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political, scientific, and general citizen opposition, Sunwood Development, a Wallingford-based housing developer, has withdrawn a controversial application to remove a quarter of a million cubic yards of gravel from a 40-acre residential parcel on Whitney Avenue in the Mt.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.