[Editorial was printed the following week in The Cheshire Herald]
A protracted drama has been unfolding over the past year, in the north end of Cheshire, surrounding the proposed expansion of an already huge mail order distribution center, Bloomingdales-By-Mail, which would require filling 3.4 acres of floodplain wetlands near the Ten Mile River, a Quinnipiac tributary. These wetlands are part of a several hundred acre tract of bottomland forest and farmland., remaining as open space in the largely suburban -urban Quinnipiac watershed. The drama involves technically complex issues (stormwater treatment and wetlands mitigation); politically sensitive issues (taxes and jobs), as well as biodiversity issues about which I can not pretend to be unbiased. How will the proposed expansion impact the future of an important breeding bird preserve, native trout, and one of the only two remaining viable wood turtle populations in the 170 square mile Quinnipiac River drainage basin (based on biomonitoring data and responses to member queries by the QRWA?) Please contact the QRWA at 203 237 2237 if you have sighted a wood turtle in the watershed with the past three years.
The wood turtle, a wide-roving, terrestrial and aquatic, brown-backed, larger cousin of the better- known box turtle is in steep decline in the northeast. This is because the species is very vulnerable to road kill in fragmented suburbia, and can hibernate only in unpolluted streams and rivers. These intelligent, gentle creatures are also often unwittingly removed from breeding populations to be pets. Like most turtles, wood turtles suffer high egg and hatchling mortality, but adults used to be long-lived, before the advent of modern hazards, so that populations persisted. Now, population after population is going extinct or in deep trouble - with perhaps only a few aged males. Due to their vulnerability and declining status, the Connecticut DEP recently decided to officially list them, along with box turtles, as "Species of Special Concern." At a recent conference on seasonal wetlands, sponsored by Yale and the CTDEP, a recurrent theme was the downward trajectory and vulnerability of fragmentation-sensitive amphibians and reptiles, also including Jefferson and spotted salamanders.
The QRWA decided the amount of proposed wetlands loss and the biodiversity issues warranted obtaining "intervenor" status in the Inland Wetlands Proceedings, and undertaking professional analysis of the BBM application - weighing pros & cons, costs, and assessing impacts on wetlands, biodiversity, and water quality of two expansion alternatives. We concluded that the proposed six acre eastward building expansion towards the river and the proposed stormwater management plan were unacceptable from an environmental standpoint. However, we do support an alternative plan -both prudent & economically feasible - albeit somewhat more expensive. The "east-west" alternative involves building a parking garage, and would increase yearly operating costs (by only one tenth of one percent of projected sales volume for the year 2000), altogether less costly than moving the whole operation out of Cheshire. This alternative would fill 1.5 acres of less valuable wetlands (sparing vernal pool habitat for reptiles and amphibians).
An Inland Wetlands permit denial ended Phase 1 of the drama in March 1997. Phase 2, a resubmission with a revised mitigation plan, but similar wetlands and water quality impacts is still hanging in the balance - the application is currently under review under sections 401of the Clean water Axt by the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection and Section 404 of The Clean Water Act andby the US Army Corps of Engineers, New England Division in Waltham Corps of Engineers. Various signatures and details are not yet in place for the Cheshire IWWC permit - narrowly approved by a 3 to 2 vote in November 1997. The QRWA asks concerned citizens to write to Bloomingdales- by- Mail ( Attn. Kathy Lynch, Public Relations, Bloomingdales-by-Mail, 475 Knotter Drive, Cheshire, CT 05410, asking the company to adopt the east-west alternative, simply as "the right thing to do" , saving irreplaceable wetlands for the sake of a slight improvement in Bloomingdales operating costs.
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