Inland Wetlands Commission members don boots and bug spray

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Thompson - posted Mon., Aug. 12, 2013
Marla Butts and Norma Thibeault consult a map while doing the site walk. Photos by D. Coffey.
Marla Butts and Norma Thibeault consult a map while doing the site walk. Photos by D. Coffey.

Thompson Wetland Agent Marla Butts sometimes has to get her hands dirty for her job. On Aug. 10, she and members of the Inland Wetlands Commission met to do a site walk at a parcel of land at Rich Road in north Thompson. Owners of the 117-acre parcel are considering the development of a campground and recreational facilities on land that borders Route 395 and Webster, Mass.

Butts, Conservation Officer Carolyn Werge, and commission members Steven Baranow and Howard Peck donned boots and bug spray to walk the land and identify any areas of concern they might have before a preliminary application review is submitted. Engineer Norman Thibeault, with Killingly Engineering Associates, led the group to several areas of particular concern.

Members had to examine two crossings over wetlands that needed to be widened for the passage of construction equipment. They also needed to examine soil and stump piles left by previous owner Sam Kim, who had begun development of a golf course before that project was abandoned.

“This matters because when the application comes in for developing the area, commission members will want to know how the contractor will address those issues,” Butts said.

The Inland Wetlands Commission regulates all operations and uses within inland wetlands and watercourses and any earth-moving, fill, construction or clear-cutting of trees within 100 feet of any wetland or watercourse. The parcel off Rich Road has significant wetland areas identified on town maps. Butts was concerned that activity by the previous owner had changed the contours of the land enough to present new issues going forward.

Issues such as water flow at crossings would determine the type and number of conduits needed to allow for water passage. Noise and rate of water flow have been known to have an effect on beaver activity, so that might be a consideration in development plans. If the crossings were to be made permanent, hydraulics might be called for. If beavers had flooded the land, deadwood swamps and rookeries would present new challenges. The only way to find out was to walk the property.

With maps in hand, Butts and Thibeault found their way through thickets and heavy vegetation. They found dredge sites, which are places where the top soil and sub soil had been scraped away and left in large piles. At one crossing, Butts noted the depth of the water. At another, she got on her knees and reached down into green, murky water to search for a culvert. She couldn't find one, but the elevation difference, and the erosion on either side of the crossing led her to believe one had been there. 

The group paused at the edge of a swampy area. Trunks of dead trees rose from the water. A great blue heron took flight rather than hunt with humans so close. “Something is creating a restriction,” Butts noted. “Carolyn and I may need to come out again to see what caused this.”

They backtracked and followed a trail toward Route 395. The maps showed a stump pile that the current owners planned to grind into mulch. The mulch could then be used to create a 2-foot by 3-foot berm around the regulated wetland areas. The pile had been rendered practically invisible by the thick vegetation. Eventually, they found the survey flags and a ramp used to bring stumps to the pile. Then they found the pile. 

Chair Steven Baranow took the difficulties in stride. He stopped several times to look at the soil. He noted areas with dead trees. He surveyed the swamps and thick vegetation. “Wetlands are critical ecologically and as a means for recharging our groundwater,” he said. “This gets me back to my roots.” 

Howard Peck joined the commission because he had seen the results of things that had occurred because nature hadn't been considered. “I happen to like nature,” he said. “This helps the town and the animals.”

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