In a public hearing of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES) held at Town Hall last week, members of the Londonderry Conservation Commission argued that a greater portion of mitigation for Interstate 93 improvements should be directed to Londonderry.
It’s anticipated the project will incur a total 85.33 acres of impacts to wetlands. The Department of Transportation (DOT) is in the process of securing a new permit for 24.3 acres of impact related to the remaining construction contracts for the I-93 expansion project – the improvement of 13 miles of I-93 from just north of Exit 3 to the I-93/Route-293 split.
The project will result in impacts to Windham, Derry, Manchester and Londonderry, with Londonderry to absorb the majority, 30 acres of impact, where previously there were to be 27 acres of impact.
To mitigate the 27 acres of impact, the State purchased 253 acres of land to be protected from development, including a significant amount of land on both sides of South Road, as well as land at Scobie Pond and around the Musquash Conservation Area.
Proposed mitigation for the additional impacts is a payment of $1.8 million, with half the allocation to be awarded the DES Aquatic Resource Mitigation (ARM) fund and half to be used to initiate a Stream Passage Improvement Program between the DOT and DES and impacted communities.
“The devil is in the details,” said Conservation Commissioner Mike Speltz, who went on to explain the way the mitigation program is structured, “there’s no guarantee a single penny will come to Londonderry.” The money to be paid to the ARM fund could be used for improvements in any of the 26 communities in the Merrimack River Watershed.
Speltz noted several parcels in Londonderry were identified and vetted when mitigation for the project was first proposed in the 2004 permit application.
“Among those are four properties in Londonderry that were not conserved because you met the requirement with those you did conserve,” he said. “There are four properties that have already passed preliminary muster. The DOT accepted them and the DES accepted them as part of the application. Why is it necessary to just write a check to the ARM fund instead of accepting those properties?”
Additionally, Speltz argued the ARM fund has traditionally been used to solve a legitimate problem – little piecemeal bits of mitigation for little projects brought forward.
“That’s not the case here – I-93 is a really big project,” he said. “About 35 percent of all wetland impacts resulting from the project are in Londonderry, but only 25 percent of mitigation up to this point has come to the Town. I would ask you to consider directing mitigation funds to Londonderry. Why make us compete with 26 other communities when we’re already behind and have beautiful mitigation sites in Londonderry?”
Speltz said he understands the DOT wants to be under contract for various projects by the fall and needs to get mitigation in place to do that, and said there are projects in Londonderry that the Commission could help the State put in place by the fall.
The DOT’s permit for the project expires May 2, 2016.
“You don’t need to take the administrative shortcut of writing a check and saying, ‘we’ve done our job,’ and worsen the gap between 25 percent of mitigation that came to Londonderry versus 35 percent of impacts,” he said. “I feel very strongly about it.”
Conservation Commissioner Eugene Harrington asked what percentage of culverts in Londonderry were found defective that could qualify for repairs through the Stream Passage Improvement Program, which Water Pollution Division Environmentalist Lori Sommer said is being established to address deficient stream crossings that have been failing, especially in big storms.
“In 2016, we will have funds available for communities to apply for to address their worst case culverts that fail or overtop,” said Sommer, noting they have asked communities to submit their five worst-case culverts for the Department to assess this summer.
Several DES interns have prioritized the crossings that have been submitted and the database includes between 800 and 1,000 crossings, but Sommer said she doesn’t know how many of those from the 26 communities are in Londonderry.
“If Londonderry is suffering the majority of wetland impacts, I would like to see a portion of that money go towards culverts in Londonderry,” Harrington said.
Resident Ann Chiampa, who received notification of the meeting as a member of the Planning Board, asked why the public wasn’t notified of the public hearing.
Gino Infascelli, public works subsection supervisor for the DES, said his office notified the Town, members of the Planning Board and other town board and committee members, as well as the Union Leader.
Chiampa asked why the Londonderry Times was not notified, as the paper is distributed to all residents.
Infascelli said his office met its legal requirement to notify the Town, and attempted to reach out to the local media.