part of the wetlands permit given to Armetta for the parking lot expansion and destruction of wetlands.


Anonymous said...

It is a sad commentary on respect for the environment that the applicant does not voluntarily desire to employ the best practices. It gives the impression that the payment to the consultant was sufficient compliance and that the recommendations can now be ignored!

martel said...

It seems that the Agency understands Mr. Armetta's concept of "business" very well, and doesn't think it deserves their "support."

So far, Armetta has (1) destroyed a wetland, (2) been caught and told to submit a retroactive application to permit that destruction, (3) submitted a plan for remediation that specifically calls for certain plants to be used in the restoration, and (4) gotten that plan approved so his tenant could get his parking lot approved.

Now Mr. Armetta and his tenant have decided they don't like the plan they got approved in March because the plants to be used cost too much. (I doubt the plants cost more today than they did in March, by the way). And so far, they haven't even planted the cheaper seed mixture in the front.

Mr. Armetta's concept of "business" clearly is "I'll ignore the rules if I feel like it. If I get caught, I'll do what needs to be done to get the permits I really need. Then after I get the permits, I'll do my best to weasel out of doing the things I agreed to do when I got the permits, or just not bother to do them at all."

Who wouldn't support that?

Anonymous said...

Nothing gets deadlines met and promises kept and like a substantial amount of money left in escrow.

Why wasn't Mr. Armetta required to put the cost of the plants (could be determined by the plant supplier company) and planting at prevailing wage aside in escrow, until a certain date, by which time he would either demonstrate that the repair had been done as promised, or let the money be used by the city to do the repair?

(Sorry, posted this in older section first)