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Conservation Commission Endorses Plans For Town's Newest Park

Plan to enhance, expand a small area of wetlands in park meets with enthusiastic reception from town's Conservation Commission; Commission also plans to ask town to take a "do no harm" approach to maintaining park. Public hearing on April 19th.

 

The town's Conservation Commission plans to write a letter in support of the town's plan to transform a small, man-made excavation pit into a freshwater coastal wetlands habitat. The goal, according to town officials and a prominent local ecologist, is to create an area that would sustain a variety of plants, birds, amphibians, and other wildlife at the town's Newest Park.

The letter in support of the plan will be sent to the town's Inland Wetlands Agency, which is due to consider the town's plans at a meeting April 2. The Inland Wetlands Agency and the Conservation Commission have scheduled a site walk on Thursday, March 15, at 6 p.m. The site walk Thursday is part of the town's effort to gain a regulated activity permit for expansion and enhancement of an existing impacted inland wetland, and construction activities within 100 feet of an inland wetland.

Also on March 15, at 7:30 p.m., the town's Planning & Zoning Commission will take receipt of the town's application for a "special exception permit to develop a Municipal Park at the site of the former Griswold Airport to include 3 multi-purpose turf grass playing fields, conservation areas, constructed wetland, coastal grassland habitat areas, shared use path and trail system that includes overlooks, an elevated walkway and canoe and kayak launch, an existing hangar building to be adapted for re-use, proposed concession and restroom building, picnic area, natural amphitheater and access driveway and parking areas for 154 vehicle."

Public hearing scheduled for April 19

The town's Planning & Zoning Commission has scheduled a public hearing on the town's plans on April 19, according to Director of Public Works & Town Engineer Michael Ott, who is making the presentations to the boards and commissions on behalf of the town.

All of the meetings are open to the public.

The park, at 1362 Boston Post Road, right next to Hammonasset Beach State Park, but is often referred to as Griswold, after the old airport that used to be based on the property that was named after a prominent local family.

At a meeting of the Conservation Commission Monday night, Ott spoke with commission members about the town's efforts to juggle several priorities, some of which seem like they could potentially conflict with each other. One goal is to have playing fields at the park and paved areas that will support heavy traffic, busses and plowing in the winter. At the same time, the park contains a variety of delicate and important wildlife habitats that the town would like to improve and sustain, while making them available to birders, hikers, kayakers, and other nature lovers. And, the town must do all of this within a specific budget.

Development clustered in north end of park, to preserve environmental features closer to the water

The town plans to accomplish this by clustering development in the northern end of the park, close to the Boston Post Road and a nearby neighborhood that is already densely developed, and then maintaining a generous grassland buffer between the developed area and the area of the park that will support the wildlife habitats.

Conservation Commission members had many questions for Ott Monday night, and ended the evening with an endorsement of the plans as presented. The commission voted in favor of sending a letter in support of the wetlands expansion to the Inland Wetlands Agency.

The commission also discussed the relative merits of maintaining the park in a traditional manner with commercial pesticides and fertilizers, which is generally more budget friendly and less labor intense, versus maintaining it with organic materials, which is generally considered to be better for the environment but which sometimes reduces the quality of playing fields. Ott, when asked, said he has attended several sessions on the topic and has studied it, but he added he is not an expert on it and cautioned that, while it's a good topic for discussion, that final decisions on the matter are best left to experts. He also said any such decisions about maintaining the park would be up to the town's facilities department and Beach & Recreation Department.

"Do no harm"

After some addition discussion on the subject, Conservation Commission member L. Kealoha Freidenburg recommended that the commission express its preferences when it comes to maintaining the park, without recommending a specific approach at this time. "If it's that complicated, why don't we recommend that the town go the route of 'do no harm,'" she said. Commission members voted in favor of sending the town's Beach & Recreation Department a letter saying this, and sending a copy to the town's facilities department.

The town's efforts to take a small, man-made excavation pit and turn it into a habitat for birds, amphibians, and other wildlife was met with enthusiastic support from Madison resident David Skelly, a professor of ecology and associate dean for research at the Yale University School of Forestry & Environmental Studies Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology. Skelly also is one of several volunteers who are serving on the town's Park Development Committee, which is guided development of the town's Newest Park.

"The wetland is ... a way to leverage the investment which has been made at the park," he said via email. "As diverse as the environment is, there is very little freshwater there. Expanding  by a modest amount the very small wetland at the edge of the forest is a great way to provide a critical resource for all of the species which will use the park. We are being careful to think about keeping the size compact while offering a variety of habitat types which will be useful to different kinds of species including the many bird species we expect to visit."

