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    Sunday, June 23, 2024

    Updated: Modern-day ‘mountain man’ decries plans for quarry in Ledyard

    Paul and Chrissy Cerveny pose atop their property on Mount Decatur in Gales Ferry on Dec. 23, 2023. The hilltop behind them is where a fort once stood during the War of 1812. (Lee Howard/The Day)
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    Paul Cerveny, right, who owns about 6 acres on the top of one of the peaks at Mount Decatur in Gales Ferry, walks the property Dec. 23, 2023, with neighbor David Harned. They both oppose the proposed Gales Ferry Intermodal quarrying operation now before the Ledyard Planning & Zoning Commission. The next meeting is 6 p.m. Jan. 11 at Ledyard Middle School. (Lee Howard/The Day)
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    Paul Cerveny, shown on Dec. 23, 2023, has lived atop Mount Decatur in Gales Ferry on and off since he was 8 years old, and is now opposing a proposed quarrying operation nearby at the former Dow Chemical site. He bought the 6-acre property from his father two years ago. The tree-lined property is right next to a historic site important to the history of the War of 1812. (Lee Howard/The Day)
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    Editor’s Note: This story corrects the date of the placement of a monument rock at Mount Decatur as well as the name of the group that paid for it.

    Ledyard ― Paul Cerveny has lived at one of the peaks on Mount Decatur on and off since he was 8 years old, and for him it’s always been home.

    He loves the quiet on the 6-acre property where his parents raised four kids not far from the former Dow Chemical plant. He also enjoys its convenient location next to Route 12, a major thoroughfare in the Gales Ferry section of Ledyard.

    He cocks his head as he listens to the barest whisper of traffic passing below the 250-foot high point of his property, a noise that cannot be detected in the summer when the trees are festooned with verdant leaves.

    “That's about the loudest noise that you hear is just a slight drone,” Cerveny said.

    But Paul and his wife, Chrissy Cerveny, are afraid things soon could change. A few weeks ago, they heard about a plan proposed by Cashman Dredging & Marine Contracting to create a quarry by blasting large portions of Mount Decatur close to the Cervenys’ property line.

    Paul Cerveny showed up at a Ledyard Planning & Zoning Commission just before Christmas to decry the plans by Gales Ferry Intermodal LLC and to reveal that he lived at the top of one of the highest hills in town, a place shrouded from the rest of the world.

    Another public hearing is scheduled at 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 11, at Ledyard Middle School, after which the commission could decide on the required permit.

    “There will be large environmental impacts when an entire 40-acre wooded area is blasted and detonated,” Cerveny told commissioners in a prepared statement read Dec. 21. “Decatur Mountain will be permanently disfigured and forever altered, despite its historical significance that should be preserved and not destroyed. If this project is approved, my family and I will seriously consider moving elsewhere.”

    Paul and Chrissy, who has serious health issues that have left her permanently disabled for more than two decades, worry plans to level a large portion of Mount Decatur, also known as Dragon Hill and Allyn’s Hill, could destroy the peace of mind they have found in the bucolic, tree-lined property and might also ruin their well water and their health.

    Paul also is concerned that the blasting at Mount Decatur will leave the historic site there forever changed, and that plans down the road to use the area nearby as an industrial site could expose them to other hazards. The quarry blasting most likely will result in water runoff, and in the release of silica particles known to be a health hazard, he said.

    “I mean there's no way they're going to be able to contain that,” he said.

    But representatives of Cashman Dredging & Marine said Friday they take seriously their obligation to ensure the health and safety of both their workers and the local community. Alan Perrault and Chase Davis, project coordinators at the Ledyard site, said in a phone interview that these are not the Wild West days of quarrying; every precaution is taken to ensure that the blasting and processing of materials is done in a controlled way, including the use of water to reduce the chance for silica dust to become a problem.

    “Material really shouldn’t largely get airborne,” Perrault said.

    As for the potential of well water problems, Perrault noted that his company would be doing pre-blast surveys and analyses, including the use of monitoring wells around the perimeter of the property, to determine the effects. No blasting will be done closer than 750 feet from a well, he added, and in a worst-case scenario the company would assist in having another well drilled.

    Perrault added that David George of Heritage Consultants is still identifying historical artifacts on Mount Decatur and elsewhere, including on the south side of the property near some power lines where he now believe cannons were installed to ward off British attacks during the War of 1812. He said it’s the most thorough study ever done of the historic site, and as more culturally significant areas are discovered it’s possible more of the site will be declared off limits to the quarrying operation.

    “We understand it’s a balance between cultural preservation and economic development,” Perrault said.

    Paul Cerveny, a self-described conservative pro-business type who works as a master auto mechanic at Pep Boys Service and Tire Center in Mystic, nevertheless can’t fathom disfiguring a mountain next to his quiet home for the sake of economic development.

    “Allowing this would decimate the historic value of this area,” he told the planning and zoning panel this month. “Who in their right mind would be willing to buy this property if you approve this?”

    Cerveny first moved to Mount Decatur as a boy in 1978 after his parents bought the unusual property with a long, winding driveway. His father was a noncommissioned naval officer, and the family had lived elsewhere in town before settling down in their little house on a hill, where Paul remembers his parents tending beautiful gardens.

    Very early on while exploring the woods, Paul discovered the historic site and an engraved granite boulder on what he calls the second peak of Mount Decatur, where a fort once stood during the War of 1812. The monument rock, placed in 1898 at the north boundary of Fort Decatur by the Allyn Society Children of the American Revolution, tells the story of Stephen Decatur, the man charged with saving a large portion of the American naval fleet by setting up a fortified structure atop the hill later named for him.

    But to Chrissy, who married Paul just two years ago, the mountaintop is her safe place where she finds peace of mind and can look forward to each new day.

    “It's my Snow White cottage in the woods,” she said.

    Paul said during this month’s hearing that his biggest priority is Chrissy, who suffers from emphysema, and making sure her sanctuary is not turned into a war zone.

    “I don’t want to lose one day of her life due to silica dust,” Paul said.

    As he showed off his mountaintop home, he expressed anger at how his first notice of the quarry proposal came from a flyer sent to him by opponents of the project who now meet regularly at the Gales Ferry Community Center. He said GFI officials knew he lived on the mountain, or at least should have known.

    “But did they come up here? Nope. Like we're just the invisible mountain people,” he said.

    On the mountaintop are lots of wild animals, including deer, turkeys, foxes and even bald eagles. This time of the year, it’s a barren terrain as the trees have shed their leaves, but in the summer it’s lush and beautiful and very private, the Cervenys said.

    “Nowhere else has ever felt like my home,” Paul said. “I lived in North Stonington for seven years. I own a house there, and it never felt like my house. My name's on the deed, but it doesn't feel like my house. Like, I feel like I'm living in someone else's house.”

    “There's no other piece of property like this I've ever seen,” he said, looking around. “You can't recreate this. ... Even a huge life-changing offer I’d have a bunch of money in the bank. But I wouldn't have this anymore.”

    l.howard@theday.com

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