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Housatonic Railroad Application- Inland Wetlands Commission Reviews Wetlands Protection Issues



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Housatonic Railroad Application—

Inland Wetlands Commission Reviews Wetlands Protection Issues

By Andrew Gorosko

Inland Wetlands Commission (IWC) members are continuing their environmental review of the Housatonic Railroad Company’s pending wetlands protection permit application for its 13.3-acre rail terminal 30 Hawleyville Road (Route 25).

At a June 23 IWC public hearing, Edward Rodriguez, the railroad’s general counsel and vice president, submitted technical information to the IWC in response to an IWC environmental consultant’s review that had found that the railroad’s plan for physical improvements at the site does not adequately protect on-site and off-site wetlands and watercourses, and would thus adversely affect those natural resources.

In a June 10 report to the IWC, Land-Tech Consultants, Inc, of Southbury wrote that certain storm water control design changes would be needed at the site to minimize pollution caused by storm water runoff, which could degrade the quality of groundwater and surface water.

Mr Rodriguez told IWC members that the railroad has addressed issues raised in the Land-Tech report, adding that the consultant’s report contained useful comments on the permit application.

The railroad is proposing that almost four-fifths of the 9,500 cubic yards of fill that was deposited at its rail terminal in 2009, without the required prior approval from the IWC, be removed from the property in conjunction with its pending proposal to improve its facilities for the handling and temporary storage of construction materials. The pending wetlands application seeks to remediate the environmental problems caused by that unauthorized filling.

The railroad receives shipments of building materials by rail, which it temporarily stores for reshipment by truck.

Mr Rodriguez has stressed that the railroad’s current application for a wetlands protection permit is separate from an earlier request for a wetlands permit for the site submitted by Newtown Transload, LLC, which the IWC rejected in February. Newtown Transload, which is a contractor for the railroad, has appealed that wetlands permit rejection in Danbury Superior Court.

The Newtown Transload wetlands permit application was submitted in connection with the railroad’s controversial pending proposal to expand its solid waste handling operations at the terminal. The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is reviewing that solid waste application.

About five years ago, the railroad entered the solid waste transfer business. The railroad transfers solid waste from heavy trucks onto railcars for shipment by rail to out-of-state landfills.

The railroad’s proposal to increase the range of solid waste and also expand the tonnage of solid waste that it handles has proven controversial, drawing stiff opposition on environmental grounds from town officials and a citizens group known as Hawleyville Environmental Advocacy Team (HEAT).

The concerns include the potential for surface water pollution and groundwater pollution due to expanded waste operations. Other issues include quality-of-life matters, such as increased truck traffic, increased noise, and additional blowing dust in the area.

Public Comment

During the public comment section of the June 23 hearing, Edward Moran of 38 Hawleyville Road asked how the water quality of domestic water wells located near the railroad site would be monitored as a safeguard against possible contamination.

IWC Chairman Anne Peters responded that such well water quality issues should be addressed to public health officials and to the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

The IWC does not have jurisdiction over the quality of water coming from domestic water wells, she explained.

Rob Sibley, town director of planning and land use, said the IWC does not have jurisdiction over well water issues or aquifers, which are the water sources for domestic wells.

Howard Winkler of 149 Currituck Road, whose property abuts the railroad site, said that a large pile of fill material at the railroad site, which contains steel fragments, plus asphalt and concrete fragments, is the surface from which storm water runoff would drain onto nearby properties. Mr Winkler said he has found litter on his property that had been discharged from the railroad site.

Mr Winkler stressed that the railroad property lies above an aquifer. The railroad’s expansion proposal poses pollution issues for the area, he stressed.

Glenn Kessler of 5 The Old Road told IWC members that the environmental issues posed by the railroad’s plans for its property are pressing matters.

“This is one of the most important issues facing Newtown today,” he said.

Helga Ruopp of 46 Hawleyville Road said that the railroad’s development plans for its site will mean that there would be storm water washouts at her nearby property.

Ms Ruopp said that any contaminants that drain off of the railroad property would eventually find their into Long Island Sound via Pond Brook, which drains into the Housatonic River, which drains into the sound. The sound holds oyster beds near the mouth of the Housatonic River, she said.

Dennis Dougherty of 23 Pocono Road said it was a poor past decision by the railroad to locate a solid waste handling operation above an aquifer in a residential area.

Mr Dougherty said he hopes that solid waste handling stops at the site and that the operation be relocated to an appropriate place.

IWC member Philip Kotch asked railroad representatives about the adverse effects of storm water runoff draining off of railcars and then entering wetlands, posing pollution hazards. He suggested that petroleum-based substances used to lubricate railcars would pose wetlands pollution hazards.

Dr Kotch noted that the site’s proposed design would place a length of railroad track spur “between two very sensitive wetlands.” He asked how the railroad would protect those wetlands.

Mr Rodriguez said that the railroad would position absorbent pads in appropriate places on its site to prevent the contamination of wetlands. He added the railroad wants to be responsive to its neighbors concerns. The lighting on the property will be shut off when there is no need to keep the site illuminated, he said.

The pending application is a good faith effort to improve the railroad’s efficiency in handling construction materials, he said.

IWC members agreed to conduct the fourth session of the public hearing on the railroad’s wetlands permit application on July 14.

On June 21, members of the General Assembly unanimously overrode Governor M. Jodi Rell’s recent veto of environmental protection legislation concerning solid waste handling that occurs near aquifers, which are underground sources of drinking water.

The veto override means that it will now be more difficult for the railroad to accomplish its controversial proposed solid waste expansion project.

The legislation, which has taken effect, seeks to prevent the expansion of solid waste handling facilities that lie within 1,000 feet of a “primary aquifer” or a “secondary aquifer,” until and unless, there exists a need for such additional solid waste handling capacity as specified by the state’s Solid Waste Management Plan. The railroad property sits atop an aquifer, about 800 acres of which lie within the Hawleyville section of town.

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