Expansion and enhancement of wetlands designed to support wildlife

The wetland under discussion appears to be man-made and the result of an excavation, Ott told Conservation Commission members. It is currently about 1/10th of an acre. "The idea is to enhance and expand it to make it 3/10ths of an acre, creating additional wetlands," Ott said. The expansion, he said, will lead to the creation of a varied habitat that potentially could support and encourage use by birds and amphibians. Part of it would be in the sun, and part of it would be shaded by nearby woodlands.

The kind of area that would be created, a freshwater coastal habitat, is rare in the state, Ott and commission members agreed. A nearby trail will be developed to allow people to see it without disturbing it, Ott said.

Ott said the current wetland appears to be entirely the result of an excavation that is fed by groundwater, rather than by a stream. Conservation Commission member Mary Jean "Zoe" Hale asked whether the groundwater has been tested to make sure that it's safe for wildlife. She said she was concerned about that, because the park was formerly used as an airport. Ott said that an environmental site assessment of the park property showed that there was no contamination of the groundwater.

Other town-owned wetlands will be used as nurseries

Ott said he is working with soil scientists and other experts to determine which portion of the expanded wetland should be low marsh, how it should be shaped, and what kinds of plantings to use. He said other town-owned wetlands, including those at the school bus depot and the town high school, will be used as nurseries to develop approved plantings for the expanded wetland at the new park. He said he and the experts he is consulting with will be careful not to create barriers to movement that will become important to the wildlife as the wetland changes over the course of the seasons.

Ott also discussed with commission members the three types of trails that will be included in the park. There will be woodland trails in the coastal forest that will be about five feet wide and created in harmony with the forest floor. No surface materials will be used on these trails. Ott said he is working with the existing design of the park and tweaking it to make sure that the trail contours are not too steep and to reduce the impact of seasonal flooding. A second type of trail, in the coastal grassland, will be a simple mowed trail about the width of the town's lawn mowers. A third trail will be a paved, shared-use path.

The shared-use path will be suitable for bicycles and pedestrians, and will be about eight feet wide, Ott said. It will run from the Boston Post Road, turn into the canoe and kayak launch area, run roughly around the perimeter of the park, providing maintenance and emergency access where required.

Concern about irresponsible bikers

Commission members asked whether biking will be allowed in the park, and Ott said that would be up to the town departments and boards responsible for setting policy for the park. "The Board of Selectmen, the facilities department, and Beach & Recreation will have to weigh in on that," he said. Ott did say that motorized recreational vehicles will not be allowed in the park, as part of the conservation easement in place.

Some commission members expressed concern that irresponsible mountain bikers or road bikers could tear up trails and leave muddy ruts, or that some bikers might take it upon themselves to build ramps and jumps on the trails. Ott encouraged commission members to let the Beach & Recreation Department know about their concerns.

Conservation Commission Chairman Heather M. Crawford said a mountain bike group is talking with the town's Rockland Preserve Advisory Committee, which helps to manage the woodlands park in North Madison. Crawford, in addition to volunteering as chairman of the Conservation Commission, also volunteers on the Rockland advisory committee. Minutes from the Rockland Preserve Advisory Committee meeting in October 2011 says the advisory committee is working with both the Daniel Hand Mountain Biking Club, which has volunteered time at Rocklands doing maintenance, and the New England Mountain Biking Club to do improvements and create more features for mountain bikers on the Rockland Loop Trail.

Town's Rockland Preserve seen as more suitable for bikers

Crawford said Rocklands--which has some rock-studded, single-track trails with interesting drops, climbs, and technical features--seems much more suitable for bikers than the town's Newest Park.

Ott and Conservation Commission members also spent time discussing areas that would be paved in the park, and the type of pavement being used. The town is exploring the idea of using pavement that was torn up from the old airport as a base material for the new paving material. When the old material was torn up, some of it was removed and sold to Tilcon, an area company, to be recycled into new pavement.

Some of the old airport paving material has been retained and is being stored off of Ridge Road, where the town also is storing some sand and gravel. The town hopes to mix the materials and transform it into pavement that will be hearty enough to stand up to bus traffic and snow ploughs, but also attractive enough to fit in with the waterfront ambiance of the new park. 

Town's plan is to have pavement look like natural materials

"We are reusing the materials and hope to make something that will look different when it comes to both the color and texture," Ott said. "We want it, I want it, to look like the natural materials in the park. We want it to look like the kind of park you might drive into on the Cape. It has to be functional and it has to be aesthetically pleasing. It has to be impervious pavement ... "

He stopped here and smiled at commission member Joan O'Neill, who had been asking a series of questions to make sure that the paving in the park would not have an adverse impact on the natural features. "Don't frown, Joan," Ott said. O'Neill smiled back at Ott, and continued asking questions.

