Debate raged over Tilcon Connecticut’s proposed expansion plans at a hearing in New Britain Tuesday night.
A city proposal would allow Tilcon Connecticut to expand mining operations onto protected watershed land. But many residents have been against such a plan for years.
”All I ask is the council preserves our watershed protection laws and prevent Tilcon from profiting at the expense of everyone else,” said resident John Sokolowski during public comment.
Tilcon is seeking to expand their quarry on the New Britain and Plainville line into approximately 130 acres of property owned by New Britain, including the Class I and II watershed land which feed the Shuttle Meadow Reservoir in Southington. The parcel is within the borders of Plainville and abuts Southington as well.
Ray Esponda, New Britain’s deputy director of public works in the utilities division, told BC Connecticut “I think it’s an incredible opportunity for us.”
According to the proposal, in exchange for granting Tilcon mineral rights for 40 years, Tilcon would give New Britain, Southington and Plainville a combined 291 acres of open land. The company would also leave behind a massive reservoir which could be helpful in future droughts, according to Esponda.
Environmentalists fear the water supply from that reservoir would not be of the same quality as the water that is currently filtered through the watershed. The State Council on Environmental Quality and the Water Planning Council both issued reports concluding the proposal could have adverse effects on the water and local wildlife.
Paul Zagorsky, a member of a group called Protect Our Watersheds CT, planned to speak out at the hearing against the proposal. He worried allowing the watershed area to be mined would cause irreparable damage, and open the door for other watershed areas to be converted for commercial development.
“Right now Class I and Class II watershed is off the table, can never be used can never be developed. It has one purpose and that’s to feed the reservoirs and water which we drink,” Zagorsky said. “If this opens it up then there are hundreds of thousands of acres throughout the state of Connecticut.”
In a statement to NBC Connecticut, Tilcon said:
“This proposal will allow us to continue to be a major employer and economic contributor for generations to come and will result in the donation of nearly 300 acres of open space land to neighboring communities.”
This is the second time Tilcon is seeking to expand its quarry into protected land. The last effort under former New Britain Mayor Tim Stewart, current Mayor Erin Stewart’s father, failed to gain the needed approval in 2007.
Mayor Erin Stewart released a statement that read, in part:
"Working with the legislature, the City supported a process by which -- prior to consideration of the proposal -- the City would be required to undertake an extensive feasibility study and environmental assessment of the proposal to ensure that the proper issues and potential impacts of the proposal were identified and addressed. To ensure that the most thorough, complete and factual information was produced and made available through the study and assessment process, the City retained a professional engineering and environmental consulting firm, Lenard Engineering, to spearhead that effort. Additionally, the process was conducted in public consultation with the CEQ and the Water Planning Council, who provided input into the scope of the study and made comments on the Lenard findings and report.
"For me, tonight’s hearing is a very critical part of the evaluation process. We will hear a presentation from Lenard, the author of the environmental impact study and report, as well as our City’s Water Department. Most importantly, we will have a chance to hear from the citizens of New Britain and the surrounding communities as to what their views, concerns and observations are regarding the Lenard report. 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."