LEDYARD — Plans by a Massachusetts-based developer to cart away part of Mt. Decatur to create a suitable site along the Thames River for the budding offshore wind industry, appear to have struck a chord among residents of Ledyard who turned out again in numbers to voice concerns about noise, dust and vibrations, as well as the historical significance of the site.
CT Examiner spoke with Alan Perrault, vice president at Jay Cashman, Inc., a marine dredging and construction company, that is working under the name Gales Ferry Intermodal to develop the 165-acre parcel. He laid out the reasons for choosing the location in Gales Ferry as well as longer-term plans for the area.
Later, we attended a Jan. 11 Planning and Zoning public hearing at the middle school auditorium, where roughly 100 residents turned out — overwhelmingly in opposition — to speak in person about their concerns and more listened in by Zoom.
The project would remove portions of Mt. Decatur and regrade the parcel over a five- to 10-year period – using quarrying and rock crushing – to create a 40-acre pad for industrial businesses.
A vision for connecting with offshore wind
“It’s a good secondary location for us, having a marine site, and it has rail and access to two interstates, so that was what the attraction was,” Perrault told CT Examiner in a phone call on Jan. 11.
“This is why we call ourselves Gales Ferry Intermodal,” he said. “We’re interconnected by rail as well as water so that’s the main thing that attracted us to this site.”
Perrault said the infrastructure bones built over a century ago along the Thames River were already in place and economic revitalization was afoot.
“The roadways are fine, but as roadway infrastructure gets more and more tied up with traffic, people are now reverting back to what we originally had – like water and rail. So that’s kind of why this is happening. We’re not the only one. There’s a couple other industrial sites along the river that have been reacquired or are being repurposed as we speak and on both sides of the river,” he said.
He said the site’s access to the Genesee Wyoming rail line was significant – connecting to rail all over the country – as well as highway access to CT-12 and relatively deep water access on the Thames River.
He said the location complements the company’s Quincy and Staten Island sites. It’s also convenient to State Pier – his company had been awarded the pier’s dredging subcontract – where offshore wind staging and assemblage was already underway, and had easy access to the open ocean.
Perrault also said that the state’s push to address climate change, from off-shore wind construction to hardening and resiliency projects along the shoreline, would create a demand for rock and gravel.
“For some of the offshore wind renewables, it’s an attractive location because we’re next to the grid,” he said. The property is “near the new substation that Eversource just built on Route 12,” with a 115KV transmission line that bisects the southern side of the site, with proximity to the Montville power station.
“How do you get that into the grid? You’ve got to come up places like the river and tie into places like the Montville power plant to get it into our energy grid,” said Perrault.
To do that, he said, the company plans to carve away part of the hill by quarrying the rock over a five to 10-year process, which times the work perfectly for the offshore wind industry.
He also promised that carting topsoil offsite would be limited.
“We imagine that being as a max with 50 one way trips a day, or if you wanted to count them out is 100, but that would be the max not some of the numbers that have been thrown out – some people said it’d be 100 one way or 200 round trips,” he said.
He said that one of the misconceptions about the project is the amount of truck traffic the project would generate. According to Perrault, his company had spent about $4 million this year to rehab 300 feet of the 800 foot pier for a heavy-load capacity so that “most of the material would be barged out, so there is minimal trucking.”
The timing, he said, was perfect for offshore wind.
“Those projects haven’t even been let as of now… The New England states are putting out RFPs now for offshore wind companies to give them proposals and some of those people are talking to us saying, ‘Would you be a support facility if we got a contract?’” he said. “It’s all dependent on contracts, depending on them being awarded, depending on where it goes. But I think in the next 10 years, you’re gonna see a sizable amount of renewable energy projects in the Connecticut area near the shore.”
Noise, Vibration, Property Values, Health
But that vision for the site has been met with a small storm of local opposition.
About 100 people attended Thursday night’s Planning and Zoning public hearing in person, which was also available by Zoom, and many waited in line to sign up to speak.
First at the podium was local resident David Harned, a member of the Citizens Alliance for Land Use, which, he emphasized, was not an opposition group but existed to raise public awareness and promote responsible economic development.
Using a detailed slide presentation, Harned listed and broke down 13 town regulations that he said the project violated, including issues of transmission of vibrations, dust, pollution and fumes, as well as increased intensity of use, excavation regulations.
Harned said that the proposal violates the town regulation that prevents projects from having an adverse effect on property values or historic features of the immediate neighborhood – and emphasized there were no exceptions.
