The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, September 20, 2002


Wetland features examined in light of drought

The first step in a process to clear the way for development of a 14.3-acre site abutting the Carlisle Conservation Foundation (CCF) Spencer Brook Reservation brought out a delegation of apprehensive neighbors at the Carlisle Conservation Commission's (ConsCom's) September 12 meeting. The reason for their concern was the applicant's request that ConsCom verify an engineer's characterization and delineation of the extensive wetland features on and adjacent to the property.

There are no residences on the environmentally rich parcel which engineer Jeffrey Peterson described as "a reverting agricultural site" on the east side of South Street, about 700 feet north of its junction with West Street. His map showed a wetland cutting diagonally across the site and a pathway crossing a stream that eventually feeds into Spencer Brook to the east. It is that stream that has become the focus of a brewing controversy. The watercourse is shown on the U.S. Geological Survey maps as a "perennial stream," a definition questioned by the owners of the property, Larson Trust c/o Fleet Private Clients Group. According to their engineers, the brook should rightfully be classified as "intermittent," because it remained dry for at least four days in a row this summer as proven in photographs taken by their consultants at the end of August.

Definition of a "drought"

This parched condition makes the stream legally intermittent, unless it takes place in a period of "drought." The technical differentiation is critically important to developers, since a perennial waterway is protected under the Rivers Act by a 200-foot buffer zone and stringent "no disturbance" rules. The deciding factor in questionable cases becomes the official definition of a "drought." As the law now reads, a drought is a period "when precipitation for the previous four months was below normal for the period of record, with at least three of the four months 75% or less and two of the four months 50% or less of normal precipitation." It is Peterson's contention that this year's long dry spell did not meet those conditions, and therefore the four successive days of "no flow" in the subject stream means riverfront protections do not apply.

A second criterion that could prove pertinent in this case is the possible existence of a natural "watershed" area associated with the stream in question, which must encompass one-third of a square mile. Again, according to Peterson's calculations, the watershed in question is not that extensive. However, he admits that his survey did not include a small tributary of the main stream that also needs to be researched. Also, when one reads the text of the Rivers Act, it appears that some wiggle room may exist in a list of possible exceptions to the drought-defining formula.

Questions Fleet designation

Speaking for those in the neighborhood who are challenging designation of the stream as intermittent, Spencer Brook Farm owner and 32-year resident Mary DeGarmo reminded her listeners that, "This has been the worst drought I've ever seen here." She also referred to a letter sent to the commission from her 34-year-old son Adam, in which he strongly questioned the Fleet findings and recalled catching frogs, turtles and even seven-to-nine-inch fish there in the past. DeGarmo suggested that the commission check other waterways in town and reminded them that a smaller brook at the nearby Triangle Farm site had been found to meet Rivers Act requirements and forced the developer to change his plans. Finally, she asked them to check two ponds from which the stream originates, because of the existence of water control structures which could be choking off water flow downstream.

Consultant to evaluate site

At the commission's request, a representative from Fleet agreed to hire a hydrology expert chosen from a list of three provided by the board and to re-assess all pertinent issues. Admitting that the hydrology of the area is indeed "very tough to ascertain," Peterson asked to accompany the commission's consultant on his investigations. Abutters Tim Fohl and Steve Hinton representing CCF gave their okay for the consultants to explore their properties.

Chair Chris Kavalauskas said the commission would expect all wetlands on abutting properties to be included in the survey, and colleague Tricia Smith added that if one resource area is contained within another, she wants to see that indicated on the maps. Following a request from commissioner Peter Burn that the matter of control structures at the originating ponds be evaluated, Kavalauskas brought the session to a close pending receipt of further documentation.

2002 The Carlisle Mosquito