A New Britain official and Lenard Engineering Vice President James Ericson defended his company’s environmental study on the potential impacts of a proposed Tilcon quarry expansion Wednesday before a state council reviewing the 500-page document.
The study, which encompasses many aspects of Tilcon’s plan to mine 131 acres of protected watershed near Bradley Mountain, has come under fire from residents and environmental advocates throughout the state. Lenard concluded that species of animals and plants would be destroyed in the mining process but that the city would nearly double its water storage capacity in 40 years when the land is returned to the city of New Britain as a reservoir.
Tilcon would pay the city to lease the mining rights and give nearly 300 acres of open space to New Britain, Southington and Plainville as part of the deal.
Run-off water from Coppermine Brook in Bristol would fill the reservoir through a practice called “flood skimming” and remain there until needed in times of drought, said acting New Britain Water Department director Ray Esponda. “With the water stored in times of plenty, we can better deal with times of need,” said Esponda, who was appointed acting director at the tail end of a months-long drought in late 2016. “Having a reservoir of this size, we can make better decisions and we will have the basis of creating a regional water supply.”
Ericson and Esponda both spoke before the Council on Environmental Quality which in its review of the study points out several flaws in the document. A two-member subcommittee of the council found that the study didn’t fully document the potential destruction to mammals, amphibians and the forested habitat and didn’t examine the water quality of the flood waters generated by Copper Mine Brook run-off.
The subcommittee also felt the study “grossly exaggerated” New Britain’s future population, failed to include that the city-owned Patton Brook Well can provide 1.2 millions of water a day and didn’t provide any information on the cost of upgrading the infrastructure to capture the flood skimmed water and channel it to the reservoir. Nor did it discuss conservation measures as a way of increasing water supply.
Tilcon and New Britain officials had touted the project as a “free” reservoir when the proposal was announced in early 2016. Ericson and Esponda said they have no idea how much the upgrades to connect the quarry to the water system would cost or who would pay for them. Ericson also confirmed that his firm would likely be in the running to engineer the project, but he had no estimate on what engineering services would cost.
The scope of the study was laid out in a state law passed in 2016 that required the city to hire an independent firm to review the environmental impact of the project according to six categories. These included looking at the long-term water supply needs for New Britain and other interconnected water companies. The law indicates that the study “need not be limited to” the six categories, but Ericson told the Council on Environmental Quality during Wednesday’s meeting, that many of what the council considered flaws in the study were not listed in the law as areas to examine.
“The scope of the act said what is the impact of the project on the safe yield,” Ericson said. “The scope of the work wasn’t to look at alternatives.”
Ericson also said Patton Brook Well wasn’t included as a New Britain water resource because the well hasn’t been connected to the system in years. Esponda’s team connected the well late last year and pumped about 1 million gallons a day for two weeks to determine if it would work.
The Council on Environmental Quality and the state Water Planning Council are reviewing the study and any comments sent by the public before preparing a final review that will be given to city. The city will hold a public hearing on the project sometime in the summer. The state Department of Public Health must approve the plan before it can go forward.
Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or Lbackus@centralctcommunications.com.