Plans to Process Dredged Material at Gales Ferry Site on the Thames Raises Local Concerns

The location of Cashman Dredging’s plans to redevelop the former Dow Chemical property on the Thames River (Credit: Google Map Data, 2022)

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GALES FERRY – A meeting between representatives of a company and concerned residents and critics of a proposed processing facility for dredged materials left many questions unanswered, though the company promised to continue working with residents and to consider their feedback.

Local residents sharing concerns about congestion and the environmental impact of additional truck, rail and boat traffic from the site filled much of the Ledyard Middle School auditorium on Monday for the informational meeting about Cashman Dredging’s plans to redevelop the former Dow Chemical property on the Thames River.

The facility would be used to process dredged material for projects that could include capping polluted brownfield sites and raising the elevation of flood prone areas – and in some cases the material could be dumped into the ocean, Alan Perrault, vice president of  Massachusetts-based dredging and construction company Jay Cashman, Inc. 

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Dredged materials from Cashman’s dredging operations in the area would be brought up the Thames River to the site on barges, where it would be mixed with concrete, run through a processing plant, and either stored in a stockpile, put on a truck or train to an inland receiving site, or sent out to sea.

Perrault said the former Dow Chemical site in Gales Ferry is about halfway between Cashman’s other hubs in Quincy, Massachusetts, and Staten Island, New York. It would also give Cashman easier access to the many sites along the Thames River and the Connecticut shoreline that need dredging, and to planned locations of offshore wind farms in the Atlantic Ocean, Perrault said.

“Dredging is maybe not everyone’s favorite thing to do, but if you’re dependent on the marine industry, as Electric Boat is, or the nuclear submarine base, people like ourselves or someone else is certainly going to try to serve that market,” Perrault said. “Our motivation is to try to meet what we believe is market demand.”

Perrault said he hoped to have the facility ready in the next six months to a year, and that he hoped the pier would be rehabilitated in the next six months so equipment could start being moved in. 

Cashman is seeking permits from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and will need to apply for local approval from the Ledyard Planning and Zoning Commission – though it’s not clear how much of a say the commission will have on the project.

Cashman pledges limited hours, some residents express lack of trust

Perrault said that while information sent to residents included plans to operate the facility 24/7, the company is now looking at having trucks going in and out of the site during “normal weekday hours.” 

Perrault said it would be similar to the hours of most landfills, either 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., or 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Harry Heller, an attorney representing Cashman, said the site might still receive boats dropping off dredged material outside of those hours since some dredging projects might have to be done in 12-hour shifts. 

Materials brought in while the site is “closed” would be stockpiled on site, in 20-foot high piles covered with tarps – which Andrews compared to the salt piles that DRVN formerly kept at the New London State Pier.

“Typically, we’re restricted by the receiving facility,” Perrault said. “So we’d love to be able to ship more hours, but the receiving facility, typically they’re not open and not able to staff them.”

Heller said the restriction on hours of operation would be spelled out in its permit, but acknowledged that the conditions of the permit could be changed with approval of the town if there was a site able to take dredged material outside of the normal business hours.

“Circumstances can always change,” Heller said. “That’s part of the regulatory process.”

When asked why residents should trust Cashman considering the company was fined $185,000 in 2021 for dumping dredged materials 2.6 miles outside of an authorized disposal site in the Rhode Island Sound, Perrault said a subcontractor hired by the company made mistakes, and that Cashman took responsibility and paid the fine.

“We probably dredged over 20 million cubic yards of material that we’ve taken offshore, and I think it was collectively 5,000 cubic yards that may not have been deposited exactly where it was supposed to go,” Perrault said. “We paid a fine for that, and we would if it happened again.”

Special permit would give town power to add conditions

Cashman gave a preliminary presentation to the Ledyard Planning and Zoning Commission in November, but it hasn’t made a formal application to the town yet, as it is seeking to secure permits from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection first.

