OLD LYME — Lack of current data on a vernal pool located near the proposed Big Y Express gas station and convenience store delayed the decision of the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission during a public hearing on the project Tuesday night.
A six-bay gas station and 2,100-square-foot convenience store are proposed for connecting properties at 99 Halls Road and 25 Neck Road that total 2.18 acres when combined. Essex Savings Bank, located on an adjacent property at 101 Halls Road, owns both parcels.
The commission will decide whether or not the project will have significant impact on the vernal pool — a term used to describe a seasonal wetland that provides breeding habitat for certain wildlife species, especially salamanders and frogs.
But at Tuesday’s meeting, Brian Farnham, owner of 29 Neck Road where the vernal pool is located, said that while he understood the area needs to be examined, his concern was the habitat of ducks that visit the property annually.
“It’s their breeding season and I don’t know if they’ve laid eggs. I’m trying to protect them. They come every season — that’s why I’m resisting having people go through wetlands at the moment,” he said.
The last data on the vernal pool was collected about 2006 by soil scientist Richard Snarski, according to Michael Klemens, a herpetologist invited to the meeting by attorney Marjorie Shansky, who represented the owner of the nearby gas station at 85 Halls Road, who has filed for intervenor status.
“We don’t know where the boundary of the vernal pool is. We do not know where limits of the vernal pool are — that’s critical,” Klemens said.
Klemens said it was essential to define the biota of the area — especially now because spring is “prime vernal pool season.” He said the vernal pool is likely a prime breeding area for wood frogs, spotted salamanders and fairy shrimp.
“Wood frogs are unique and a special case. The presence of wood frogs or their absence have been tied to biochemical physiological aspects of a vernal pool. Loss of wood frogs has a profound effect on the quality of the water. We really do need to see robust data on the biota,” he said.
Ryan Scrittorale, an engineer with Alfred Benesch and Company, who spoke for Big Y Express, said that Martin Brogie, the soil scientist who submitted a report on the project in Nov. 2020, could not attend Tuesday’s meeting due to illness, nor could Eric Davison, a soil scientist who wrote a report for the town. Scrittorale said his client will hire another soil scientist to speak at the next meeting if necessary.
Rachael Gaudio, commission chair, said that most of her questions concerning the project will be directed toward the applicant’s soil scientist and she urged mutual cooperation.
“My strong recommendation is that the parties work together and allow the soil scientist to be given access to the vernal pool,” she said.
The public hearing was continued to the commission’s next regular meeting on April 27 at 6 p.m. and will be held via Webex.
This story has been edited to remove references to leasing the property.