IWC To Review Modifying Planters’ Choice Wetlands Permit
Inland Wetlands Commission (IWC) members will be reviewing several proposed changes to the IWC’s wetlands violations remediation plan for the Planters’ Choice plant nursery, as recommended by the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).
The measures recommended by USACE would increase the level of environmental protection that the IWC has specified in its plan for the sprawling agricultural facility.
IWC members decided on November 25 that such a review and possible modifications to the IWC’s plan would occur at an IWC meeting scheduled for 7:30 pm on Thursday, December 12, at Newtown Municipal Center, 3 Primrose Street.
Initially, two of the four IWC members present at the November 25 meeting recommended that the December 12 session be a public hearing, but the other two members said that no such hearing was needed and that the matter could be addressed as a routine piece of IWC business at the December 12 meeting. When the topic came to a vote, all four members concurred that no public hearing would be needed.
In effect, when Planters’ Choice comes up on the IWC’s December 12 meeting agenda, members of the audience will be allowed to watch and listen as IWC members discuss the matter among themselves and discuss it with the applicant and its representatives.
Because it will not be a public hearing, members of the public, however, will not be allowed to comment or ask questions. When a public hearing is held, people who own real estate that lies near the property that is the subject of a public hearing are formally notified in advance of such a public hearing by mail.
After deciding not to hold a public hearing, IWC Chairman Sharon Salling said that the matter at hand does not rise to the level of a public hearing. IWC member Craig Ferris concurred, saying that the limited scope of the expected modifications does not warrant a hearing.
Although the 4-to-0 vote against holding a public hearing was unanimous, initially, IWC members Michael McCabe and Vanessa Villamil recommended that a public hearing be held.
In the fall of 2018, the IWC held well-attended public hearings on a range of wetlands violations that had been uncovered at the Planters’ Choice properties on Huntingtown Road and Meadow Brook Road. Through those hearings, the IWC formulated a remediation plan for Planters’ Choice, specifying what measures needed to be taken to correct the violations.
Newman Holdings LLC owns the Planters’ Choice growing areas. The plant nursery has approximately 100 acres of growing areas at 140, 153, and 155 Huntingtown Road, and 23 Meadowbrook Road.
In May 2018, in two “cease and correct” orders, the town informed the nursery that after town inspections, it was clear that unauthorized activities had occurred on the firm’s properties, including land clearing, earthen filling, grading, and the deposition of earthen material within regulated wetland areas. Generally, the wetlands violations involved uncontrolled erosion and sedimentation over a number of years.
The town’s issuance of those two orders followed complaints from nearby residents about activities at the Planters’ Choice properties. Those residents’ concerns included whether the wetlands violations at the nursery had resulted in any contamination of their adjacent domestic water wells.
Steve Maguire, the town’s senior land use enforcement officer, has said that USACE conducted a field inspection of the Planters’ Choice properties in August to check on what measures needed to be taken to correct the wetlands violations there.
Instead of employing a culvert to direct water flow in a wetland area, the USACE wants a small bridge to be positioned in that area. Also, instead of placing a stormwater quality treatment basin in a wetland area, the USACE wants such a basin to be created in an upland area. Also, USACE wants Planters’ Choice to create a ‘manufactured’ wetland to compensate for the loss of wetlands at the property due to wetlands having been filled in with earthen materials some years ago.
As part of the IWC’s permit requirements, the nursery must perform stormwater quality sampling at its property in the spring and fall of each year to check for possible contamination. Such water testing looks for the presence of fertilizers, pesticides, certain bacteria, ammonia, chloride, and also checks for conditions such as turbidity and dissolved oxygen levels, among other characteristics. Three testing locations are specified. Testing must be performed by an environmental professional and be submitted to the town Land Use Agency.
So far, Planters’ Choice has performed the basic soil stabilization work that is required as a preliminary measure for the various wetlands improvements specified by the IWC’s wetlands/watercourses protection permit, according to Steve Maguire, town senior land use enforcement officer.
Realizing that USACE would be reviewing the property as well, the plant nursery held off on making further improvements until all required corrective measures became clear, he has said.