NEW BRITAIN - The engineering firm hired by the city to conduct a study of the environmental impact of the proposed expansion of the Tilcon mining operation in Plainville will be appearing before a state agency later this month to answer questions about how the work is proceeding.
James Erickson, vice president of Lenard Engineering Inc. and an environmental consultant working for him have been asked by the state Council on Environmental Quality to attend the agency’s June 21 meeting after environmentalists questioned the amount of work the Glastonbury-based firm has actually done to study the environment after reviewing the monthly reports.
“It’s an environmental study. That’s crystal clear. That’s what it is,” said Attorney Paul Zagorsky, a founding member of Save Our Watersheds CT which opposes the project said to members of the state Water Planning Council in April. “And it’s not a question of what can we do to make sure Tilcon gets their proposal, they get their quarry, they get their 60 years.”
Under the plan, Tilcon would mine 131 acres of city-owned Class I and Class II protected watershed land off Woodford Avenue in Plainville for 40 to 50 years before returning the parcel to New Britain as a reservoir that could potentially increase the city’s water supply.
LEI is required to submit monthly updates on the progress of the environmental study to the state’s Water Planning Council.
The most recent report released on May 1 which details activities through April 30 indicates that several areas of the study pertaining to the environment had yet to be addressed or were minimally addressed, including bird breeding surveys, the evaluation of ecological impacts, the wetland function and value evaluation and forest ecology assessment. At the same time, the report revealed that data collection from Tilcon was 100 percent complete, a review of quarry operations was 90 percent complete and the list of required approvals and permits was 90 percent complete.
“Some of the tasks don’t have a very high completion rate,” said Karl Wagoner, the executive director of the CEQ. “The council thought it would be useful to see how the study is progressing.”
The next report covering the time period from April 30 to May 31 will provide a “much better snapshot” of where the company is with the work, Erickson said. “The May report will have updated percentages complete,” Erickson said.
The plan is for the study to be complete by mid-summer and a report of the findings in the hands of the city by late summer or early fall, Erickson said. “We have four consultants working on the project,” Erickson said. “We expect each of our sub-consultants to be done by mid to the end of summer.”
Opponents to the plan, including Save Our Watersheds CT, a group formed after the proposal came to light in February 2016, are concerned that the mining, which could go on for 40 years, would impact the watershed and the drinking water supply. Members of the group regularly attend WPC and CEQ meetings. Both agencies required that LEI conduct a broader study that included more facets of the environment as opposed to the originally planned 15-week study.
The plan has drawn controversy from the start. The proposal would include Tilcon ‘s paying New Britain for mineral rights to the land, but the city would retain ownership of the property. The financial terms of the mineral rights deal have not been discussed, city officials said, in early November. Under a similar proposal that failed in 2008, the city would have received $15 million.
As part of the current proposal, Tilcon would also donate open space - 95 acres to New Britain, 187 acres to Plainville and 75 acres to Southington - and create a 1,000-foot buffer zone around the quarry to shield neighbors from Tilcon ‘s blasting.
Class I and Class II watershed lands are “highly protected” water recharge areas that hold and filter water that enters a reservoir, according to Margaret Miner, the executive director of the Rivers Alliance of Connecticut. In order to be considered Class I and Class II protected land, the areas must also be owned by a water company, or in this case, the New Britain Water Department.
The legislature must vote to approve a change of use for the land in order for Tilcon to mine the property. Opponents are concerned that if the proposal is approved by the General Assembly, Class I and Class II watersheds would be imperiled throughout the state. The commissioner of the state Department of Public Health must also approve the permit to start the project.
Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or Lbackus@centralctcommunications.com.