Voters OK Money For Open Space

Simsbury Post Commentary October 20, 2006

Reader urges public to think with their heads, vote with their hearst regarding EWS property

I applaud anyone who is seeking the facts with regard to the proposed purchase of the 424-acre Ethel Walker Property. $11.1 million dollars for a piece of real estate in the western part of Town is an investment neither the town nor her citizens should take lightly. However, a recent letter to the editor made some misleading points while advocating for NOT preserving this beautiful piece of land. I would like to try and shed some additional light on the issues raised.

First, I would like to address the claim that purchasing the Village Water Company would have been a better way to protect the quality of our drinking water. While purchasing the Village Water Company would have given the town control over the water distribution system, it would NOT give the town control over the quality of the water supply. The only way to protect the quality of the town’s drinking water is to acquire the land within the aquifer recharge area and prevent land uses that pose a threat to the water supply. Simsbury has a one-time opportunity to acquire the land and watershed that recharge the Town’s primary water source, supplying 73% of the town’s drinking water. Mandating that homes built on this recharge area be hooked up to town sewers would not be the “golden ticket” some of the Town Boards would like you to believe. First of all, there is no sewer hook-up available within the primary recharge area. Second, a United States Geological Survey Report, paid for by the Town in 1991, makes it crystal clear that any residential construction within the recharge area will be detrimental to the groundwater, primarily because of our love affair with green lawns and the chemicals required to keep them that way. Make no mistake; this proposed acquisition is the only way for us to take control of the quality of our town’s drinking water.

Second, there is the question of whether development will actually ever occur on this property. If the citizen’s of Simsbury vote no on November 7th, there is not doubt The Ethel Walker School will develop the property west of Bushy Hill. For anyone who believes this is not the case I invite you to walk the land and see all the soil testing that has taken place. The school has invested a significant amount in planning for a residential development on the property, including preliminary design of wastewater treatment systems. They would not have made this investment if they did not plan to follow through on it. Whether or not this first round of development includes the eastern slope of Bushy Hill, we cannot expect the school to be around forever and eventually this important scenic vista will face the same threat. While our land use boards would have some control over how development along Bushy Hill Road occurs, houses would inevitably go on the hillside permanently altering the character of the vista we so enjoy. I urge the town to take the long-term view. This acquisition would ensure permanent protection of Bushy Hill, and allow us to exercise control over the future character of our community.

Third, there is the question of whether or not this property is truly “pristine”. I was also at the Board of Finance meeting and was surprised to hear that buried within the property is a 4000-gallon fuel oil tank abandoned more than 40 years ago. However, I also heard Ms. Spear of The Trust for Public Land state that the “owner”, which is the Ethel Walker School, would address this issue prior to the closure of the property’s purchase. I would imagine, knowing and understanding State of CT clean up guidelines, this would entail complete removal of the underground system. I also know that the abandoned fuel oil tank is not located within the aquifer recharge area and so even if there were any contamination associated with it, this would be unlikely to impact the aquifer. The word “pristine” is still a valid description of the underground water supply, as it is rate GAA by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). In industry standards it is above current drinking water quality guidelines or given the slang term “pristine”. With my experience in heavy and highway construction, I only see groundwater classifications as high as GB/GA. This connotation is given to groundwaters that have been contaminated due to residential or industrial presence. The duel designation is to signify the goal of DEP to elevate it back to drinking water standards. GA is great; GAA on the other hand, is outstanding!

Finally, with regard to the acquisition of the development rights for Tulmeadow and Rosedale Farms, I want to remind all citizens’ that our Simsbury Land Trust headed these projects up. Let us give credit where credit is due. Our Town leaders held only a minor, supporting role in these purchases. While the Land Trust supports the effort to preserve the Ethel Walker Woods, they have left the leading role to the Trust for Public Land and the Town of Simsbury so that they can continue to put their limited resources toward their own long term land acquisition plan. The Town cannot expect the Land Trust, which is funded by private donations and run by citizen volunteers, to make every important land acquisition in town. The protection of Ethel Walker Woods has been a stated priority of the town for years! This time, it is up to us to take the lead.

Let’s research the data, think with our heads, and vote with our hearts on Question #2, November 7th. Better yet, just recognize these lands and woods for what they really are…a once in a lifetime opportunity that our descendant will thank us for!

Mary K. Baier, P.E.
West Simsbury

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