Affidavit on Stew Leonard's
Wetland Issues: Affidavit submitted regarding the application of Stew Leonard's (hereafter the applicant) for developing 29 acres of property located on Marsh Hill Road
By: Mazin B. Qumsiyeh, PhD*
Note: In preparing this rather brief report, I reviewed a number of documents available including the Environmental Assessment Report Prepared by Environmental Land Solutions (hereafter EAR-ELS) a firm hired by the applicant, a study submitted on Box Turtles by Dru Associates, known research on environmental impact of development, and relevant federal and state regulations. I also visited the site twice (September 4th and September 10th, 2004) for the purpose of observation of the landscape, fauna and flora and to relate observations to the written material as submitted by the applicant.
The Applicant is asking for approval of a massive commercial development of some 29 acres originally zoned for light industrial usage. The development is to include a 145,000 sf Farm Store, 40,000 sf enclosed outdoor center, 12,000 sf farm, 11,000 sf restaurant, 15,000 sf conference center, and an construction of 1100 parking spaces. This is an ambitious project which if implemented would have a significant cost and revenue to the applicant group (Stew Leonard's). I will limit my comments here to the environmental issues with emphasis on wetlands. A portion of this land was used earlier for agriculture but has since regrown. Agriculture does impact the environment (will not be discussed here) but to a far lesser extent than developments such as those proposed by the applicant. This is obvious from the environmental footprint of such structures as buildings, parking lots, car pollution etc. I will briefly discuss anticipated impact of such a development under these categories as they impat wildlife and wetland:
- Increased air pollution
- Increased noise pollution
- Increased ambient temperature and further alterations in microenvironmental and weather patterns
- Impact on wetlands including decreased water quality (including runoff water)
- Decreased habitat and adverse impact on existing wildlife
- Other impacts not discussed
1) Increased air pollution
The experience with existing Stew Leonard's developments combined with the facts of the scale of proposed development and that the applicant is proposing a parking lot accomodating 1100 spaces for motor vehicles all suggest significant traffic anticipated to this massive development. Add to that delivery trucks for products, supplies for the farm, employee and visitor generated waste disposal, and you will have a massive traffic to and from the facility on a daily basis that will produce significant amount of air pollution. Although great strides have been made at reducing air pollution from automobile exhaust over the past few decades, on-road motor vehicles still account for a significant proportion of air pollution including significant emissions of Carbon Monoxide, Carbon Dioxide, various oxides of Nitrogen, volatile organic compounds, and particulate matters. These substances cause adverse human health affects (e.g. increased incidence of Asthma, increased exposure to mutagens and carcinogens) and this is to peoplke who are merely visiting and moving through polluted areas. So for the widlife in the area the effect would be compounded whether it is on invertebrates or vertebrates both terrestrial and aquatorial (air pollutants are known to dissolve in water and are taken in by plant cover). Another factor besides increased air pollution is decreased vegetation cover (e.g. by pavements and buildings) which reduce natural filters.
See Federal Highway Administration Transportation Air Quality: Selected Facts and Figures 2002
2) Increased noise pollution
This is not something usually addressed in planning developments. It is however significant that animals with a sense of hearing try to avoid unnatural audible sound waves especially those associated with humans such as car engines, music, etc. Such sounds interfere especially with species that rely on audible communications for mating and avoidance of danger (such as frogs). Delivery trucks, customer automobiles, employee automobiles, air-conditioning and heating systems, would generate noise and other human associated sound.
While the impact of audible sound has been studied and now somewhat well understood, there are few studies on impact of microwave, magnetic waves, and other communication frequencies used in our developed societies on wildlife.
3) Increased ambient temperature and further alterations in microenvironmental and weather patterns
The reasons temperatures are elevated in urban areas center on two factors: removal of vegetation and presence of concrete and pavement which absorb sun's energy and do not dissipate it at night. To a lesser extent, artificial heating and cooling also plays a role. Studies show increased temperatures in the summer in urbanized developed areas (compared to areas with high tree/vegetation coverage) that can be fairly significant and resulting in increased usage of electricity for summer cooling (itself also harmful to the environment). Wetlands are particularly sensitive to slight changes in ambient temperature.
4) More direct impact on wetlands and decreased water quality (including runoff water)
No matter how you try to deal with runoff, a parking lot with hundreds of cars coming and going would impact nearby natural areas (besides its direct impact of having replaced vegetated areas). Water runoff from developed areas is always of lower quality than from undeveloped natural areas regardless of the amount of cosmetic changes suggested. A simple estimation of the amount of impervious surface included in eh development suggests that with 1 inch of rain, over 30,000 gallons of water would be included in the runoff (otherwise much of it percolates in the soil). The elevated temperature of such a run-off water running off hot surfaces like pavements can have a lethal effect on wildlife especially aquatic plants and animals. Rainwater and melting snow off of roof-tops, tarmacs, parking lots, cars, and trucks also bring with it particulate matter and other pollutants (e.g. car oils, deicing chemicals in windshield fluids, erosion of surface material, gas emissions that get dissolved in rain water etc.). The high numbers of cars anticipated (see number 1 above) increases such impact on both water quality and fauna and flora.
