N.H. Cites Natural Gas Depot Developer for Wetlands Issue
Lebanon — State officials have determined that a developer filled wetlands without permission on the Etna Road property where he plans to construct a natural gas depot.
Compliance Inspector Jeffrey Blecharczyk of the state’s Department of Environmental Services determined during a May inspection that Jay Campion, of Hanover, filled a quarter acre of wetlands on the southwestern portion of his 182-acre property, which abuts CWM All Waste on North Labombard Road, near Route 120.
Some of the development conducted on Campion’s property was permitted under a forestry notification, which DES granted in 2011. Allowed activities included constructing logging roads and landings, said Blecharczyk, but converting those roads and clearings to commercial uses was outside the scope of the forestry notification.
“Some of the activities out there are related to forestry,” he said. “This fill was not something that was part of the forestry notification.”
Campion said via email that the area was “inadvertently covered with clean fill” and “had been delineated as a side hill seep and a very low functioning wetland.”
While he and his engineers recognized the wet area had been filled, they “chose to wait to bring the issue forward to DES in the context of putting together an overall drainage and impacts plan for the entire property.”
“I am a responsible steward of the environment,” he said.
The state’s findings, however, confirmed suspicions of city officials and neighbors who, after observing changes to the land since Campion purchased it from Dartmouth College in 2010, had urged DES to make an inspection.
“I think there’s a real pattern here of disregard for the land,” said City Councilor Nicole Cormen.
This is not the first time DES has cited Campion for a wetlands violation in Lebanon. In 2007, a DES inspection found that Campion, without permission, had cultivated wetlands on the Labombard Road property now permitted to become a hotel and conference center. At the time, DES addressed that infraction by requiring remediation — reseeding of wetland plants and the installation of a fence to prevent erosion.
Blecharczyk said, from his point of view, the earlier infraction had no bearing on the current one.
“What we’re concerned with right now is how this process goes forward with restoration,” he said.
Since Blecharczyk’s May inspection, DES has accepted Campion’s plan for remediation, which primarily includes removing the fill from the wetland and seeding some native wetland plants. According to the restoration plan filed with the state, the wetland seed mix should cover more than 75 percent of the disturbed wetland soils in two full growing seasons. The state’s approval required Campion to complete the restoration by Aug. 30.
“Our engineer submitted a proposed plan to DES,” said Campion. “It was accepted by DES and implemented. We now wait for the grass to grow on the slopes created and wetland flora to return.”
DES requires that Campion, with assistance from his environmental consultant Holden Engineering & Surveying Inc., submit three monitoring reports to the state, the first within 14 days of the restoration and then in June 2015 and June 2016 to document its success and to determine whether further work is necessary.
In part because of DES’ findings, Cormen expressed concerns that Campion has not provided city officials with complete information about his planned project to construct a liquefied natural gas vaporization and distribution center. Campion has said his plans include trucking in liquefied natural gas to the proposed depot, accessed from North Labombard Road through the All Waste property, where it would be converted to compressed gas for distribution.
The Zoning Board of Adjustment approved two variances necessary for the project to move forward in April, one which allowed the compression facility and one which allowed a fueling station for fleet vehicles and buses.
Potential customers such as Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, the Lebanon School District and Hypertherm wrote letters of support to the zoning board ahead of the board’s decision. But other neighbors, including Yvonne Labombard, a nearly 50-year resident of Etna Road, opposed to the project.
In an interview Wednesday, Labombard recalled a wide variety of wildlife, including turtles and ducks, near her home, which sits across from UniFirst on Etna Road and directly abuts Campion’s parcel.
“It was a gravel pit that filled-in and became a wetland,” she recalled. “I used to call it my little zoo up here.”
Since Campion’s purchase of the property, however, “that’s kind of been disrupted,” she said.
She said the logging roads on the hillside make it look “like a ski area” in the wintertime.
“It has changed the whole landscape,” she said.
Labombard said she would have preferred that Campion’s hillside property remain undeveloped — perhaps utilized as a recreation area similar to the city-owned Signal Hill parcel on the east side of Campion’s property.
“We’re not happy,” she said.
Labombard worried that further development of the hillside, in the form of the proposed natural gas depot, would bring down the value of her two-acre property.
“‘I can’t believe that it won’t,” she said.
Campion indicated he intends to move forward with the energy project.
“My plans for the property are unchanged,” he wrote via email.
In order to develop the property as he plans, the state and city require several permits. An Alteration of Terrain Permit to disturb 2.3 million square feet of soil — almost 53 acres — is pending before DES. In addition, the project will be subject to a site plan review by the city’s Planning Board and, in order to operate the gas depot, Campion will need permission from the state’s Public Utilities Commission.
Because of its location in the congested Route 120 corridor where wetlands important for storm water storage have already been compromised, Cormen said she is “troubled” by the proposed natural gas project and hoped members of Lebanon’s Planning Board would consider “additional protections” when the site plan comes to them for review.
The Planning Board’s site plan reviews typically include consideration of issues such as the character of the area, drainage, grades, traffic and natural resources, according to Interim Zoning Administrator and Senior Planner David Brooks. In this case, due to the location of the property, Brooks said, he would likely recommend the board conduct a site visit.
While the recent wetland remediation will not directly factor into the Planning Board’s decision, Brooks predicted it “may color the discussion.”
Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3213.