Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Wetlands Agency to Consider Amendment to Mitigation Plan on Newfield Street

Phillip Armetta has submitted an application to amend the plan for wetlands mitigation related to an expansion of the parking area for a used car dealership on Newfield Street. The proposed amendment would radically alter the vegetation planted in created and enhanced wetlands. This continues the Agency’s consideration of the work done to provide more display and storage area for recent model used cars and trucks offered for sale by Auto Store II.

In August of last year, about 1000 square feet of wetlands were bulldozed and filled with large stones (riprap). Zoning and Wetland Enforcement Officer Bruce Driska brought this to the attention of the Wetlands Agency, who first heard from Armetta at their September meeting.

Armetta told the Wetlands Commissioners, “We wanted ... to get a little more exposure of the dealership to cars.” A soil scientist hired by the city reported in October that “wetland has been totally impacted by the removal of 1-2 feet of the former wetland surface layers and the placement of a stone surface layer.

The Agency asked Armetta to submit a retroactive application for the impact on wetlands. Armetta’s application for a wetlands permit to do the parking lot expansion was considered at the March meeting, and unanimously approved. The application included a detailed plan not only for the parking lot area, but also for the enhancement of 3000 square feet of existing wetlands and the creation of 1500 square feet of new wetlands. These were both designed by Richard Snarski, a Registered Soil Scientist. The enhancement and creation of wetlands would take place on a separate parcel, adjacent to the Cromwell Meadows which line the Mattabessett.

Details of the Mitigation Plan

The Wetland Creation and Enhancement plan approved by the agency is quite detailed (the full plan is available HERE). These details included the time of construction (April, 2010), the depth of excavation (6-12 inches), the material placed in the created wetlands (topsoil or leaf compost), removal of invasive plants (for three years with either a hand shovel or an herbicide), and the monitoring (a report on the wetlands to be sent every year for three years).

The plan also called for the installation of nearly 1000 herbaceous wetland plants, listing 10 different species including Monkey Flower, Blue Flag Iris, Soft Rush, and Sweet Flag. The 1000 herbaceous plants will cost nearly $1000 at the primary source for wetlands plants in New England.

Seth Sevimli, owner of the Auto Store II, told me that since the parking lot expansion was for his business, he is taking responsibility for the wetlands mitigation. He was proud of the work done so far on the future wetlands and invited me to go out to the site, which I did. As stated in the mitigation plan, large wooden timbers have been removed, and a bulldozer has excavated about a foot of clay-like soil. The mitigation site is at the edge of about 25 acres which form a peninsula into the Cromwell Meadows, bounded on the west by railroad tracks, and on all other sides by the Mattabessett tidal wetlands.

The land is currently being used for dumpster storage and an asphalt recycling business operated by LeeBoy Paving, but in past years it housed clay pits, was used to stage construction equipment, and likely also had other light industrial uses.

Changes to the Mitigation Plan?
The amendment being considered tonight would radically alter the type of plantings in the wetlands being created as mitigation.

Sevimli said he would prefer to use a wetlands seed mix on the created wetlands, the same mix that the agency said was appropriate for the small area of wetlands that remains around the parking lot. He wondered why the more expensive mixed herbaceous wetlands plants would be used far away from where people would see it, “Who needs flowers out in the middle of the woods?” The wetland seed mix costs $125 per pound, 2 pounds is said to cover 5,000 square feet.

Sevimli said that they would abide by whatever the Agency ruled, “... if that’s what they want that’s what we’ll do.

He said that Armetta was paying close attention to the work, “He’s here twice a week making sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to do.” He said that Armetta’s company did some of the work in the plan, but the earth moving in preparation for planting the wetlands plants had been done by Bob Schools, who has built other wetlands in the area.

Delays and Extensions
I asked Joe Carta, Chair of the Inland Wetlands Agency, about the delay in the project from the date specified in the application (April, 2010). He said that he had heard nothing about any delays in the project, but that he did not expect to. He said that usually the applicant phones up the Planning Office, tells them the work is done and then Driska goes out to inspect the work. Driska confirmed this, saying that most developers are eager to get approval for work relating to wetlands, so that they can move forward with their development.

Carta said that once an application goes through the Wetlands Agency and is approved, they rely on city staff to monitor it. I asked him what would happen if a developer never notified the city that they had completed an agency-required mitigation. He said, “Probably what happens is it [the project approval] gets lost.”

Sevimli said that the delay in his project was because the spring was so wet that heavy equipment could not do the excavation, and then a death in the Schools family caused a second delay. Matt Dodge, Environmental Specialist in the Planning Office, confirmed that Sevimli had been in contact with both him and Driska about the delay, and they had given verbal extensions to the mitigation project.

Richard Snarski said he was not doing the actual earthmoving or planting to create the wetlands, his only role was to design it and supervise the construction, "I don't have a contract." He said he was waiting for the excavation work to be done and had heard nothing about the project, "I guess things got delayed."

The parking lot on Newfield Street, the original trigger which led to the mitigation plan, was paved in the first week in July. It is in active use, although the wetlands seed mix is yet to be planted at its edge.

Other Items on the Agenda
The Wetlands Agency will also consider the "General Permit" for the City of Middletown Water/Sewer Department, which covers activities needed for servicing the existing water and sewer systems. They will review the situation at Charton Apartments with respect to the landslide which clogged the Cogingchaug. Finally, there will be a public hearing over the proposed installation of city water on Country Club Road from Middle Street to Higby Road.


joseph getter said...

The link to does not work. I'd like to have a look at the documents; can Stephen check that link and correct it? Thanks.

Jane Harris said...

My guess regarding using wetland plants instead of seeds is that plants with roots already in place will stabilize the soil much more quickly than a seed mix will. Seed mixes for mass plantings such as meadows are rarely a big success, since the seeds have to compete with whatever weed seeds are already in the soil. No one is likely to be cultivating the plants that gow from the seed mix. Some germinate, and then die back because they don't find the conditions they need. As to "Who needs flowering plants?" -- the pollinators do, and so do the birds who eat the seeds! In fact, most plants other than grasses do flower; they may not be all that showy, but that's how plants reproduce: plant to flower to seed to new plant. It might be nice if this project had some active advocacy for the plants and wildlife...

fishmuscle (Stephen H. Devoto) said...

I fixed the link in the article, it should be:
Sorry for the mistake.

Linda said...

Regarding the comment about who needs flowers, and seed mixture versus plants, it should be noted that the decision should be made on the wetland function that is being created; not whether the public sees it or if the flowers are pretty.

Anonymous said...

It is all well and good for Wetlands to attach requirements to approvals but at the same time it needs to be specified who will follow up and report to the agency about the fulfillment of the requirements.

Learn to Live? said...

Is there any course in wetlands biology at a local university that future violators could be required to complete? The way they talk about planting roses, these individuals clearly do not understand the reason for wetlands and the legislation protecting them.

Those who break our laws regarding drug and motor vehicle use are sent to courses so they can learn why what they did is wrong. The incentive to complete such courses is that they are taken in lieu of paying massive fines or losing privileges. It sounds like the same principle could apply here.

A win-win situation -- the only loser might be the poor biology professor, having to teach a potentially hostile audience.
Does fish-muscle teach such a course?