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Over Deep Brook-Possible Connector Road Troubles Conservationists



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Over Deep Brook—

Possible Connector Road Troubles Conservationists

By John Voket

Those who love and help protect Newtown’s diminishing areas of unspoiled open space acknowledge that a proposed reconfiguration of land parcels will help better protect a pristine Class 1 Wild Trout Management Area at Deep Brook. But the future possibility of a through road connecting Commerce Road and Wasserman Way, including a bridge crossing right over the heart of that management area, continues to weigh on the minds of local environmental supporters.

Last week, The Bee reported on a legislative amendment proposed by State Representative Julia Wasserman that would allow the town to reconfigure permitted uses of three deeded parcels of land between Wasserman Way and Queen Street. If approved, the proposal would form a greater natural buffer of protection for Deep Brook while creating more viable development parcels off Commerce Road.

The latter part of the plan would greatly enhance and expand developable space in the area by minimizing exposure to wetlands and making access to the commercial lots more viable. Town officials said the action, if approved, would allow for either somewhat larger or more plentiful developments.

According to Newtown Community Development Director Elizabeth Stocker, the reconfiguration would help attract much needed commercial entities to benefit Newtown’s tax base and reduce the financial burden on local homeowners. From an environmental standpoint, the proposal would nearly double the depth of open space between commercial lots and Deep Brook, one of Connecticut’s last natural trout breeding areas.

While any enhanced protective measures are a move in the right direction as far as environmental supporters are concerned, it is the other side of the stream, and more specifically how one can get there, that continues to concern members of the Newtown Open Space Task Force as well as local representatives of Trout Unlimited.

Regardless of whether the legislative measure passes, the State of Connecticut will retain a through right-of-way, which town officials including First Selectman Herb Rosenthal admit could become a developed roadway traversing Deep Brook.

“The right-of-way was part of the state agreement when the land was provided to the town,” Mr Rosenthal said when questioned about the matter late last week. “The agreement says that the state has a right to access and maintain its property on the opposite side of the stream.”

Mr Rosenthal said he is confident that the move to reconfigure existing parcels will proceed but agreed that the outcome will have no short or long-term impact on a possible road plan through the area.

“No matter what configuration we end up with, even if things remain as they are now, the state still retains its right of access across the entire area,” the first selectman said.

The Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials (HVCEO), a quasi-governmental regional planning and economic development support agency, is in the process of conducting an in-depth study of traffic patterns and local connections between Interstate 84 Exits 10 and 11, Mr Rosenthal said.

The outcome of that study could point to the right-of-way as the best option to help relieve congestion on Church Hill Road south of I-84. According to Mr Rosenthal, while the HVCEO study is the latest initiative to focus on traffic issues in the area, the plan to possibly develop a through road on that state right-of-way has been on the radar for some time.

“Before I was ever elected there were already indications of a need to connect Commerce Road to Wasserman Way,” he said.

Ms Stocker confirmed the option for development of a roadway through the area and across Deep Brook is mentioned as far back as the town’s 1993 plan of conservation and development. The concept is carried through the plan’s 2004 update, she added.

“I know there is no current active plan to build a through road,” Ms Stocker said. “The only way that process would begin would be if the HVCEO study determined a roadway through the area would be required to relieve traffic circulation problems.”

Ms Stocker said the thinking early on was to somehow connect Church Hill Road to Wasserman Way to ease potential traffic gridlock if the interstate was blocked, or if Church Hill Road became impassable. However, the raising of a key choke point at the Church Hill railroad crossing alleviated some of the imminent need to explore plans for a new roadway.

“There is still a pressing traffic circulation issue in the area,” Ms Stocker admitted.

More immediately, the first selectman said Newtown’s local economic development plans will still be carried out mindful of the natural resources of Deep Brook and the Pootatuck River. He said, provided the legislative measure passes and the developable lots are configured based on the optimal plan, that a new commercial access road through a proposed tech park would dead end several hundred yards from the stream.

This information was regarded as a temporary relief to Pat Barkman, who is a member of the Open Space Task Force as well as a local trails initiative.

“It’s like a drop in the bucket if they’re planning to build that road,” Ms Barkman said when contacted at her home Wednesday. “Unfortunately we’ve been told for some time by Representative Wasserman that there could eventually be a road through there going right over the brook.”

James Belden, a local representative of Trout Unlimited, agreed there was always a possibility of a roadway going across Deep Brook. It is his hope that any future road development would take into account a recent update in best practices related to storm water runoff.

“We’ve got one of only eight Class 1 Trout Management Areas in Connecticut right here, and it can remain viable if the stream is protected,” Mr Belden said. “One of the quickest ways to compromise the quality of Deep Brook is by runoff and contamination. The obvious way to increase that contamination and runoff is by developing impervious surfaces like a roadway.”

Mr Belden pointed out that from a broader perspective, the area’s aquifer must also be protected.

“We need to be able to recharge the aquifer and protect this drinking water supply,” he said. “This [potential] development would be situated directly above a portion of this aquifer in a currently pastoral location.”

Mr Belden said he believes many good things are happening because of the town’s acquisition of the Fairfield Hills properties, such as the decommissioning of the old sewage treatment facility and perhaps a better approach to managing stormwater from FFH. But, he said, residents from every corner of Newtown should all be concerned about the overall direction of development in that area.

“Roads in particular need to be considered carefully; they never go away once built,” Mr Belden said. “We should all voice our concerns to our state legislators and town officials about the importance of making ‘smarter’ roads and intersections, not more of them. More roads do not mean better roads or faster traveling.”

He concluded that Trout Unlimited is opposed to any plans that develop a road for significant use across Deep Brook, the Pootatuck, or the surrounding wetlands.

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