NEW BRITAIN - The environmental study of the proposed Tilcon expansion indicates that the project would likely kill off species of salamanders and box turtles in the area, displace other animals that are not likely to remain on Bradley Mountain and require rerouting of the Metacomet Trail, according to the findings of an engineering firm.
However, the project, which would require legislative action to mine 131 acres of protected leading to Shuttle Meadow Reservoir, would nearly double the city’s available water supply, the study, released last week, said.
The study is on the agenda of the state Water Planning Council for its meeting today at 1:30 p.m. at the Public Utility Regulatory Authority building in Franklin Square. The state Council on Environmental Quality has also received the study and has assigned a subcommittee to review it.
The hotly debated plan would allow Tilcon to mine the watershed, which is on Plainville land owned by the New Britain Water Co., for 35 to 40 years, before returning it to the city as a reservoir. Tilcon would give Plainville, Southington and New Britain 291 acres of open space and the company would pay New Britain an undisclosed amount for the mining.
The release of the 500-page study by Lenard Engineering signaled the start of a lengthy process of state agency review before the plan can be presented to the legislature for approval. The proposal has already faced stiff opposition from environmentalists statewide and area residents who fear not only the destruction of the watershed but the change in state law that they feel could imperil every protected watershed in the state.
“Two things are apparent from the study,” said New Britain resident Paul Zagorsky, a Plainville attorney who has led the opposition. “This is a significant environmental site and the impact of the change of use is clear and not surprising - environmental and ecological annihilation. The report makes frequent references to the direct mortality of all species, total habitat loss and habitat degradation to areas adjacent to the proposed quarry limits.”
Lenard Vice President James Ericson, who was in charge of the study, and Ray Esponda, acting director of the New Britain Water Department, told The Herald Friday that the creation of the reservoir would increase the city’s water supply by 45 percent.
The reservoir would fill in 6 months to 2 years - a far shorter period than the 10 years originally proposed - because the water would be “flood skimmed” from the Coppermine Brook area of Bristol, which is New Britain-owned land. The area is about 15 square miles of watershed that is not captured in any reservoir. The water from the site would be pumped to the reservoir, allowing a continuous feed, a more stable source than depending on rainwater, Esponda and Ericson said.
“This is about capacity,” Esponda said.
With the guaranteed flow from the runoff of Coppermine Brook, the new reservoir could supply up to 2 million gallons a day of drinking water, the two said.
A similar proposal, which died in the face heavy opposition in 2007, had the new reservoir supplying 160,000 gallons a day. That figure was based on rainwater replenishment, Ericson said.
“It was like taking a giant punch bowl and filling it with a tiny, little drip,” Ericson said.
The subcontractors who examined the potential water quality of the proposed reservoir for Lenard concluded “there would no significant contamination” from the mining and that the New Britain Water Co.’s treatment plant would deal with any potential pollutants, the study said.
“We would have to do nothing other than what we do now,” Esponda said.
The conclusion was based on samples Tilcon was required to submit to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection in 2011 and a sample of water in the current quarry gathered by Test America in 2017, Ericson said.
Photos taken by Protect Our Watersheds CT in April 2017 show the quarry filled with dark green water, which Esponda and Ericson said was rainfall and storm water runoff. Esponda said that, since the new reservoir would be so large and a vast amount of water would be pumped in, any pollutants would be “greatly diluted.”
The review of the study by the WPC and CEQ is just the first step in the process in determining whether the project will go forward, city officials said.
Ericson conceded that his firm would likely be in the running for the contract to be involved in the project if it’s approved by the city, legislature and the state Department of Health.
Discussing the long-term outcome is premature, said Jodi Latina, chief of staff for Mayor Erin Stewart.
“We’re at the beginning of the road that stretches from here to California,” Latina said.
Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or Lbackus@centralctcommunications.com.