Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Pit Is Stopped!

For immediate release:


Hamden (Wed., 11/1/06): Facing a relentless barrage of legal, political, scientific, and general citizen opposition, Sunwood Development, a Wallingford-based housing developer, has withdrawn a controversial application to remove a quarter of a million cubic yards of gravel from a 40-acre residential parcel on Whitney Avenue in the Mt. Carmel section of Hamden.

“We had reports from environmental experts that proved what everyone already knew: this was a really bad idea in an ecologically sensitive location,” said Keith Ainsworth, the New Haven environmental lawyer who represented the Mt. Carmel Environmental Trust (MCET), a citizen group fighting the gravel pit proposal. “If the developer comes back with a condo development, we’ll send that idea to the trash bin, too,” continued Ainsworth, noting that the site is criss-crossed by wetlands and the Willow and Jepp Brooks, which feed Hamden’s public water supply.

“An industrial mining operation in a residential neighborhood is an insult to nature and to the neighbors. We had to fight it,” said Andrew Brand, a Hamden resident who lives near the site and is Chair of the MCET. Brand says he has been fighting proposals to mine gravel at the site for over 11 years. An even larger gravel mining proposal was defeated by the Hamden Planning and Zoning Commission in 1995.

“It just goes to show that neighbors who stand together can win,” said Gail Traester, a founding member of the MCET. But the fight may not be over. “Sunwood’s (the developer) President had threatened that if we didn’t allow them to mine gravel, they would come back to build lots of houses,” Traester noted. “I think he underestimates our resolve to protect the important drinking water and environmental resources on this land.”

The mining proposal was the subject of two evening-long hearings before Hamden’s Planning and Zoning Commission on October 10 and 25. More than 200 people attended each of the hearings, many speaking eloquently of the need to protect the quality of life and the natural setting in the northern end of Hamden, an area marked by scenic views of Sleeping Giant State Park, rock outcroppings, the Farmington Canal Rail-to-Trail, Brooksvale Park, and quiet neighborhoods.

No one spoke in favor of the proposal.

Every organization not paid by Sunwood that commented on the proposal raised serious questions about it and, in most cases, flatly opposed the project, including: the Connecticut Department of Public Health Drinking Water section, the Regional Water Authority, the King’s Mark Environmental Review Team, the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, Trout Unlimited, the Hamden Natural Resources and Open Space Commission, the Farmington Canal Rail-to-Trail Association, Hamden’s Farmington Canal Commission, Westwoods Neighborhood Association, the Hamden Historic Properties Commission, and the Mill River Watershed Association. Others speaking out against the project included Hamden Mayor Craig B. Henrici; State Representative Al Adinolfi (103rd district); Legislative Council President Al Gorman; Dr. Phil Brewer, Democratic candidate for state rep from the 103rd District, who spoke on behalf of members of the Cheshire Town Council; Bob Westervelt, Council rep for Hamden’s 9th district; John P. Wargo, a Yale Professor of Risk Analysis, Environmental Policy, and Political Science; and Dr. Steven Danzer, an environmental and wetlands expert.

“We are very serious about protecting this land,” Ainsworth stated. “If Sunwood comes back, they will see us again."

The Mt. Carmel Environmental Trust (MCET) was founded in 2006 to protect and preserve the quality of life in the Mt. Carmel section of Hamden, CT. MCET Board members include Andrew Brand, Chair; Michelle Brand, Vice-Chair; James Traester, Treasurer; Becky Bartlett, Secretary; Sarah Clark; and Gus Spohn.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Unprecedented eloquence

At the first hearing on the 10th, when so many of us showed up and waited to speak, I was impressed by the patience and quiet dignity of the audience. It was a VERY long night, and all we heard was the presentation of the team of would-be pit mongers.

Last night, we got our chance to speak, and I was simply amazed at the intelligence and eloquence of our opposition movement. How many times have you seen people step up to the mike at a public hearing and then cringed at their inability to express themselves intelligently? But last night there was none of that, absolutely none at all. It was one speaker after another making excellent remarks and observations about all the aspects of the operation and aftermath of the proposed rape of the neighborhood. It is often said at long hearings, "everything has been said but not everyone has said it." Yet each of the dozens of speakers had a different take on the issue, and no two said the same thing.

Hats off to you all, band of eloquent pit bulls who will never let go, never allow this travesty to happen. We shall not be moved!

Dr. Phil, blogmeister

Thursday, October 26, 2006

"A long line formed before the podium..."

