GROTON — Priscilla Pratt, president of the Groton Open Space Association, told the association’s annual meeting Oct. 11, 2007, that in a rapidly urbanizing Groton, “GOSA stands valiantly for balance, for protection of air, water, and land resources, and for quality of life for everyone.”

In her annual report, Ms. Pratt reviewed GOSA’s activities during the past year– including its mowing of the fields at Haley Farm, its legal battle to acquire the Merritt Property, its encouragement of the Conservation Commission to take the lead in open space protection, and its participation in several major land-use proceedings in Groton, such as the application by Wal-Mart for a supercenter near the reservoir system and the proposal for a 211-unit Active Senior Housing complex atop Fort Hill.

She gave special thanks to attorneys Ben Solnit and Beth Leamon of the New Haven firm of Tyler, Cooper and Alcorn for their first-class representation of GOSA in the Merritt case at a much-reduced rate. The case currently is before the Appellate Court in Hartford.

The full text of Ms. Pratt’s remarks appears further on.

GOSA members re-elected Ms. Pratt as president for a one-year term. Voters also re-elected to one-year terms Genevieve Cerf as treasurer and Lorraine Santangelo as secretary. Anna Sullivan of Groton was elected as a new member of the GOSA board, and Jim Furlong was reelected as a board member, both for three-year terms.

Guest speaker at the meeting was Joseph Leary, authority of A SHARED LANDSCAPE, A GUIDE & HISTORY OF CONNECTICUT’S STATE PARKS & FORESTS. Mr. Leary gave an eclectic talk that stressed the advantages of seeing parks in all seasons, rather than just summer; being wary of archeological interpretations that are based more on hope than evidence; appreciating the conservation efforts of previous generations and passing the favor on to future generations; and preparing for possibly traumatic change to our environment, such as the 1938 hurricane. Copies of Mr. Leary’s book sold briskly following the talk, with proceeds going to GOSA.

Following is the text of Ms. Pratt’s report:

Think Globally, Act Locally. This could well be GOSA’s motto over the past year. By working to protect and enhance open space, and to protect natural resources in major development projects, GOSA has also put itself on the cutting edge of the global movement to address climate change. Whenever we increase carbon sequestering open space, and reduce the impact of major developments on natural resources, we add something of significance to the solution of the global warming problem. Groton is rapidly urbanizing. GOSA stands valiantly for balance, for protection of air, water, and land resources, and for quality of life for everyone.

About open space. We have continued the program of mowing the fields at Haley Farm. The Crowley family continues to do a wonderful job every year in keeping the fields open, utilizing their old trusty John Deere tractor-mower and doing trimming work by hand. They do this for us at a fraction of what the work is really worth. We pay them from the interest in our Haley Farm fund, plus yearly donations from members. We have an Annual Cleanup Day in the spring. Thanks to efforts of Sidney, we now have doggie waste bags provided to help in cleanup all year.

Our major project of acquiring the 75-acre Merritt property from the top of Fort Hill to Fishtown Road has been held up by a legal dispute between a developer, Ravenswood, and the Merritts. We await a decision from the Appellate Court, and hopefully a successful end to this troubling suit soon. GOSA is represented by the firm of Tyler, Cooper, and Alcorn of New Haven. They are giving us first-class representation at a much-reduced rate. For this we owe Attorneys Ben Solnit and Beth Leamon our unceasing thanks.

GOSA has been encouraging the Conservation Commission to lead in implementation of an active open space plan in Groton. The Commission hosted a talk last month, which GOSA had promoted, by Alicia Betty of the Trust for Public Land. The subject of methods available to towns to protect open space was explained in depth by this expert. We are encouraged that this extremely informative talk will lead to further presentations about and actual implementation of an active open space plan in Groton.

GOSA has intervened in several major development proposals in Groton. We have hired expert environmental consultants to present information at public hearings before Inland Wetlands, Zoning, and Planning Commissions. This is expensive, but worth it. Please continue to help us financially.

