OPINION: Company wants to blast away much of Ledyard’s historic Mount Decatur
I will admit to having not paid much attention over the years to the significant incline that cars on Ledyard’s Route 12 must climb up and brake their way down, just north of the Naval Submarine Base.
The prominent hill that Route 12 traverses, towering over and looking down the sweep of the Thames River, is such a crucial geographic feature that one of the great heroes of the U.S. Navy, Stephen Decatur, built a fort at the top of it during the War of 1812, when his ships were trapped by a British blockade of the river.
Fort Decatur, at an elevation of 256 feet, gave the commodore the ability to see the enemy approaching from land and sea.
And now, some neighbors will tell you, Mount Decatur itself is under attack, with a proposal by its new owners, who bought the hill as part of the former Dow Chemical plant property, to blast apart some 40 acres of the hillside and remove and sell off the material.
Honestly, I am not making this up. They want to dynamite and carry off a big part of a significant feature of the town, which over the centuries has also been called Dragon’s Hill and Allyn’s Hill.
The project is enormous, unprecedented in town for its size, and would unfold over many years, with continuing blasting and trucking and barging the material away.
If that seems like a tough sell to the neighbors and the town in general, know also that they are not proposing to build anything there, just create a site for some possible but unknown industrial development at some unknown time in the future.
They are not proposing to build any taxable buildings that would create any kind of employment opportunities.
They are proposing instead to sell off some of the town’s history and geography, by the barge and truckload.
Opposition has been building, not just among neighbors — imagine living with years of blasting near your home — but among state and national preservationists who say the proposal to stop the excavation just shy of Fort Decatur itself, is not enough to save the integrity of this significant historic site and its surroundings.
A review of the application from the property owners, an affiliate of Cashman Dredging & Marine Contracting of Quincy, Mass., is scheduled to begin with a public hearing scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, in a hybrid format from the Town Council Chambers.
The hearing, which will begin with a presentation by the applicant, is expected to continue over a number of meetings.
I tried to reach the applicants ― I won’t call them developers because they are not building anything ― through their Montville lawyer, Harry Heller, who didn’t return my phone message.
“This is not just a local issue. This is a nationally-significant historical site,” said Stefon Danczuk of the nonprofit Preservation Connecticut, which is working with a national nonprofit, The Archaeological Conservancy.
The conservancy offered to buy the site but has not heard back from the applicant, Danczuk said.
The fort, which was a wooden structure, survives today as a footprint, where stone gun mounts are still apparent. It’s not open to the public, although the Boy Scouts have led some hikes to it over the years.
It has never been nominated to the National Register of Historic Places, although Danczuk said it meets four important criteria for being included on the register, including a link to an historic figure, to American history, architecture, and resources that have not been completely studied.
In this broad context, it may be unique in Connecticut as an especially significant historic site, he said.
Danczuk said preservationists will argue the commission is supposed to consider impacts of a proposal on the town’s natural features, which Mount Decatur could certainly be considered one of.
Most of the opposition to the proposal, though, is much more local and personal.
Elizabeth Smith, for instance, whose log-style home on Chapman Lane sits directly under a steep cliff at the southern end of Mount Decatur, worries about the blasting dislodging boulders perched precariously above her and damaging her well.
Also she doesn’t understand why Ledyard should tolerate the disruption from years of loud blasting and noisy trucks passing by with no tax benefits.
“It’s going to affect the whole community, and we’re not getting anything from it,” she said.
Expect to hear a lot more than that from residents, as the commission decides whether to allow the new owners of Mount Decatur to haul a lot of it right out of town.
This is the opinion of David Collins.
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