Washington Wetlands Considers New Environemental Expert

WASHINGTON — The Inland Wetlands Commission debated the merits at its Wednesday, July 9, meeting of consulting an independent environmental expert on the proposed Wykeham Rise project. The commission has already engaged Land Tech Consultants, Inc, to review and evaluate the applicant’s plans. That preliminary report has been received by the IWC, but Chairman Mark Picton believes that more in depth environmental information is needed. Mr. Picton has noted at previous meetings the need for careful analysis of the plans, due to the scope of the project.

The 27-acre site of the former private girls’ school, located at 101 Wykeham Road, was pur­chased in April by Matthew Klauer. Mr. Klauer has proposed an environmentally friendly resort for the site. The property, empty for the past eight years, contains seven buildings in various stages of disrepair slated to be removed for a main building housing a restaurant and spa, a number of smaller cottages, tennis courts and a swimming pool.

The proposal is presently mak­ing its way through the town’s land use commissions and faces strong opposition from neigh­bors, who have been a presence at commission meetings even when there is no opportunity for public comment. The Land Tech report sent to the Inland Wetlands Commis­sion had not been thoroughly reviewed by all its members at the time of the July 9 meeting. Mr. Picton, who has examined the report, said that he still had a number of questions and con­cerns. He believes that an independ­ent environmental professional, separate from Land Tech, would be “more effective” at answering those questions, he said.

Commissioner Charles LaMu­niere disagreed with Mr. Picton noting that the Land Tech review does provide environmen­tal information. He pointed out that an independent review could take as long as two to three months to complete. Mr. Picton observed that in his opinion, Land Tech “covers engi­neering well, but not necessarily broader issues.” Mr. LaMuniere suggested that a specific list of questions be given to the Land Tech consult­ants. “Then we’ll just get those answers back but not a complete picture,” replied Mr. Picton. “In terms of both our satisfaction and appearances, Land Tech worked early in the process with the applicant’s engineer. I think it’s a good idea to also have com­ments from another independent direction.” Mr. Szymanski, civil engineer, in attendance at the meeting, said that he and his associates find that several dif­ferent groups who don’t commu­nicate with each other frequent­ly offer differing opinions, which bogs down the process. “We’ve seen the best progress when everything is handled by one firm,” he reported. “Other­wise, we end up being a ping pong ball. It’s not fair to the applicant, to you or to the process.” Mr. Picton persisted. “We can make sure good com­munication occurs and deter­mine what makes sense if we have consultants from different firms,” he maintained. Mr. LaMuniere once again defended Land Tech. “They have the capacity to handle ecological issues. We can get answers from them. We should know exactly what it is we want to know and not open up a dissertation.” Mr. Picton disagreed. “In the past when we’ve done that with Land Tech, we’ve gotten back narrow responses,” he reported.” Because of the scope of this project, we need to get specific answers.” He listed a number of areas of particular wetlands issues. “I want someone to think cre­atively; this project is a big deal,” reiterated Mr. Picton. “I’d like to see what other professionals can look at specifics.”

The commissioners authorized Mr. Picton to canvas independ­ent environmental consultants for their level of expertise and availability, noting that an inde­pendent report does not have to be completed prior to the IWC public hearing, which will open July 23 and most likely continue for several meetings, but only be introduced during the public hearing process. Mr. Picton concluded the dis­cussion by reminding the com­mission, “We don’t have an obli­gation to streamline this; we have an obligation to do our work diligently.”

A series of public hearings on the Wykeham project begin this week, starting with the Zoning Board of Appeals at 7:30 tonight Wednesday, July 16. The Inland Wetlands hearing opens Wednesday, July 23, at 7 p.m., with the Zoning Commis­sion public hearing set to open at 7:30 July 28. All hearings will be held at Bryan Memorial Town Hall.

By Ann Compton – Voices News

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