East Lyme Inland Wetland Agency Delays Decision on Buffer Expansion to 500 Feet

East Lyme Inland Wetlands Agency Chair Gary Upton appears on Zoom during the agency's August 10 virtual meeting


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EAST LYME — The East Lyme Inland Wetland Agency held off a decision on a proposed expansion to its review area after accepting several scientific articles and other exhibits into the record at a hearing on Monday night.

The agency continued a public hearing on its proposal to extend its upland review area from 100 feet around inland wetlands and watercourses, to 500 feet. Two members of the public spoke in opposition to the change, but most of the new information Monday was brought by members of the agency.

During a lengthy first hearing in July, where some critics questioned the scientific basis of the change, Town Attorney Mark Zamarka told the committee that it had to be able to support any decision it made with substantial evidence.

On Monday, Zamarka emphasized that the town expects any change to the review area will be challenged in court.

“I can guarantee you, any change that is made will be appealed, and you’re going to have four or five really good land use attorneys coming after the decision,” Zamarka said. “And the judge is going to ask counsel for the wetlands agency, ‘show me where in the record it specifically supports the change for 50 feet, 100 feet, 200 feet,’ whatever it may be.”

A map created by East Lyme Town Planner and Wetland Agent Gary Goeschel to show the difference in coverage by the 100 foot and proposed 500 foot review areas.

Zamarka said that, because of the new evidence presented at the meeting, the board should consider putting off its vote for at least another meeting. Agency member Don Phimister agreed that the agency should take more time to review the new evidence, especially the scientific articles.

“There’s a lot of information, and it’s gonna have a huge impact on our town legally and financially, for all of our residents, and it’s a big decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly,” Zamarka said.

Board Chair Gary Upton was not initially in favor of postponing a vote, expressing concern that there would be additional extensions to delay a decision. He said he is concerned that opponents of the change will take the time to “poke holes” in the evidence submitted into the record.

Zamarka said it’s about giving members a chance to review the evidence before they vote, not about poking holes in scientific studies.

The agency eventually voted unanimously to continue its discussions at its next regular meeting in September.

It voted 4-3 against having Town Planner and Wetlands Agent Gary Goeschel present a report on the impact of a proposal by member Ted Koch to extend the review area to 300 feet around wetlands and watercourses within the Latimer Brook, Four Mile River, Pattagansett, Bride Brook and Niantic River watersheds, and maintain a 100 feet review area everywhere else. 

Goeschel, who had been critical of the potential effect of the proposed 500-foot buffer on development, said he would be more in favor of a narrower provision.

Goeschel said that the Pattagansett Watershed, in particular, has a chain of lakes, streams and ponds that leads to the Long Island Sound, and includes the town wells. He suggested that the Four Mile River Watershed is a “pristine watershed” that has potential as a water supply in the future.

Upton opposed taking a report from Goeschel, insisting that the town planner’s position on the issue was already clear based on comments he had made in public meetings and an interview with The Day.

Agency member Phyllis Berter asked if a report from Goeschel could be used against the agency in court, and Upton agreed that it would.