"It has to be functional. It has to stand up to bus traffic making tight turns. There are going to be 800 kids playing soccer here, and here's where the design comes in," Ott said. He directed them to an aerial photograph of the park on the table. "We are going to limit vehicular traffic to the northern part of the site. There will be no vehicular traffic anywhere else. You can't drive around in here," he said, motioning the the southern part of the park on the aerial photograph. "Play is limited to the northern part of the park. All of the improvements are pushed as far away as possible from the natural resources we are trying to protect."

Supporting a variety of uses while protecting natural resources

Ott said his goal, when he first viewed the parcel, was to do just that, to create areas supporting all of the different uses requested by town residents, while at the same time protecting the natural resources.

Ott said the driving lanes in the park slope towards the medians, and that the medians slope towards the center. Ott said there will be an area of depressed vegetation in the median that is designed to allow deal effectively with infiltration. In the event of an extreme weather event, storm-water discharge should flow out onto a large field. "It is flat and graded so that storm water will go into the landscaped islands and lawns," he said. From there it is about 400 feet to the tidal wetland boundary, he said. The coastal grasslands provide further protection for the sensitive areas of the park, he said.

The town also plans to dig wells to provide irrigation for the park, he said.

Commission members encouraged to weigh in early on matters of interest, including maintenance of park

The commission members and Ott then returned to the issue of organic versus traditional maintenance of the park's fields and plantings, and other management issues.

"Organically or not has not been decided," Ott said. "That will be up to Beach & Recreation and facilities. It's part of the management of the park, along with gates or no gates, horses or no horses, dogs or no dogs, organic or not organic, that's all management."

Ott recommended that commission members weigh in early on those issues, if they are of interest to them. "Do it early," he said. "When it comes to pesticides, I am not an expert on that. When it's raised, it's a hot button issue. The truth is, it needs to be left to the experts."

Town seeking permits for elevated walkway, canoe/kayak launch, and restoration of wetlands in southern part of park

Ott also told commission members about several other features planned for the park. The town is planning an elevated walkway that will be a viewing platform overlooking the Hammonasset Estuary.

The walkway will be handicapped accessible, along with the canoe and kayak launch. The town is currently reviewing a launch mechanism that would allow people in wheelchairs to easily enter and exit their canoes and kayaks.

"The idea is to make all of that accessible," he said. Some of those elements require state permits, which the town is seeking. The town also is seeking a permit to restore some wetlands below the high tide line in the southern end of the park.

 

 

