NEW BRITAIN - About 200 area residents, environmentalists and officials showed up Tuesday to decry Tilcon’s plan to mine 72 acres of protected watershed that acts as a tributary to Shuttle Meadow Reservoir.
“This has the potential to disturb or destroy a valuable city asset,” said former City Council member Suzanne Bielinski, who was the first to speak.
Bielinski likened the proposal to what happened in Flint, Michigan, where city leaders wound up polluting the water supply while saving money.
“You’re putting money ahead and against the health and welfare of the residents of the city,” Bielinski said.
“I heard a lot about the benefits to the city, but I didn’t hear anything about the benefits to Tilcon,” said Liz Aronson to the crowd, which clapped when she spoke.
After the second person called out to challenge officials during the presentation, Paul Zagorsky, who has led a spirited opposition to the plan, asked the crowd not to interrupt others. “I know we disagree with this, I know people are outraged, but I’m asking people not to speak when others are speaking,” he said.
Lenard Engineering, of Glastonbury, made a one-hour presentation detailing their plans to make the project more palatable to opponents before the hearing based on a review of the project done by the state Water Planning Council and the Council on Environmental Quality. Under the plan Tilcon wants to mine 74 of 131 acres of protected watershed on New Britain Water Department land in Plainville next to their existing quarry. Opponents fear that if the state Assembly agrees to the plan, protected watersheds throughout the state would be imperiled.
When the quarry expansion is complete in 35 to 40 years, Tilcon would turn the land back to New Britain as a “storage reservoir.” Tilcon would pay the city of New Britain for the mining rights to the watershed and would donate a total of 291 acres of land to the towns of Plainville, Southington and New Britain as part of the deal. Under a similar proposal that died under heavy opposition in 2007, Tilcon would have paid the city $15 million. City officials insist that so far, there have been no discussions on how much money New Britain could gain if the project moves forward.
“I look forward to and I’m very interested in the input from those citizens and I reserve any thoughts on how or whether to proceed until we have all had a chance to digest the report and to consider the input we will gather tonight,”Mayor Erin Stewart said in a statement issued before the hearing. Stewart did not attend the hearing.
The auditorium at Gaffney Elementary School was standing room only as James Erickson, the vice president of Lenard who oversaw the study on the project, finished his presentation.
Residents then lined up to speak against the plan. “Come to find out they (Lenard) spent more than 478 pages and more than $350,000 to determine that blowing up a mountain is bad for the environment,” said John Sokolowski, a vocal opponent of the plan.
Gary Wall, president of Tilcon Connecticut, issued a statement prior to the hearing - a rare exception to the company’s strategy in recent months of staying under the radar as the environmental study was being conducted and reviewed. Wall pointed out that his firm employs 600 people and has supported the community for decades.
“Once quarry operations are completed, at no cost to the city or its taxpayers, a new reservoir will be donated to the City of New Britain,” Wall said in the statement. “This reservoir would serve as a water resource for both the city and region whether to meet increasing water needs, to manage future droughts, or as a protection from impacts related to climate change.
“Tilcon Connecticut appreciates the opportunity to hear the public’s thoughts about our current proposal to maintain our quarry operations in the New Britain-Plainville area,” he continued. “We are committed to working with state and local policymakers, as well as community stakeholders to craft an approach that that delivers real, sustained benefits - economic, financial, and environmental - for the entire region, for decades to come.”
Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or Lbackus@centralctcommunications.com.