By Joan Smith, GOSA Director

GROTON — The Inland Wetlands Agency on Sept. 12, 2007, approved with conditions the application of Hawthorne Development LLC for a large Active Senior Housing community.

The proposed site is Fort Hill, between Route 1 and Flanders Road. Agency Member Mary Ellen Furlong was the lone dissenter, citing potential impacts to the valuable Wetland 11, and the likelihood of large amounts of water flowing downhill on the Fort Hill Brook side of the project. Hawthorne has applied for a 211-unit complex, but conditions imposed by the IWA could reduce that number somewhat.

Construction of sanitary sewer into the roadbed of Fort Hill Road was approved. A sidewalk on Flanders Road was denied to protect Wetland 11. The “enhancement area” surrounding Wetland 4 was increased to 50 feet from the wetland edge. This decision will require a revision to the road design and removal of buildings from the wetland envelope. “Non-disturbance” areas of approximately 170 feet from Wetlands 10 and 11 were created to protect the wetlands from building activity planned for the edge of steep slopes above the wetlands. As many as 10 units could have to be relocated or eliminated. The controversial access road next to the vernal pool in Wetland 11 will remain.

Ms. Furlong expressed frustration that the town’s hired experts were not available for questioning at the final public hearing. She described the slope stability report of town consultant Camp, Dresser and McGee as a “one-line answer,” which was “pretty pathetic.” When she attempted to review specific data, and questioned apparent inconsistencies, she was advised by Chairman David Scott that she does not have the requisite scientific qualifications to evaluate such data, and must abide by the experts’ summary, “which is fine.”

No reference was made to the report by GOSA wetlands expert Penni Sharp, which said that 300 amphibian egg masses indicated a “hot” vernal pool in Wetland 11, and which predicted severe impacts to amphibian numbers and subsequently to water quality itself. One agency member stated: “We are not talking about amphibians.” Board Member Eunice Sutphen said that an amphibian migratory corridor was now protected by the non-disturbance areas.

Ms. Furlong cited the statement of the applicant’s expert, George Logan, that the egg mass count could decline but that he “guaranteed” it would “not dip below 25,” the minimum for a Tier 1 pool. Ms. Furlong said that the projected egg mass loss indicated damage was expected to water quality, given that Mr. Logan also had said that amphibians themselves would not be harmed.

Member Robert Ashcroft said he wanted to say “no” to the whole project, but that, based on the regulations, the agency had to focus on water quality and on slopes above the wetlands, and could not “revise and put in a new entrance,” a reference to GOSA’s alternative analysis.

Chairman Scott dismissed statements that the IWA must consider potential impacts to Mumford Cove, as “way out of our jurisdiction.” He said also that Fort Hill Brook is a “long, long way away.” The stream, which flows at the base of Fort Hill, runs into Mumford Cove, off Fisher’s Island Sound.

Members Mr. Ashcroft, Ms. Sutphen, Barbara Block and Mr. Scott voted to approve the application.

After the conclusion of the hearing, Chairman Scott said that a townwide buildable land definition would “save us all this trouble.”