A plan to relocate the Eastern box turtles within the site is part of the Grillo Services proposal before the Inland Wetlands Agency (IWA) for a 342-unit apartment complex at 553 West Ave.

At the agency’s Sept. 7 public hearing eight residents spoke in opposition to the overall proposal, citing its effect on wildlife, including the turtles, and the natural environment. No one spoke in favor of the plan.

The site where the buildings and garages would be located is a habitat for the Eastern box turtle, which is listed by the DEEP as a “state species of special concern.”

Discussing his report before the agency, Biologist Dr. Michael W. Klemens recommended creating a turtle habitat in another location on the site and relocating the turtles to that area.

During five site visits from May 10 to June 24, totaling 25 person hours of searching, Klemens said he and others found five box turtles, and said there might be a few more turtles. Three are males and two are females.

“This population is not long term viable,” said Klemens, due to the greatly reduced number of individual turtles. “At one point this was a fine turtle habitat” before it was impacted by I-95 and the Iroquois gas pipeline.

Klemens said the youngest is an 11-year old female, and some of the others may be 50 to 60 years old.

“The female turtle under normal conditions will outlive all of us in this room,” said Klemens.

Klemens said there are two scenarios to preserve the turtles: keep them in small patches of habitat contained within the development area, or relocate them to a mitigation area that would look like where they are now.

Klemens said keeping them near the development would place them on a steep slope along Beaver Brook, which he said is “not conducive to turtle habitat.” The relocation would have to be done in conjunction with the DEEP and could involve putting transmitters on the turtles.

“I will come back with a plan for the mitigation area,” said Klemens, indicating he was involved with a similar relocation on projects in New York and in East Granby.

In his report he wrote, “This effort is more about conserving the long-lived individual turtles than measurably contributing to a long-term survival strategy for the species in Connecticut."

Landscape architect Eric Stolis said the plans would create a number of pockets on the property and “each little pocket becomes a habitat space.” With the plantings near the edge of the developed area, “We would try to create a new understory.” He said he picked bayberry because “turtles love bayberry."
Public Voices Opposition
Geraldine Wilson of 663 West Ave. said the property is “part of the largest artesian well system in the state of Connecticut.” Wilson said the development would lead to air pollution and heavy metals from cars. She said smokers will live on the property and predicted “there will be a fire.”

Tamara Rissolo of 20 Lucius Court expressed concern about what would happen over time to the stormwater detention basins. Rissolo was also concerned about the relocation of the turtles and said if someone is smoking while on the walkway and throws their cigarette away, “There goes our wetlands.”

During a visit to Gloria Commons condominiums for the previous proposal for Grillo to have a mulching operation on the site, Rissolo said she was told that if the city did not allow the mulching operation, “‘someone will put in apartments’ and here they are.”

Jackie Sanford of 4 Alana Drive said she thinks about the turtles and other wildlife that would be affected by the project, including coyote, deer, skunk and turkey.

“I lived in the country. If you moved them [turtles], they came back to the same spot to lay their eggs,” said Sanford.

Joseph Bogdan of 3 Audubon Close said relocation of animals including turtles is not successful and asked if the relocations that Klemens referenced were successful.

Bodgan said he has seen West Avenue by the proposed entrance under two to three feet of water after a rainstorm. He said during a flood in 1982, the road was covered with five feet of water for a week.

Clifford Mason of 1427 Naugatuck Ave. said he opposed both the previous plan from the Grillos for their headquarters at this location, and the current proposal because they are not the highest and best use of the property, commenting both plans “are too detrimental to the property and the area.”
The Applicant Responds
In response to the public comments, Attorney Thomas Lynch said an engineering firm that has been in business for 25 years designed the plans and the city engineer reviewed those plans. Lynch said of the 57 acres on the property, 41 acres are protected by a conservation easement, and 49 acres will be left as a natural habitat.

Klemens said that for a relocation to be successful, it has to be to a proper habitat in a nearby area. He said there is a “whole protocol” for the relocation, including moving the turtles before they nest, noting that it might take more than one season.

“Relocation of turtles out of a particular habitat that is far removed rarely works,” said Klemens.

Commenting on the other animals, Klemens said that coyotes, turkey and deer “are not wetlands dependent” and are all animals that are “reaching very high levels in human-altered habitats.”

Agency members raised questions regarding the application. Stephen V. Munson asked, “How will the walking area be protected from misuse?” commenting that residents may plant things where they should not be planted.

Agency member Lily Flannigan asked how the area would be protected from sand and salt used on the road. Agency member Carol Dunn asked if the plans would show snow shelves, particularly on the Schoolhouse Road side of the project.