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Waterford may join East Lyme in preserving Oswegatchie Hills

Waterford –– The Board of Selectmen will consider adopting an ordinance Jan. 23 to create a joint Gateway Commission with East Lyme that would have the authority to preserve Oswegatchie Hills.

The wooded tract of nearly 800 acres, which dominates the East Lyme side of the Niantic River and extends to the Waterford side, has long been subject to development pressures. Landmark Development Corp. of Middletown is proposing an 894-unit condominium complex in the hills in East Lyme.

East Lyme has enacted enabling legislation to set up the joint commission, as provided for in state statutes.

If approved by the Waterford Representative Town Meeting, the proposed law could be adopted sometime this spring, First Selectman Paul B. Eccard said.

“From Waterford's point of view, we have a clear economic interest and demonstrated willingness to bear part of the burden in preserving that estuary, and (forming) the Gateway Commission is consistent with that commitment,” he said.

Modeled on legislation authorizing a Route 11 Greenway Commission, the proposed Gateway Commission would be empowered to use funding to acquire or convey land. The panel might also develop preservation standards that comply with state regulations. Waterford's Representative Town Meeting and East Lyme's Board of Selectmen would have the final say in adopting such standards.

Each town's first selectman would be allowed to make three political appointments to the commission.

The Waterford/East Lyme Shellfish Commission favors the ordinance as a way to protect the natural beauty and ecology of the area, said commission Chairman Lorenz W. Rinek. A failed experiment to restore the scallop population in the river points to the need to do more to protect this resource, he and Eccard said.
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