“When Planning & Zoning Commission Chair Joe McDonagh asked the packed Council Chambers (at the public hearing) last night if anyone wanted to speak in favor of a gravel-mining operation proposed for upper Whitney Avenue, no one budged. When he asked if anyone wanted to speak against the plan, which would excavate 254,000 cubic yards of sand and gravel over a two-year period, a sea of hands went up. And a long line formed before the podium.”*

The comments from the public last night were simply outstanding -- articulate; packed with information and thought; focused on the relevant issues; hitting all the issues, but not repetitious; respectful of the seriousness of the situation and of the task before the Commissioners, yet passionate. So many people during and after the hearing remarked on how impressed they were with the intelligence, clarity, and power of each and every statement. Thank you to everyone who spoke, and to everyone who has contributed so much time, thought, and effort to the many different aspects of this fight.

Next week: Attorney Keith Ainsworth presents the case against the Pit on behalf of the Mt. Carmel Environmental Trust. More comments from the developer. We look forward to seeing everyone there: Old Town Hall, 7 pm, Thursday, 11/2.

* from an article by Sharon Bass in the See full article, together with video footage from the hearing, at

Monday, October 23, 2006

A message from Andy Brand of the Mt. Carmel Environmental Trust

It's time for the public to speak, and for your concerns to be heard! On Wednesday, October 25th, at 7 pm in the Old Town Hall, the public hearing on the gravel pit proposal will reopen and now it's your turn. As chair and vice chair of the Mount Carmel Environmental Trust*, my wife and I would like to thank you for your interest in this issue, and for the hard work many of you have put into fighting the pits. From signing petitions to putting up signs (I think I counted 25 on Monday) to attending planning meetings to gathering information for your comments at the hearing, you have helped to strengthen the case against the pits.

It's important to stress how this mining operation would affect us all. Some of you may live near the site, as we do. Many of us make frequent use of the Farmington Canal trail (my wife is out there twice a day). Certainly we all drive on Whitney Avenue regularly! And, almost all of us use the public water supply. We should not have to worry about noise and dust in our backyards, dangerous trucks crowding our streets, possible contamination of our water, and definite destruction of our town's natural resources and wetland habitat. It's time to put a stop to this proposed operation once and for all!

Again, thank you for all your work so far. We look forward to seeing you on Wednesday evening and joining our voices in protest.

Andy Brand

* The Mount Carmel Environmental Trust was recently formed to protect and preserve the quality of life in the Mt. Carmel section of Hamden, CT.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Citizens Speak Out against the Pit

Here’s what citizens are saying about the gravel pit on the WTNH-Channel 8 blog:

Comment from: mick [Visitor]
From what I've seen, they're in a residential area. I don't care how many jobs it creates, you could put in a nuclear waste storage facility and it would create jobs. It doesn't fit with the character of the neighborhood. How much simpler can it be? Tell them to go dig somewhere else.
10/11/06 @ 18:30

Comment from: Jim [Visitor]
How can anyone say that they are going to return land to its natural state after they have stripped out some 250,000 cubic yards of it.
10/12/06 @ 09:10

Comment from: Michelle [Visitor]
There are so many problems with this application! The developer hasn't told or doesn't know where the trucks will go with the gravel, so he can't provide an accurate traffic study. He hasn't given specific information about test borings on the property, so no one really knows exactly how much sand is there--or when they'll hit bedrock!There are people living within just a few yards of where all the trucks will be refueling and idling, dumping diesel fumes all day long. And scariest of all, there are streams and wetlands throughout the property which lead right into our public water supply. How can we allow such drastic excavation work right in the middle of an aquifer? We can't!
10/12/06 @ 16:13

Comment from: Johnny [Visitor]
The owner of the property argues that he deserves "fair market value" in return for his investment. Since when is the public responsible for insuring private profit? But leaving that question aside, what would be fair market value? Say it's the value of building lots in the Mt. Carmel area, perhaps a total of three or four million dollars for his forty acres. Not the $30 to $40 million he hopes to make by turning those wooded acres into a devastated strip mine!
10/12/06 @ 19:36

Comment from: debbie [Visitor]
The gravel pit in Hamden is a VERY bad idea. Take a look at the area near SCSU where a similar gravel pit stood. The area surrounding this Mt Carmel/Cheshire/Wallingford corner is a residential area with restrictions to Sleeping Giant State park why should a gravel pit have any less restrictions? It is the last place anyone should be looking to set up a gravel pit. Leaving the area untouched is the ONLY solution. Once touched the land will never return to its natural state and either will the residents currently living in that area.
10/17/06 @ 13:33

Comment from: Ed Wilson [Visitor]
As a long-term resident, property owner, and voter in Mt. Carmel, I agree with most of our posters that this is highly inappropriate use of land so close to other residents and so far untouched by developers. 'Johnny' makes a point - 'fair market value' does not mean that the owner can squeeze every last cent of value out of the land at the expense of everyone else's quality of life. This greedy exploitation needs to be stopped now.10/17/06 @ 16:46

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

My husband and I have lived in the Mt. Carmel section of Hamden for four years and in Spring Glen for three years before that. Hamden has been a wonderful community to be a part of, and we have enjoyed all it has to offer. I work at Quinnipiac University, hike Sleeping Giant, and, most often, walk the trail that runs by our house. Louis is a runner and is on the trail most mornings. We are horrified at the prospect of a gravel pit, with its concomitant dust, noise, traffic, and destruction of property so close to the trail.

