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    Friday, June 21, 2024

    Updated: Ledyard residents speak out about quarry project

    Ledyard ― More than 125 people attended a public hearing Thursday night about plans to quarry rock by leveling large parts of historic Mount Decatur in Gales Ferry at the site of the former Dow Chemical plant.

    The crowd at Ledyard Middle School was smaller than the 200 or so who attended the first night of the Planning and Zoning Commission hearing last week. Residents who attended that hearing did not have an opportunity to weigh in because problems with a Zoom connection for those watching from home cut the hearing short.

    Many on Thursday said they didn’t want a quarrying operation near their neighborhood, potentially creating noise and dust, plus substantial amounts of traffic. They also said the operation would not add much to the tax base and might lower the value of their own nearby houses.

    “This will be like nothing else ever seen here,” said Jeff Motti of Stonybrook Road, who, like many of the project opponents, received enthusiastic applause. “Now, we are standing here with the opportunity to enforce our planning and zoning regulations so that future generations don’t look back at us and ask, ‘What were you thinking?’”

    “The intensity and nature of the use they are proposing are not compatible with the site’s proximity to residential areas,” said Cara Hugabonne, a resident.

    Liz Smith, who lives on Chapman Lane, said she was concerned about proposed blasting in the area that could affect her well drinking water as well as possibly releasing dangerous radon and affecting the stability of the hill on which she lives.

    “Any damage or contamination to wells, and we could leave these residents without any drinking water,” she said.

    Phil Fiore, a local scientist who lives on Cardinal Lane, added details about the possible release of silica dust in the quarrying and processing of rocks in the proposed quarry area. He said silica dust, when released, is a carcinogen.

    “Once these materials become airborne, they will be airborne for 12 days,” he said.

    More than 20 speakers spoke until nearly 9:30 p.m. about their opposition to the quarry, including Ledyard Town Historian Kit Foster and Stefon Danczuk of Preservation CT.

    Foster said the proposal for historic Mount Decatur would basically leave the original historic fort area there as a literal “cliffhanger.”

    “The thought of a quarry is antithetical to most of us,” Foster said, then joked: “What we really want is a Trader Joe’s. The Dollar General did not really meet our expectations.”

    Others, in brief comments summarized during the meeting, decried plans to quarry rocks from Mount Decatur, an important War of 1812 historic site, thereby forever changing its appearance and ruining the historic context and perhaps many relics. They added that a full historic assessment of the site has not yet been completed.

    The nearby United Methodist Church, which also runs a day-care center, opposed the application. Some speakers noted the possible effect on three nearby schools as well.

    Yesenia Stein, a 15-year-old member of the Environmental Action Club, said she was worried about animals and the loss of habitat in the area that would be caused by the quarry operation. She also noted that the applicant, Gales Ferry Intermodal, had never specified the number of jobs that might be created by the new business.

    “I don’t want to be growing up in this community with blasting going on for years to come,” she said.

    Jolie Isenburg, a college environmental studies student, said she was worried about heavy metals that might be released by the quarry operation and the possibility that well water and the Thames River would be poisoned.

    “You cannot fully eliminate the toxic metals and other things like silica dust that will inevitably be produced by your operation and impacting our community and environment,” she said.

    Earlier, David George, owner of the Berlin-based Heritage Consultants tasked by the quarry applicants with doing a cultural assessment of the historical use of Mount Decatur as a fort during the War of 1812, said he has identified the outline of the former military site and has identified several artifacts from the period. He promised that a “safe zone” of several acres would be created to safeguard the historic integrity of the site.

    Residents said current plans called for only a 100-foot buffer between the fort and the proposed quarry operation.

    Only one member of the public spoke in favor of the quarry, Kevin Blacker of Noank, a former Green Party candidate for a U.S. House seat in the 2nd District and a major critic of the wind-assembly operation at State Pier in New London.

    Blacker said having a major company like the site’s owner, Cashman Dredging & Marine Contracting, would be a positive for the area and the Navy, in particular, because of the company’s ability to respond to major events, such as an accident affecting the Gold Star Memorial Bridge.

    “They’re good people. They’re honest, they’re trustworthy and they’re capable,” Blacker said. “This isn’t a popularity contest; I say let them do it.”

    Project geologist Jeff Slade said in testimony to the Planning and Zoning Commission that the type of rock on the site tends to exhibit a superfine grain that would mitigate the potential for crystalline silica to be released during processing of quarried materials. He added that he did not expect the project to have a major effect on local wells or the water table.

    Harry Heller, an Uncasville attorney representing the site operator Gales Ferry Intermodal, has argued that Cashman Dredging & Marine Contracting, based in Quincy, Mass., would ensure that dust, noise and traffic would be kept to a minimum. He said the quarry operation, being opposed by a group called Citizens Alliance for Land Use, fits into the town’s plan of development and that the facility would keep effects on residents and on-site Mount Decatur to a minimum.

    “We think this is a wonderful project,” Heller said.

    A final decision on the application is not expected until Jan. 11 at the earliest, as the public hearing is planned to continue until that date.

    l.howard@theday.com

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