NH DES approves wetlands permit for Claremont Ford

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 10/2/2022 9:44:58 PM
Modified: 10/2/2022 9:45:00 PM

CLAREMONT — The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services Wetlands Bureau has approved a wetlands permit application to dredge nearly 26,000 square feet of a wet meadow for construction of a car dealership and parking at Ford of Claremont on Charlestown Road.

The approval now faces an appeal from a city councilor and member of the conservation commission.

The approval comes with a number of conditions and “compensatory mitigation” of a one-time payment of $148,609 to be paid to NHDES Aquatic Resource Mitigation Fund. Ford, which built a dealership on the property several years ago and is planning a second one, will also need an alteration of terrain permit from DES.

The six-page decision, released Tuesday, explains in detail the bureau’s reasons for granting the permit, which are near the southeast corner of the property. The bureau effectively rejected the opinion of the Claremont Conservation Commission, which opposed the permit and said the wetlands in question had high value for plants and wildlife.

“The wetlands proposed for impact do not contain any plants, fish or wildlife of importance, do not provide groundwater support, do not assist in handling stream runoff, do not provide significant flood storage, nor have any function of limiting general flood damage and there are not documented elements of protected species or habitat at the subject parcel,” the DES decision states.

The bureau concurs with a report from a mapping business, stating that the wetlands are of “low ecological value and limited function.” In the background section of the decision, the bureau refers to the report from Ferwerda Mapping LLC of Deering, N.H., which said the proposed wetlands “ranked low for ecological integrity.” Reasons stated in the report for this conclusion include “adjacent state roads, car dealerships (two others are close by), town roads, mowing, cut vegetation, and nearby manmade structures (culverts).”

The report also said the adjacent roadways cause degradation to the wetlands due to road salts, sediments and the many cars and trucks that pass close by and there are no documented protected species of habitat in the impacted area. Ferwerda scored the wetlands a 4 out of a possible 23 qualifiers that are used to measure their value and said “this wetlands did not score as a highly functioning and valuable wetland primarily due to the location and undiversified wetland classification.”

A report from the Tilton, N.H.-based Natural Resource Consulting Services reached a similar conclusion, stating that the project would not jeopardize “continued existence of state or federally threatened endangered species.”

Also in Ford’s favor was its proposed restoration of more than 9,000 square feet of wetlands on the property, reducing the net wetland impact to less than 17,000 square feet.

The Conservation Commission wanted Ford to move the dealership further west, away from the road and wet meadow. The commission registered its objections in a letter to the DES and commission Chairman Gary Dickerman testified at a DES hearing in July.

In its decision, the wetlands bureau said Ford addressed the commission’s concerns through its revised application and plans, public hearing presentation, a follow-up second opinion by a wetlands scientist and a follow-up wildlife report.

Ford had previously received site plan approval for a 20,390-square-foot building for a second dealership from the Claremont Planning Board. The location of the proposed dealership is close to the corner of Lane Ridge Road and Charlestown Road. To the north, it would abut the driveway to the existing dealership, according to plans on file in the Planning and Development Office.

On Thursday, resident James Contois filed an appeal of the decision. Contois, a Ward II city councilor and a member of the Claremont Conservation Commission, said he was not filing on behalf of the commission nor the city but as an “aggrieved citizen.”

“This decision is flawed and justified by 6 pages of “Bureaucratise” so as to make the decision basically uninterpretable by a layperson,” Contois wrote.

He claims the bureau’s action and reasoning are not valid and the bureau is violating its own rules.

“You are not protecting the environment,” Contois wrote after a section of the ruling states that under state law there is a public good to protecting the environment.

In other sections of the decision, where the bureau states that there is no alternative to what Ford proposed in its application, Contois wrote “There is an alternative. Move it back! This is a simple solution you have repeatedly ignored.”

In its opposition to the permit application, the conservation commission said moving the planned dealership to the west, away from the wetlands, is a solution.

Contois also said Ford’s paid consultants would be making determinations outlined in the ruling and he said the bureau should not have relied on reports paid for by Ford regarding the impact on wildlife habitat and plant species. Payment to the mitigation fund of $148,000 “does not buy justification,” the appeal states.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.

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