We have spent years improving our property which sits on the corner of River Rd. and Whitney. This will have a direct impact on our quality of life on an already busy and noisy intersection. We have always felt fully compensated by our proximity to the trail and enjoyed walking with our friends and out-of-town guests while they told us how lucky we were. I have a feeling that if that walk will now include a gravel pit, the reaction will not be as positive.

In addition to our love of the trail, we have a strong appreciation of the warmth and commitment of our neighbors to this community. Those who live closer to the proposed pit may leave, strongly affecting the stability of the neighborhood and property values. Many of the families we know have young children, and we cannot understand how the pit developers truly believe that leaving unguarded standing ponds of water, some fairly deep, is safe for curious children. I only hope that these developers and the property owner plan to hold themselves accountable should any child be hurt.

We have tolerated tax increases, car accidents and tire marks across our lawn, picked up beer bottles and other litter thrown from passing cars, and mowed the greenway by the road which is only mowed by the town twice a year as far as we can tell. We have always felt that our stewardship of the area was part of the price one pays for living in a beautiful but busy community. The gravel pit, however, is just beyond our ability to forgive.

Please register our strenuous objection to this horrendous proposal.

Janice Swiatek-Kelley and Louis F. D. Kelley
475 River Rd.
Hamden, CT 06518

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Nuts and Bolts of Sand and Gravel

I attended the Public Hearing on the 10th and was amazed at the exceptionally courteous behavior of fellow opponents of the Pit. Not that we aren't well behaved or civilized. But some of the items in the proposal and the analyses were so outrageous it was surprising that they did not cause more of an outcry (See the previous post for examples). Our discipline is our strength. Let's keep it up for the next session on the 25th.

Some of the details of a sand and gravel operation should be emphasized:

NOISE: From the moment operations begin in the morning until they end at night, one or more pieces of heavy machinery will crank up the diesel engines which will run all day long. This will create a constant drone and roar. In addition to this, a truck entering the property every six minutes will create its own diesel roar and at any given time there will be more than one truck on the site. The combination of trucks arriving, idling their engines, maneuvering, and leaving fully loaded will be added to the background din of the excavating equipment. Even this will be surpassed by the crash of gravel falling down onto the truck beds as they are loaded.

The fact that the developers requested the right to subject the neighborhood to this hellish roar from 7am to 5 pm six days a week and slightly fewer hours on Sundays shows their utter lack of regard for the living conditions of the surrounding community. The word "contempt" comes to mind. If they have no respect for us, can we trust anything they say or promise? Can we possibly believe in their Garden of Eden post-excavation artist's renditions when they are asking to drag us through hell to get there?

DIESEL, DIRT, & DUST: In addition to the particulate air pollution of several diesel engines running simultaneously can be added the constant cloud of dust kicked up by their tires as they move around the property. The developers like to talk about "clean, dust free sand."

Yeah, right. Just drive by the Tilcon facility on Route 17 in Durham and see the thick coat of dust on all of the surrounding vegetation if you need further convincing that the dustless gravel pit is a myth. But hey, green leaves are so pre-industrial, right?

AFTERMATH: After the developers take their $30 million and run, we will be left with four water filled pits with steep slopes not suitable for recreation and in fact outright dangerous. (Look closely at the angle of the banks of the gravel pit on the right. Do you want your small children playing around this?) Whether or not these "ponds" will be stagnant depends on their total volume versus the volume of inflowing water. Clearly there is not a large volume spring to replenish them and they will essentially become large breeding pools for mosquitoes, especially during the dry summer months. This means that for those who have not been driven out of the neighborhood by two years of noise and pollution the roar of diesel will be replaced by the buzz of unfriendly insects every time they step outside. (Unless you want to spray with insecticide all of the time.)

But we aren't going to let that happen! Our commitment, discipline, and passion will prevail. Be prepared for another long night on the 25th. Bring a friend. Bring popcorn! Let's make the next hearing a celebration our newfound neighborhood solidarity!

Phil Brewer, MD
Stopthepit Blogmeister