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    Friday, June 09, 2023

    Downgraded dredging processing plant discussed in Ledyard

    Leydard ― Developers of a proposed dredging material processing facility in Gales Ferry unveiled a smaller plan on Thursday during a public informational meeting attended by about 175 people at Ledyard HIgh School.

    Officials from the Quincy, Massachusetts-based Cashman Dredging and Marine Contracting now plan to use four acres, instead of 10, at the former Dow Chemical plant along Route 12. The facility would process dredged, non-contaminated material brought in by truck or rail, store it on-site in 50-foot high covered piles, before it's shipped to various sites for other uses, such as capping landfills, remediating brownfield sites, or as base material for roadways.

    Cashman Vice-President Alan Perrault outlined how the revised proposal differed from the one discussed at a July informational meeting. Besides the decrease in acreage, the processing capacity of the dredging plant would be reduced from 9,500 cubic yards per day to 4,000.

    The maximum number of trucks that would enter and then leave the facility is down to 100 per day from 250, and the plant would operate weekdays from 7 a.m to 5 p.m., and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. It had previously been scheduled to be open around the clock.

    Perrault said the stockpiled material would be located closer to the existing rail lines.

    Perrrault also noted that the dredging season in New England's waterways is only between October and February, which is when the proposed Gales Ferry Intermodal Facility would see the most activity.

    The two informational meetings were conducted to fulfill the state's requirements under the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection's Environmental Justice division. Its goal is that minority and poor communities don't bear a disproportionate share of environmental risks in the state. Toward that end, developers, such as Cashman, provide public participation during the state's permitting process.

    Cashman officials believe they have met the criteria so far with the meetings, posting its plans on the town's and the company's websites, and with the hiring of local resident Michael Cherry as a community liaison.

    Members of a local grassroots group disagree. David Harned is a member of the Citizens Alliance for Land Use.

    "We created this group to serve as a conduit between Cashman and the local community," he said. "We submitted a five-page question list to the company. Some questions have been answered, but about three pages haven't. This project requires sitting across the table, and having a series of interactive dialogues. A public informational session is an ineffective way of doing that."

    Perrault said while no more informational sessions are planned right now, opportunities for public input are far from over. The company is expected to file a solid waste transfer station permit application to DEEP within the next month or so, followed by a minimum six month waiting period while the agency reviews the application, A public hearing will be scheduled during that time.

    In addition, the company has to file for DEEP stormwater permits. as well get approval from the Ledyard Inland Wetlands, and Watercourses Commission, and the town's Planning and Zoning Commission. Company officials expect to file with the Wetlands Commission between mid-December and March of next year, and with Planning and Zoning between late January and mid-March 2023.

    "(Thursday night's hearing) was not the last bite at the apple, " said Perrault.

    Cashman officials released traffic data regarding Route 12 in the area of the proposed facility, Company-hired consultant Scott Hesketh estimated the volume of traffic on the highway during peak times would only be slightly more when the dredging plant is operational.

    The traffic study did include some safety recommendations, including the reduction of the speed limit on Route 12 between Route 214 and the Military Highway to 35 mph. It's now posted at 45 mph, but information filed by the State Department of Transportation shows that 85% of the traffic on the highway go at speeds around 62 mph.

    "Reducing the speed limit has been discussed with town police long before the Cashman proposal," said Cherry.

    Other recommendations include tree and brush clearing along the highway to improve sight distance, the installation of new advanced warning signs on Route 12, as well as additional traffic signals at the driveway to the Gales Ferry Volunteer Fire Company.

    Residents continued to voice concerns about traffic, noise, and pollution. Hilary Evans helped write the town's Plan of Conservation and Development. She claimed the dredging processing plant doesn't fit the plan.

    "The plan encourages more residential housing, getting more business, and making the area better," she said. "Not turning it into a dumping ground." She also compared Route 12 to driving on an obstacle course. "When are we going to say enough is enough?," she added.

    Cashman officials noted the former Dow site is the largest commercially-zoned parcel of land in Ledyard, and is under-utilized, They said the dredging processing facility can definitely increase the amount of property taxes paid to the town.

    Gales Ferry resident Ann Fagan lives near the railroad tracks where the dredging facility is proposed. She said her house shakes when the train goes by.

    "I don't want to see an increase in rail use," she said. "My property value goes even lower, if I can't show a house without a train going by every 5 minutes."

    Perrault replied that an increase in rail use at the proposed dredging processing site would only mean more cars on existing rail runs, and not additional trips.

    Perrault noted the dredging business is only part of a long-term plan by Cashman to develop more of the 165-acre Dow site. Plans would include ancillary projects to benefit the development of off-shore wind energy in the area.

    "We currently work with a drilling company in New York providing barges so they can lay-down cable for off-shore wind," he said. "All of what's happening locally with off-shore wind can't be staged or stored at New London State Pier."

    He envisions other sites will be examined to help out, and the Dow site could be ideal.

    "A lot of the things that'll be happening in the next 10 to 15 years are ancillary to off-shore wind projects, " he added.

    Local attorney Harry Heller, who's representing Cashman in the Gales Ferry project, said he lived near the Thames River for 69 years, and noted the balance of commercial and recreational uses of the waterway over the decades.

    "There were coal barges in Gales Ferry and Norwich, and fuel oil being delivered to the former Norwich State Hospital", he said. "What is being proposed by Cashman is not anything new. The river's potential is currently being under-utilized. At the end of the day, we have to have a balance of economic activity, jobs, and recreational use of the Thames."

    However, Gales Ferry resident Bruce Edwards offered another view. "That industry (Attorney Heller referred to) is responsible for much of the pollution the river has been trying to recover from over the last 30-40 years."

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