Hearing on Stewart Watershed Strip Mining Plan Set for Jun 26th

The anticipated public hearing on Republican Mayor Erin Stewart’s controversial plan to allow strip mining on New Britain drinking watershed land as been set for June 26, 2018.

The hearing will be held at Gaffney Elementary School Auditorium at 322 Slater Road.

The hearing is part of a process in state legislation approved at the request of the Stewart administration to allow an advisory process for considering the strip-mining proposal. The state legislation requires a study commissioned by the city, then for analysis of the study by the state Water Planning Council and the state Council on Environmental Quality and then a public hearing in New Britain.

At 6:00pm on June 26th, the Board of Water Commissioners, appointed by Stewart, will hold an informational meeting to hear a presentation by Lenard Engineering of the study that the firm, hired by the Stewart administration, completed in February.

The public will be able to express their perspectives on the plan in front of a joint hearing of the Water Board and the City Council at 7:00pm.

The watershed mining plans would involve removing a large section of a hill at an upstream part the watershed of New Britain’s primary drinking water reservoir, the Shuttle Meadow Reservoir. The proposal was earlier pressed for by Stewart’s father, Timothy Stewart, when he was mayor. Despite the elder Stewart’s strong support for the plans, the proposal was defeated.

But, on February 13, 2016, Erin Stewart began a public move to resurrect the plans of the elder Stewart to allow Tilcon to strip mine city drinking watershed land. According to Protect Our Watersheds CT, the younger Stewart had “…letters delivered into the mailboxes of residents near the Tilcon quarry about a ‘great new reservoir plan’…”.

The Stewart administration has consistently defended the plan to strip mine on New Britain’s drinking watershed land with the claim it would leave behind a new reservoir for the city. Critics have claimed that plan is a dubious excuse for allowing the Tilcon company to mine the land.

What critics have been saying appeared validated by problems with how Lenard calculated future demand for water that appear to significantly over-estimate water demand from New Britain residents and businesses, as well as by confirmation that filling the “storage reservoir” with water would require that water be transported from other places, rather than being filled from water flowing the surrounding land. Concerns about the magnitude of environmental damage that would be caused by the mining were confirmed by the study.

After the public hearing, the Water Planning Council, in consultation with the Council on Environmental Quality, will prepare advice that will be submitted to state legislature. Since the proposed mining on protected watershed land would require a special exception or change in state law, only the state legislature can decide to authorize it.

The hearing was originally planned for Slade Middle School, but it was later announced that the location will be at Gaffney Elementary School.

Editor’s note (6/12/2018): The article was updated with the new location for the hearing.