“This one is pretty self-explanatory. It doesn’t say it’s okay if only a few property values go down, it doesn’t say it’s okay to have some damage to historic features… it says no adverse effect,” he said. “So let me remind you that there is a residence that is actually on Mt. Decatur, been there since 1963. This proposed quarry would turn their hilltop sanctuary into a nightmare and any reasonable person would argue that their property value would plummet and the same is true for properties nearby.”
He emphasized the harmful effects of silica dust, a carcinogen, that would be produced by quarrying and rock crushing. One regulation called for “no unreasonable pollution,” which Harned said fit the definition of exposure to silica dust. Again and again, his remarks were answered with applause and cheering from the audience.
He told the commission that the project could not be approved without violating the town’s zoning regulations.
“There are many violations that could not be overcome under any conditions, therefore the option of approval with conditions is not an option either,” he said. “I would like to see this property developed responsibly so that our town might actually benefit from its redevelopment, and I hope the company brings that type of proposal to our town but this proposal is not one of them and it must be denied. I think that if Cashman truly wanted to show this community that they wanted to be a good neighbor, they would withdraw the application and not continue to put us through this exercise.”
Resident Rebecca Soleyn said that she had planned to farm crops on her property on Chapman Lane but “all of our land will be covered in dust, even the flowers.” She said her property value will be “decimated” by the proposal.
Ann Roberts-Pierson told the commission that Mt. Decatur should be on the National Historic Register. She said that because the project will degrade a historic site, it is also “inconsistent with the Connecticut Coastal Management Act.”
On Zoom, Kelly Berliner of the Archeological Conservancy, said that her group was interested in acquiring all of Mt. Decatur to preserve it. She emphasized the importance of the Planning and Zoning Commission withholding a blasting permit until they have signed agreement from Cashman detailing that the company will donate parts of Ft. Decatur as well as several surrounding areas.
One 14-year resident of the neighborhood said her concerns included increased traffic, noise, vibrations, dust, and loss of personal health, quality of life and property values. She said the potential economic benefits to the town did “not justify the level of destruction” the project would bring.
On Zoom, resident Samuel Roudebush warned that the town did not have the expertise to ensure compliance in quarrying practices and that monitoring and enforcement were beyond the town’s capabilities. He named numerous examples of towns that had tried to enforce quarrying compliance, with little to no success. He said that administrative fines and litigation would come “after the fact of destruction” and that once a violation occurs, irreversible damage usually had already been done, with lasting effects on the community.
Resident Bruce Edwards said he was “deeply offended by this application because it’s harmful.” He said that Gales Ferry Intermodal had not addressed the neighbors’ exposure to silica dust and that the airborne dust could not be controlled with water. “Silicosis develops over time and shows up years later,” he said.
Resident Thomas Thomas said he had lived through the remodeling of the substation nearby, which resulted in needing to dust his house every day. “I cannot begin to imagine the level of dust, with heavy trucks up on the hill,” he said. “I implore you not to go through with this… I’m living in it now with huge trucks going to and from the substation… I’m terrified.”
Susan Axline, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1983 and recently bought her condo, said she worried about the noise, dust and “aggravation.” She said that as a shift worker, her day starts at 11 a.m. six days a week, but with the quarrying schedule – potentially starting at 7:30 a.m. – she might not be able to sleep.
Carlo Perazzi, whose family has lived in the neighborhood for 55 years, said he was worried about the noise from quarrying and blasting. “We can hear reveille at the sub base five miles away,” he said. He expressed concerns about his property values – his house is located 1200 feet from the site. He questioned the tax benefits to the town and asked, “At what cost?”
Milton Shroeder said the applicant “would have us believe blasting away Mt. Decatur is the last best chance for our town.” He added that that Gales Ferry Intermodal was an LLC and can “simply be dissolved with little or no consequence,” which was “not a reassuring model for a company to follow regulations.”
Resident Dave Schroeder said the project would “leave a hole in the ground.” He told the commission it was “unconscionable to consider passing this application” and that “it’s the wrong thing to do.”
Other residents spoke about the loss of habitat on Mt. Decatur, the sound of rock crushers as “louder than traffic on Route 12,” and potential contamination of wells and cracked foundations resulting from blasting.
The attorney for the applicant, Harry Heller, granted an extension on the application through Feb. 22, 2024. The public hearing was continued to Feb. 8, 2024.