5) Decreased habitat and adverse impact on existing wildlife
In one part (EAR-ELS, page 9) it is stated that "this system appears to have a significant value to local wildlife and to be of high functional level" and on page 11 this is reiterated by saying that the Eastern parts provide "valuable wildlife habitat." Accepting the applicants own submissions (EAR-ELS), we then need to address whether developments such as is proposed indeed can be limited to the Western part of the property and will not effect these habitats in the eastern part. I think the data on this are incomplete in some cases and definitely in contradiction with applicant contention in other cases:
a) As noted above, runoff of oil, deicing chemicals in windshield fluids, dirt and other material from the high numbers of automobiles anticipated (see number 1 above) can have adverse impact on both water quality and fauna and flora. Further, the primary way people directly kill wildlife is not hunting but by these environmental impacts, by noise and chemical pollution and also by running over them in motor vehicles.
See also links to EPA and other government sites on this page summarizing effects of automobiles on the environment
b) On page 9 of the EAR-ELS we read "through observation, it has been determined that the pond provides suitable habitat for small finfish (i.e. sunfish), amphibians (i.e. green frogs) and reptiles including water snakes and a large population of snapping turtles and painted turtles." The authors of this report probably mean to use e.g. which stands for example not i.e. which stands for "meaning". Yet on page 12 we hear that no finfish specimens were observed and contrary to earlier assertions in the same report that the conditions “limit the ability to support robust populations of finfish."
c) The location of this property is somewhat of an island of undeveloped area between highly developed areas like Rt 1 commercial areas and highway 95. It is not clear how critical is it as an island sanctuary for wildlife like birds etc. The study provided is clearly not sufficient to for a complete judgment on this issue but even the preliminary observations (see b above, though not real scientific data) by both the EAR-ELS study and my own observations agree that this area does provide a significant habitat for local fauna and flora. History shows than in some cases, even when portions of these remaining areas are developed, this could result in a cascading loss of other areas (the proverbial straw that finally breaks the camel's back; due in these cases to habitat fragmentation, need of proper home ranges etc.
d) The study by Dru Associates of Eastern Box Turtles in and near the property is, like the EAR-ELS, simply too shallow to be taken seriously. From brief observations and one specimen, one cannot extrapolate to the conclusions presented that this would have no impact on any likely population of Eastern Box Turtles.
d) It is claimed that the "wetland and watercourse areas of the site will be preserved in an undisturbed, natural state" (EAR-ELS p. 13) and that "the proposed site activities will result in no primary impacts to natural wetland/Watercourse areas and create limited disturbance (3140 +/- sf) within the 40' setback area to the site's natural wetland and watercourses" (p. 14). On page 16 we are told that some of the activities (like removing the man made reservoir) will actually help wildlife. Yet, these assertions fly in the face of logic when one contemplates such massive building efforts especially located uphill from the areas most threatened. I think any kind of computer modeling of these effects would produce the obvious (and rather intuitive) result that harm will be done by runoff (from buildings and pavements), a gigantic jump in traffic, noise and chemical pollution, ambient temperature changes etc. All this as discussed above is bound to have a strong and lasting impact on existing wildlife and wetlands.
6) Other impacts not examined or analyzed here
I have not addressed a number of other factors such as
- The increased urbanization of Orange area with this project acting as an anchor for furure projects and development putting further strains on an already fragile environment
- Solid and liquid waste disposal from the potential development (both in terms of the actual building project and from the ongoing operations of such a huge complex of restaurant, shopping areas, etc). This issue may need a study of its own to assess impact on landfill use etc.
- Health impact on local residents (physical and psychological) and economic issues (like cost and revenues to city government, property values, etc) as this does not relate directly to wetland issues
Others have addressed some of these issues.
Finally, I believe the two alternatives presented were too brief (lack detail), shallow, and unexplored to warrent serious comment. A development of this nature should take serious studies of alternatives and certainly outweigh all options. My own evaluation is that the best option is to reject the application and to allow light industry (not a commercial venture) if needed and if environmentally sound in the part of the property designated as such.
The full extent of the negative impact of the project on habitats has not been fully evaluated but based on preliminary examination seems significant and irreversible. I believe the development proposed is too large for the area and will cause increased air and noise pollution (both impacting on wetlads), negatively impact quality of run-off water, and combined with other developments, this increased urban sprawl will increase environmental damage to both humans and wildlife.
Finally if the town of Orange has not done so already, I highly recommend that municipal officials contact the University of Connecticut to get a presentation from and further collaborate with UConn's program "Non-Point Education for Municipal Officials described as "An educational program for local land use officials that addresses the relationship of land use to natural resource protection." (see http://nemo.uconn.edu/).
*Background on Dr. Qumsiyeh: A resident at 809 N Lakeview Rd in Orange, Qumsiyeh holds a Masters in Biology from the University of Connecticut and a PhD in Zoology from Texas Tech University. He is founder and current president of the Holy Land Conservation Foundation, an environmental advocacy group. He is author of over 120 scientific papers and such books as "The Bats of Egypt" and "Mammals of the Holy Land." He is a member of a number of local, national and international environmental groups. He is also board certified in Clinical Cytogenetics by the American Board of Medical Genetics. Email firstname.lastname@example.org