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Bluff Point tree-cutting plan sparks concerns

Groton — Large trees would be felled in three areas of Bluff Point State Park and six privately owned adjacent properties, under a plan the Connecticut Airport Authority said is needed to ensure the safety of aircraft using Groton-New London Airport.

The public will have a chance to comment on the plan at a hearing next week. Among those who plan on speaking against the proposal are representatives of the Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound, who contend that the current plan should be revised so that fewer trees are cut down and sensitive areas in Bluff Point are protected.

“It is a unique property on the Connecticut coast,” Andrew Minikowski, attorney and legal fellow at the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, said Tuesday of the 800-acre state park. “We understand that some trees may need to be taken down, but it needs to be done with much more care and far-sightedness.”

Under the plan, large trees that obstruct airspace leading to the airport's runways would be removed selectively. The removal is needed to comply with Federal Aviation Administration safety regulations, according to the Environmental Assessment and Environmental Impact Evaluation prepared for the airport project. The trees that would be cut are on about 40 acres of the park, and about 15 acres at Birch Plain Golf Course, nearby commercial properties and undeveloped private lands, according to Alisa Sisic, spokeswoman for the airport authority.

Dennis Schain, spokesman for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said his agency is concerned that the state park property be protected as much as possible.

“We completely understand the need to ensure the safety of aircraft landing and taking off from the Groton airport,” he said. “This project as proposed, however, appears to have significant impact on sensitive lands owned by DEEP at Bluff Point, so we will be giving this matter very careful consideration.”

He said the agency will review and comment on the proposal. In addition to the hearing, written comments will be received by the Connecticut Airport Authority until Jan. 24.

Minikowski said the current proposal is overly vague about how trees would be selected for removal. The plan should be revised so that impacts on sensitive wetlands and other areas are minimized, and efforts are made to prevent the encroachment of invasive species in areas where trees are removed, he said. 

The project could be done in a way that would improve habitat for wildlife at the park, including the New England cottontail, which has been considered for endangered species status. In addition, the area is used by 214 species of migratory birds and includes several rare habitats such as coastal woodlands, salt marshes, coastal sand beaches, coastal grasslands and brackish intertidal marshes.

“We want to put these concerns on the radar,” he said.

His organization is urging those concerned about the tree-removal plan to attend next week’s hearing.

Sisic, the airport authority spokeswoman, said that after the public hearing, the state and federal aviation authorities will prepare a final environmental assessment. The state airport agency would then pursue permits from DEEP and approvals from the private property owners. She said the removals could begin early in 2018, and may be phased in over a few years.

The tree obstructions were first identified by the state airport authority in 2012, and the ones most critical to operational safety confirmed by the FAA in 2013, Sisic said. She added that tree cutting has taken place in the area periodically in the past.

j.benson@theday.com

More information:

What: public hearing on tree-cutting plan for Bluff Point State Park and other areas around Groton-New London Airport

Who: Connecticut Airport Authority

When: 7 to 8:30 p.m. Dec. 8

Where: Groton City Hall

Written comments: send to Colin Goegel at cgoegel@ctairports.org">cgoegel@ctairports.org by Jan. 24.

Project description: http://grotonairport.caa-analysis.com/project-documents/

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