Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Groups get grant to study Tankerhoosen water quality

By Jan-Keno Jansen
Journal Inquirer
August 25, 2005

VERNON — The Friends of the Hockanum River Linear Park Inc. have received a $25,000 federal grant to assess the Tankerhoosen River Watershed.

Ann Letendre, financial officer of the organization, says that the money will be used to analyze water quality at up to eight locations along the river — from the headwaters to the confluence of the Tankerhoosen with the Hockanum River at the eighth hole of Connecticut Golf Land in the Talcottville section of town.

The Friends initially requested $37,000, the full cost of the assessment. Letendre said they will seek the remainder of the funding from other sources.

The water quality studies are part of a larger effort to conduct a "State of the Watershed Assessment" of the Tankerhoosen, according to Letendre.

The project is being conducted through a partnership of the Conservation Commission, Hockanum River Watershed Association, North Central Conservation District, and the Friends.

The headwaters region of the river, a 2.9-square mile sub-basin in northeastern Vernon, is bisected by Interstate 84.

According to the grant application written by Letendre, "Recent development pressure in this region poses a major threat to the long-term health of the entire watershed."

Letendre said development along Gages Brook, a key headwaters stream in the Tolland Industrial Park, further stresses the headwaters region.

In addition, there are likely stresses from the presence of I-84 itself: Moderate amounts of metals have been recorded by the state Department of Environmental Protection at the Talcott Gorge in the lower section of the river, Letendre wrote in the Friends study plan.

Another area of concern is property near exit 67 of I-84, which developers look at a prime site, according to the Friends.

"Our current major threat to water quality is non-point source pollution," Letendre said.

The assessment should provide insight into threats to the watershed. "We are at a critical point in time," Letendre said.

"Because of these very real and very immediate threats, the state of the watershed needs to be assessed."

Baseline water quality data will be used to identify high quality areas and to define and protect areas in need of restoration. Letendre said that Friends hopes the results of the assessment will be incorporated into land use decision-making processes, and that the study results will be incorporated in the 2008 update of the town's plan of conservation and development.

Mayor Ellen L. Marmer had good words to say about the federal grant: "Any money that comes in for an environmental impact study is always greatly appreciated."

The town has fought to stave off large-scale development in the watershed area. In June 2004, the Inland Wetlands Commission rejected an application to build a Wal-Mart Supercenter near exit 67 off Interstate 84, citing the possibility of detrimental impact on the Tankerhoosen River. In August 2003, the commission rejected Diamond 67 LLC's application for a wetlands permit to build a Home Depot, also near exit 67 off I-84.

The commission cited the possible degradation of wetlands and watercourses in the area as a reason for its denials. Diamond 67 LLC had wanted to build a 117,000-square-foot Home Depot and 28,713-square-foot garden center on 14.7 acres at 117 Reservoir Road, the former site of the New England SportsPlex. Experts hired by Diamond 67, though, said 98 percent of pollutants would be filtered out of the runoff.

The commission also denied a proposal from W/S Development of Massachusetts to build an 86,000-square-foot [186,000, ed.] Wal-Mart, saying the project could pollute nearby waterways, including the Tankerhoosen River. The commission further said it worried the project could contribute to water volume and cause problems farther downstream.

As a result — with prodding from Wal-Mart opponents — the town placed a yearlong moratorium on development in the area while it revised regulations for the mixed-use development zone.

There are only two planned mixed-use development zones in town: the rejected Wal-Mart site, owned by Lee & Lamont Realty, and the Gerber Farms tract, near Dart Hill Road and the South Windsor town line. The Planning and Zoning Commission approved the zone modifications June 13 to require more open space around large developments.