GROTON — Joan Smith, president of the Groton Open Space Association, urged July 7, 2010, that Groton should protect open tracts of land as a key part of a multi-faceted attack on causes of climate change.

Ms. Smith spoke at the third of four planned public “listening” sessions arranged by the town’s Task Force on Climate Change and Sustainable Community at the Town Hall Annex.  Following is the text of her talk:

Groton Open Space Association, Inc. is a 501 (c) (3) organization created for the purpose of protecting open space and promoting sound environmental practices and education. GOSA was instrumental in the preservation of Bluff Point and Haley Farm State Parks and recently purchased The Merritt Family Forest, a keystone to Groton’s greenbelt.

Climate change impacts from excess atmospheric carbon dioxide, temperature extremes, biological changes, flooding and sea level rise could be reduced if Groton were to adopt sound environmental practices, namely: protection of significant areas of open space that provide for biological sustainability and diversity and provide for protection of drinking water watersheds, coastal areas, wetlands and natural areas. 

Heat, pollution and flooding of urbanized areas can be reduced by limiting the percentage of impervious surface areas permitted under zoning regulations, restoring and reusing already-developed properties, and implementing a program to provide shade trees for urban, commercial and industrial areas. Trees will capture carbon dioxide, trap pollutants, take up stormwater and nutrients, and reduce summer temperatures compounded by the heat trapped by concrete, asphalt and rooftops.

Food security, and reduced fuel use for the transportation of food, can be promoted by supporting local farmers economically through tax incentives, purchase of development rights and enhanced marketing. Groton is to be commended for its support of community gardens, and the program deserves to be expanded to all neighborhoods.

Automobile transportation has driven the design of Groton over the past 50 years. This has led to urban and suburban sprawl, complete with strip malls, big box stores, drive-through businesses, large parking lots and traffic congestion, increased heat trapping, carbon dioxide emissions, and air and stormwater pollution. Walkability has been reduced and bicycle travel is dangerous and unpleasant.

Adoption of Low Impact Design principles in our zoning regulations would reduce the spread of suburban sprawl, reduce dependence on automobiles and promote compact mixed-use village developments, separated by large amounts of open space and connected by public transportation, and bicycle and walking trails.

Groton used to have a trolley system connecting compact, walkable cities and villages. There is no reason why we cannot restore light rail service to connect these villages and cities again.

I am a bicyclist, and I know that we do not have safe bicycle routes across Town to schools, recreation areas, businesses and commercial areas. Groton is forward-looking for adopting a bicycle trails master plan, but more needs to be done, especially with the more difficult east-west routes. Urbanized areas with busy transportation corridors will require a special effort. The League of American Bicyclists provides suggestions to municipalities to improve their bicycle-friendly status, and offers awards to businesses and cities that take steps to improve. 

Groton Open Space Association has been a strong proponent of good development design and regulation. We recommend that the Town develop zoning regulations that promote “smart growth,” as recommended in The Town of Groton 2002 Plan of Conservation and Development. GOSA also recommends that the Town adopt the Connecticut Stormwater Manual to assure optimum engineering standards to mitigate flooding, erosion, pollution and heated stormwater runoff. We suggest the Zoning Commission adopt the recommendations of the 2008 Drinking Water Quality Management Plan to strengthen protection for our Water Resource Protection District. We recommend acquisition and preservation of critical watershed land by the Town and Groton Utilities Water company.