Drew P March 15, 2012 at 01:04 AM
FYI, McPherson and the BOS cut approx. $100,000 in the ambulance budget. This money was going to be used for a second paramedic on duty at night to cover the town of Madison...Life Threating emergencies are happening at night and there is not enough personal to respond. Tell me where the priorities are now?
Pem McNerney (Editor) March 15, 2012 at 01:33 AM
The proposal to increase the ambulance budget to accommodate additional paramedic coverage is being reviewed by the Board of Finance as part of the ongoing budget process, along with proposals made by other town departments and services. My understanding is that the Board of Selectmen approved some of the increase that was requested, but not most of the increase that was requested for the additional paramedic coverage. I'm interested to see where the proposal ends up after the Board of Finance makes their recommendation on the budget. They are considering a variety of other requests as well. If you or anyone else is interested in speaking in favor of the additional paramedic coverage, there are a series of budget workshops going on right now. Now is the time to either attend a budget workshop or use the contact information above to state your opinion. You could address that to BOF Chairman Jennifer Tung. Here's the link to the budget workshop schedule: http://patch.com/A-rprY
Pem McNerney (Editor) March 15, 2012 at 01:36 AM
You're welcome V. I'm always glad to see people take an active, constructive role while these decisions are being made by town officials.
Pem McNerney (Editor) March 15, 2012 at 01:51 AM
And thanks for the reminder about the sign. I just posted the pictures of the sign with this story. It's a remarkable reminder that this project received support, not only from the majority of town residents who came out to vote in the referendum, but also from a wide variety of groups--both non-profits and government organizations--and individuals.
Matt March 15, 2012 at 02:02 AM
That's a vast over-statement. The only reason it passed is because only a very small amount of people voted. The non-government groups who supported it fall into two categories: 1) The bird people who wanted their open space to look at birds from a different angle at the expense of the taxpayers. Cost, reality, and actual plans be damned. We need our new bird angle and we need it now. 2) The athletic organization who were lied to and duped into believing they would have all kinds of athletic facilities. Two years. Nothing. The government organizations who supported it should be recalled, impeached, or otherwise run out of town. They orchestrated this $15,000,000 purchase of land worth approximately 1/4 that. Clearly, nesting with the bird people. The government organizations are supposed to be smarter than this and make wise use of our tax dollars. Their support is not a positive factor in this story.
Mike Atkins March 15, 2012 at 09:36 AM
My concern is that seniors in town are begging for tax breaks or like my family are having to sell thier homes. To me, we as a community have been over taken by special interests who seem to have alot of power controlling the BOS. The new senior center, ambulance building, and Griswold come to mind as expenses that have raised our taxes.
tom burland March 15, 2012 at 10:59 AM
The power that the special interest groups have is because they participate, when you go to a town meeting in a town of 18,000 and only 75 people show up to give input and vote on key issues you can see how easy it is to get your way. If more people would give up a few hours of free time to participate in the process we would have better decisions that have greater acceptance. I constantly hear blame hosted upon special interest groups, but they are the ones showing up, the blame falls squarly on the 17, 925 that dont show up...more people show up in forums whining than show up in town meetings
Pem McNerney (Editor) March 15, 2012 at 11:10 AM
If people are not sure how to get involved, just ask and I'll try to find answers to your questions. Tom is right that it would be great to see more people in town participate. I see the same group at meetings over and over. We do have town residents who routinely take time to attend meetings, voice their opinions and speak with town officials. Others are able to take time to volunteer on boards and commissions, some volunteer on multiple volunteers and commissions because the need is great. Participating in the Republican Town Committee or Democratic Town Committee is another great way to get in on the ground floor when it comes to picking the people who will be making decisions. And, during budget seasons, right now, showing up at budget hearings or sending letters is another way to provide input. If you write a letter to town officials, you are welcome to send it to us too. We'll run it in Patch.
Voice March 15, 2012 at 12:42 PM
Great point Tom.
Pem McNerney (Editor) March 15, 2012 at 01:10 PM
I was just talking with someone who reminded me that, at the referendum in January 2010, voters in Madison approved the purchase of the 42-acre property by a vote of 3,275 to 2,444. That means that 40 percent of registered voters turned out, and that it won by 57-43 percent. "That would be considered a landslide in most elections," this person said.
Drew P March 15, 2012 at 01:34 PM
People are too busy working 2-3 jobs to pay for expenses..including outrageous property taxes
Mike Atkins March 15, 2012 at 01:44 PM
Tom, The power of the special interest groups is because they donate the most money to the politicians. The people that show up to the meetings are the same tired old people that go to all the meetings. They have the same tired old ideas. The same tired old people get the positions to run parks or build things as a gift from the boards. We watch on TV they all have something to say and the boards just fawn over them. They are destroying the town. I'm 26 and I cannot afford to live here unless I live way up in Devonshire 35 minutes away; each way. I have approached people on both the Democratic and Republican town committes to volunteer and they both gave me the same look down thier nose answers. It is really time for a new party to emerge in this town. The Dems in Madison lie on their backs for the Republicans and the Republicans are the most self centered people in town. So new people or young people cannot get involved. Sad really.
Voice March 15, 2012 at 02:09 PM
I am 24 years old. I live in a two-person household with a single income. I like Madison, and I am getting involved.
Matt March 15, 2012 at 02:52 PM