Heller said that whether Cashman needs to have a special permit approval will depend on how its proposal is defined in Ledyards zoning code, which is in the process of undergoing a major rewrite. 

Town Planner Juliet Hodge told CT Examiner on Tuesday that she has been working on rewriting the town’s zoning regulations since she started as the town planner a year ago. 

She wanted to clean up discrepancies she noticed in the subdivision regulations, and to make the regulations more manageable. None of the proposed changes were made with the Cashman proposal in mind, but Hodge said they have more clearly defined standards and uses for the industrial zone – including the Dow property. 

Under the proposed new regulations, all “nuisance uses” like what Cashman is proposing would only be allowed with a special permit approval, Hodge said. The special permit process would give the Planning and Zoning Commission the power to impose conditions on the permit, as long as it can show the conditions address potential health and safety concerns, Hodge said. 

Issues like noise, odor, pollution and traffic concerns could all be addressed through conditions in a special permit, but couldn’t be if the project only required a site plan approval, Hodge said. 

Several residents asked if Cashman could limit truck traffic when the schools about a mile away on Route 12 are opening and closing, so that dump trucks wouldn’t be adding to the traffic. Heller said Cashman would be open to the idea, but didn’t commit to the restrictions. 

Hodge said that’s a condition that could easily be justified in a special permit considering well-documented studies of traffic on Route 12. 

Cashman has hired traffic engineering firm FA Hesketh & Associates to evaluate the traffic impacts of its proposal. Hodge said the commission could also decide to hire its own third-party traffic engineer, and residents could file as an intervenor in the special permit process to provide their own expert testimony to support conditions in the permit.

“You can’t just have a bunch of people say, ‘This is going to ruin my life,’” Hodge said of the evidence needed to support special permit conditions. “You have to have some degree of expert testimony saying, ‘These kinds of operations tend to have these problems, so we are going to impose these conditions.’”

Cashman doesn’t offer specifics on rail and river traffic or future uses

Traffic impacts and environmental issues like dust and exhaust were common concerns of the residents who asked questions both in the room and over Zoom on Tuesday – and it was clear that non-committal answers from Cashman’s representatives also concerned the audience.

There were audible objections when Heller said the expected volume of 15 dump trucks coming in and out of the site per hour would have an “insignificant” addition to traffic on Route 12, and residents pressed Cashman representatives to give more details on traffic on the railroad and Thames River.

Cashman hasn’t signed any dredging contracts yet with this site in mind, so it wasn’t possible to say exactly how much barge and railroad traffic there would be on the site, or what materials would be brought to the site, Perrault said.

Perrault said he expected most of the material being shipped out of the facility would go by truck instead of rail. He said rail is preferable because more material can be shipped at once, but rail only makes sense if the site receiving the material also has rail access.

“I’m being candid. Most people aren’t going to be happy with the truck traffic, but there will be more truck traffic than rail traffic,” Perrault said. 

It’s also unclear what will come of the remaining 150-acres on the property that will not be occupied by the 10-acre facility Cashman is proposing – only that Cashman will be looking for additional tenants.

Perrault said that Dow demolished about 225,000 feet of buildings on the site, and said Cashman expected the site could accommodate at least that much being built back for “warehouse distribution, manufacturing and the like,” which he said are permitted in the industrial zone. 

When asked about potential traffic from additional tenants, Heller said it would be speculative to answer because no other users have been identified. Perrault mentioned that the site would be a “strategic location” for bringing aggregate in by rail and then barge it down the river to be used in offshore wind construction. 

Gateway Terminal has similar plans to fill a piece of the offshore wind material supply chain at a terminal in Montville, almost directly across the Thames River from the Dow property.

Hodge told CT Examiner that, without knowing what those uses could be, it isn’t possible to say what the approval process could look like – but the proposed zoning rewrite would require a special permit for any proposal to have multiple uses on one site.

“So it will always fall under mixed use, and therefore always require a special permit, or modification of a special permit,” Hodge said. “That’s the safest way to protect everybody.”