DEEP urges airport authority to limit tree cutting at Bluff Point

Groton — Fewer trees should be cut down and sensitive areas such as Bushy Point should be better protected than the Connecticut Airport Authority’s plan for Groton-New London Airport currently calls for, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection said in a Jan. 24 letter.

The letter was sent in response to an Environmental Assessment and Environmental Impact Evaluation released by the airport authority about its plan to cut trees on about 40 acres of Bluff Point State Park and Coastal Reserve, which is next to the airport. Bushy Point is a barrier beach within the 800-acre park.

Under the plan, larger trees that obstruct airspace leading to the runways would be selectively removed. The airport authority contends the removal is needed to comply with Federal Aviation Administration safety regulations. In addition to removing trees on about 40 acres of the park, the plan also calls for cutting trees on 15 acres of adjacent privately owned property.

Groups including the Connecticut Fund for the Environemnt/Save the Sound contend the plan should be revised to remove fewer trees.

In its comments, DEEP said it is “very concerned about the extent of tree removal proposed for Bluff Point” and urged the airport authority develop a new plan to minimize impacts. Bluff Point, the agency said, is a unique area with special protections that justify a more limited tree cutting that could “satisfy the least restrictive FAA safety standard.”

DEEP also asked the agency for more specific information about the number of trees that would be cut. It also noted that DEEP would have to grant permission for the project.

The agency also recommended the airport authority conduct surveys for migratory birds, and design the project to protect shorebird nesting areas and a winter owl roost. It also should design the project to minimize impacts on Baker Cove, DEEP said.

DEEP’s letter was sent at the close of a public comment period for the project. State and federal aviation authorities will consider this and other comments, as well as those at a public hearing in December, in preparing a final environmental assessment.

After that, the state airport agency will begin pursuing permits from DEEP and approvals from the private property owners. The tree removals could begin in early 2018, airport authority spokeswoman Alisa Sisic previously said. She could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

j.benson@theday.com

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