When an application for a Wal-Mart Supercenter was taken up by the Planning Commission, an engineer employed by GOSA gave expert testimony about the dangers to the nearby reservoir system. This information, as well as further testimony by GOSA and others, was available to the Commission for its deliberations. The Commission denied the Wal-Mart application, in spite of recommendations for approval by town staff. We commend the Commission for its strong action and statement in protection of our vital drinking water supply.

One of our major current concerns is the Mystic Woods proposal, a 211-unit “Active Adult Community” consisting of 69 townhouse-style residential buildings and a community center building with attendant roads, utilities, and parking areas proposed to occupy 104.84 acres of wooded tract on the top and upper slopes of Fort Hill running from Flanders Road to the bottom of Fort Hill at Fort Hill Brook. Because of the significant impact of this very large development on steep slopes, 11 wetlands, a Tier-One Vernal Pool, and the headwaters of a stream leading to Fort Hill Brook, with the added danger of flooding, GOSA intervened at the Inland Wetlands hearings. We engaged the services of a top environmental lawyer, Peter Cooper of New Haven, a top wetlands consultant, Penni Sharp, and a top engineer, Steve Trinkaus. Several concerned citizens also intervened and formed a separate organization, Friends of Fort Hill.

The main access road to this development would be on Flanders Road, with an exit “right turn only” onto Route One near the middle of Fort Hill. We were dismayed that the Inland Wetlands Agency granted the permit for this development, which we strongly believe is too intense for the site and very damaging to the wetlands and the vernal pool.

As well as being the main access road for the 211 units, the Flanders Road entrance would also serve as the haul road for up to seven years for transporting construction equipment, logging trucks and building materials to the site. The road would pass the vernal pool at a distance of less than 40 feet from the wetland edge, and would bisect the 10-acre watershed flowing to the vernal pool and interrupt water flow to the wetland. The consultant for the developer testified during the hearings that, as a result of the construction, the egg mass count in the vernal pool might “dip” from 300 to “no less than 25.” In our opinion, this “dip” would represent a catastrophic decline of 90%, and would not only lead to a massive decline in the amphibian population, but also a decline in the physical quality of the water itself. As you know, vernal pools are considered a vital element in the ecology of an area, and warrant special protection by law.

In addition, the storm water runoff systems proposed have never been tested in this kind of site, and we are concerned that polluted runoff could damage Fort Hill Brook and ultimately Mumford Cove.

GOSA has taken the reluctant but crucial step of filing an appeal of the Inland Wetlands Agency decision with the Superior Court. We are represented by Peter Cooper, who has served as general counsel for the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, and another member of his firm, Frank Cochran, who is also an experienced environmental attorney.

The Groton Zoning Commission will hold a public hearing on the Mystic Woods application for a Special Permit for this same 211-unit Active Senior Adult Community on Monday October 15 at the Town Hall Annex at 7 p.m. in Room 1. GOSA has again filed as an intervener. We strongly urge all interested people to attend. This is a huge development, with major, major impacts on the community.

The Zoning Commission last week denied a Multi Use Floating Zone in Nodes application. GOSA had appeared at the hearings to advocate for open space provisions and other changes in the proposal.

GOSA’s appeals in the Four Winds case have not been successful. That’s the Watrous property off Noank-Ledyard Road, slated for a major development. The DEP has recognized the unique natural assets of this property, and has put it on its priority list of properties for acquisition. But the future of this beautiful land is uncertain, as the developer has not wanted to sell to the DEP.

Think Globally, Act Locally. That’s what GOSA, with your help, is trying to do. I have only touched on highlights of this year’s activities. Please watch our website, www.gosaonline.org, for past history, upcoming events, and updates on any projects I have missed because of time constraints tonight. You will find more information about the Mystic Woods proposal there, too, or ask any board member.

Thanks for all your support this past year. And lets all remember, in this time of world- crisis- climate change with unimaginable potential impacts on the environment, to Think Globally, and Act Locally. We can help to make a difference.