Milford officials call for Environmental Impact Evaluation at Silver Sands
Several city leaders have said they want the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to complete a new Environmental Impact Evaluation before settling on any improvements at Silver Sands State Park.
Residents turned out at two meetings recently in Milford, where the DEEP talked about its improvement plans for the park, which include building restrooms, more parking, a concession stand and a ticket booth to collect a parking fee.
This week’s meeting, held Thursday, Oct. 1, focused on a permit the DEEP needs to build an extension off the existing boardwalk in a tidal wetlands area. State officials said they want to build an extension — what one official called a ‘shortcut’ — from the section of boardwalk that leads from the parking lot to the main boardwalk at the beach. The extension would cut across the wetlands and connect to a new concession stand and restrooms.
State Sen. Gayle Slossberg first raised the issue of the Environmental Impact Evaluation at the Sept. 24 DEEP information meeting at Milford City Hall. Slossberg said the state is relying on a 22-year-old environmental impact study as it pushes for park improvements, and she said the state needs to do a new study.
According to the DEEP website, an Environmental Impact Evaluation is “a detailed written evaluation of the environmental impacts of the proposed State agency's action,” and must include a description of the environment that would be affected “as it currently exists”; a description and analysis of the reasonable alternatives to the proposed action; a discussion of the potential environmental impact of the proposed action and mitigation measures to reduce or eliminate the impact.
Environmental impacts include those involving air and water quality; groundwater, flooding, and erosion or sedimentation; natural land resources and formations, including coastal and inland wetlands; critical animal or plant species and their habitats; resident or migratory fish or wildlife species; disruption of an established community or neighborhood, and more.
Slossberg, as well as Mayor Ben Blake and others pointed out to the DEEP during hearings that the land has changed significantly since the last Environmental Impact Evaluation was done in 1993. Much of that change stems from storms Irene and Sandy, which battered the coastline.
Tom Tyler, state parks director, agreed the report “is relatively old in this case.” But he said the original plan for developing the park was much more involved than the current plan, and said it is not a wise use of resources to do another Environmental Impact Evaluation. He added that details that the Milford officials are concerned about are examined during the permitting process.
Slossberg said she “respectfully disagreed” that the study is not needed.
At this week’s hearing, Mayor Blake told the DEEP hearing officer that a man-made structure at Silver Sands built to help drainage has had a huge negative impact on the area around the park, leading to erosion that exacerbated storm damage. Also, tide gates that failed during one of the major storms, and which have since been refurbished, created a “fish bowl” during the storm, leaving water on the streets off East Broadway for days.
“Before we consider a new man-made structure please consider doing the due diligence required,” Blake said, urging the DEEP to deny the project until a new Environmental Impact Evaluation is completed.
Neighbors described the changes they have seen over the years. Catherine Chicos of Chetwood Street said Hurricane Sandy left four feet of sand on her street. “We've seen an explosion of phragmites,” she said, describing an invasive plant that grows in disturbed wetlands. She said there are no fiddler crabs or egrets anymore near her house.
“The marsh is dying outside my door,” Chicos said, urging the DEEP to fix the problems that exist there now.
Others spoke about the wildlife. Patrick Comins, director of bird conservation for Audubon International, said the tidal wetlands create a critical foraging ground for birds and that the route of any new structures should avoid foraging and nesting areas.
Steve Johnson, Milford’s open space manager, said it is troubling that there hasn’t been an updated Environmental Impact Evaluation and described environmental changes that have taken place in the area since 1993. Bill Poutray, Milford’s conservation commission chairman, added that since 1993 the bird population at the park has grown from 29 species to 142 species, and many of those are endangered or threatened species.
Residents interested in submitting written testimony about the wetlands permit still have time to do so: They may email their statement to firstname.lastname@example.org or send comments by regular post office mail to: DEEP, Janice Deshais, 79 Elm Street, 3rd Floor Hartford, CT 06106. Testimony must be submitted and received by DEEP by the close of business on Thursday, Oct. 8.