NEW BRITAIN - As city officials prepare for a public hearing June 26 on the environmental study of the Tilcon mining plan, they are defending the report and the need for the project.
Tilcon is proposing mining 74 acres of protected watershed in Plainville, owned by the city’s Water Department, for 40 years and then returning the quarry to the city as a reservoir.
The city would be paid by the company for mining rights - a figure that has not been made public - and Tilcon would donate about 300 acres of open space to Plainville, Southington and New Britain.
The city is required by law to hold a public hearing on the environmental study drafted by Lenard Engineering.
A public information session hosted by the Water Commission will take place at 6 p.m. June 26 at Slade Middle School on Steele Street, followed by the public hearing at 7 p.m.
The project has drawn scrutiny from area residents and environmental advocates statewide who fear the plan, which requires a change in use for the protected watershed, would imperil protected watersheds throughout Connecticut. The land Tilcon wants to mine includes several vernal pools and acts as a filtered tributary to Shuttle Meadow Reservoir.
The state Water Planning Council and the state Council on Environmental Quality, which were required to review the 500-page environmental study, both panned the project in their reports issued to the city in the past few weeks. Their reports can be found at .
Both agencies provided scathing criticism of the report and the project including that it could put New Britain’s drinking water supply at risk for decades as the mining takes place.
Acting city Water Director Ray Esponda and Jim Ericson, Lenard’s vice president, who crafted the report, fired back Thursday with letters to the WPC defending the proposal and how the study was handled.
“I am writing this letter in support of Jim Ericson of Lenard Engineering and his detailed response to the Water Planning Council comments regarding the environmental study of the proposed reservoir,” Esponda wrote.
Esponda was appointed in December 2016 as the city, and the state, were gripped in a months-long drought. City water stores became so low that Esponda’s department had to buy water from the Metropolitan District Commission for about $400,000.
At the time, city officials said the department could absorb the cost and had the money on hand for the purchase.
But Esponda wrote in the letter dated June 6 that his department couldn’t make their operational costs because of the purchase and he had to draw money from future projects.
When asked Thursday to clarify the discrepancy between the two versions of how the bill was paid, Esponda said that the money came from the reserve fund and that his operational costs exceeded revenues by $600,000.
The Water Department also paid Lenard about $350,000 to produce the study in the same budget year.
Esponda admitted to the CEQ a few weeks ago that the city didn’t handle conservation measures well during the drought.
The city didn’t ask residents to conserve until October 2016 - about six months in - when water stores were at about 30 percent.
“Action should have been taken much prior to that,” Esponda told the council. He also agreed that the city had an unusually high percentage of water loss - nearly 25 percent in 2016 - and he couldn’t find the source of any major leaks.
He also said that when “people responded to conservation, our revenues dropped.”
Esponda contends that the city needs the additional reservoir to make sure water is plentiful in times of drought. Ericson said in his letter to the WPC that his study only reflected minor differences in past water plans his company has done for the city and that Shuttle Meadow Reservoir would not be impacted by the mining.
“We strongly disagree with this conclusion in the WPC’s comments,” Ericson said. “Although a detailed design of the future quarry expansion to create a reservoir was not a requirement of the public act (the state law which required the environmental study), as part of the city’s public presentation, a more detailed sequence of operations and description of the quarrying process will be presented, which will demonstrate no negative impacts on water quality in Shuttle Meadow Reservoir or its watershed.”
Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or .