The point about lack of voters is an always will be a downfall. The special interest groups yell and scream making a huge fuss. The people with some sense just brush it off and ignore the entire situation including the vote. However, our elected officials are supposed to have a shred of common sense too. A special interest group making lots of noise about looking at birds should not magically make our elected officials spend $15,000,000 on it, four times more than it was worth. The correct answer to the bird people would have been "Great idea, but the price tag is unreasonable and must be lowered before we buy it."
Pem McNerney (Editor) March 15, 2012 at 02:53 PM
Nice! Glad to hear it.
Pem McNerney (Editor) March 15, 2012 at 03:12 PM
Some interesting points about getting involved. Most meetings are held closer to the south end of town, at town campus or Memorial Town Hall. So for someone in North Madison, after a long day, or working two to three jobs, and I know people who are, it is too much to think about driving down to a meeting. Again, putting objections on the record in the form of a letter or email to town hall is a start, particularly during budget season, and it is something someone can do from home. We're happy to post those in Patch as well. Here's a link from the RTC: http://www.madisonrepublicans.org/. They have a link that says "Get Involved" and outlines three ways you can do that. Here's a link to the DTC: http://madisondemocrats.org/. They also have a link that outlines how to get involved. And, the first step, of course, is registering in the party you want to join. You can contact the registrars for the respective parties, or the town clerk's office to find out more about that: http://www.madisonct.org/Registrar/index.html. In terms of the Democrats in town, and Republicans, they both say they are looking for people to volunteer. The Democrats in town are backing a young woman, and relatively new member, albeit an extremely passionate and active one, for state office this election season.
B L Davis March 15, 2012 at 03:17 PM
Why have 154 parking places with space for buses been allocated to the Griswold park, and a half or two-thirds as many to the Hotel? And why is all the parking in the half controlled by Madison and none in the half controlled by the State? The State sure got a lot for it's 2 grants totalling $500,000.
Voice March 15, 2012 at 03:22 PM
These are great resources, thank you.
Pem McNerney (Editor) March 15, 2012 at 03:35 PM
You're welcome, V. As a very wise author once wrote, "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not." A basic lesson we learn when we're young and need to be reminded of when we're older and exhausted from working too many hours. If there is someone out there who is thinking about getting involved as a new member in the DTC or RTC and is willing to blog about their experiences, I'll sign you up. It'd be interesting to document the experience, good, bad and otherwise. I'm not suggesting it's easy, and I know most people have very little free time because all too many people are working too many hours just to get by. Still, judging from the gatherings at town hall when the DTC and RTC meet, these people are having fun, doing good, and making a difference all at the same time. There's a lot of energy at town hall when the committees are in the house.
Pem McNerney (Editor) March 15, 2012 at 03:44 PM
A new party in this town would make things very interesting. There are a few people in town registered with parties other than Democrat and Republican, but not many. If you decide to pursue that, or hear of someone else who is, let us know.
Voice March 15, 2012 at 03:47 PM
You said it, Pem!
Pem McNerney (Editor) March 15, 2012 at 06:05 PM
One more point of clarification. The town borrowed $8.3 million for the new park. Voters originally approved $9 million, and then the town received $700,000 in grants that were used to reduce the amount borrowed. When debt service and other costs are included, the town will have spent a total of $11.4 million, according to town officials. This story, near the bottom, has some additional details about the purchase price, grants received and how the money is being spent: http://patch.com/A-rmH6.
Matt March 15, 2012 at 10:42 PM
By the time the bird people are done getting their way, plus the cost of construction, plus the cost of ongoing maintenance, $15,000,000 is an accurate number. But for the sake of discussion, lets use the unicorn chaser's 11.4 million figure. The land is still only worth about 3-4 million. The stupidity of the purchase and lies that backed it up still don't change with that lower 11.4m figure.
Charles March 15, 2012 at 11:05 PM
the problem is that the money has already been spent. however, the football and baseball people came out to support the project en masse becasue Duo told them they would get football and baseball fields and showed the fields on his vote for fields rendering. I'm afraid that since they helped McPherson that now McPherson will push through the new football complex as payback and we will owe even more taxes. bully politics at work in Madison, as usual.
Janet March 16, 2012 at 01:50 AM
Agreed. Our officials did not use common sense on this one. There was no negotiation, because Leyland knew how badly some people wanted it. Unless you are willing to walk away, you are going to pay the high price.
Janet March 16, 2012 at 01:58 AM
We let 831 people approve that overpayment for that land. Shame on all the people who have common sense who did not go out to vote, and shame on our officials for not fighting harder for a fair price.
tom burland March 16, 2012 at 09:22 PM
Despite what everyone says , whether working 2-3 jobs or working 80 hours at one, or whether special interest groups have money or not. They have one vote and one vote only. To say you can not give up 2-5 hours a year to be informed and vote is pathetic. People waste more time complaining and worrying than that. Stop blaming everyone else look in the mirror. We all make it easy for special interest groups to spend our money because the only need to get 75 people to a town meeting and 400 to 500 people to vote. Hey i work over 70 hours a week, volunteer in 3 non profits and i still am able to be involve, informed and vote. Continue to sit on the sidelines and complain or get involved and make informed decisions.
Drew P March 16, 2012 at 11:33 PM
I'm sure your kids and wife miss you...thats if you are married with kids
tom burland March 17, 2012 at 12:23 AM
Actually have 5 kids and am very involved with them thank you... I dont have many hobbies though
Pem McNerney (Editor) March 17, 2012 at 01:02 AM
Tom, you and your family are an inspiration! Thanks for your thoughts on this and for your service on the non-profits. Good luck with the fundraising dinner for the scholarship fund Saturday night! Hope it goes well.

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