Gardner Commission Debates Environmental Impact of Trail Extension

The recent Gardner Conservation Commission meeting centered on the discussion regarding the proposed North Central Pathway, a nature trail connector extending through a forested area and across an old railway. The project has sparked concerns due to its environmental impact, especially pertaining to a vernal pool and surrounding wetlands. The commission examined potential alternative routes, wetland replication viability, and the preservation of local wildlife and water supply, reflecting divergent views on the pathway’s development and ecological considerations.

During the meeting, representatives from Tyan Bond presented the North Central Pathway project. The proposed trail’s route, which would impact a vernal pool and its buffer zone, became a focal point. Approximately 55 square feet of the vernal pool would be directly affected by the construction, leading to a debate over the feasibility of the project’s wetland replication efforts. The narrow and linear shape of the proposed mitigation area raised doubts about the viability of creating a new wetland habitat that could effectively replace the impacted pool.

The commission discussed various aspects of the project, including the design of the trail to avoid rocky outcroppings and the potential use of micro piles or a timber bridge to span wetlands. A preference for a floating mat system over traditional construction methods was noted, which could minimize the impact on the environment. The increase in bike and foot traffic was also considered, along with the implications for the North Central Pathway Corridor’s usage.

Debate arose around the classification of the pool as a vernal pool and its treatment under local ordinances. The impact of the trail on the local drinking water supply was a concern, as was the condition of the wetlands due to past clearing practices by utility companies. The commission weighed alternative routes, including one through the Watkins plot, but met with community objections and challenges posed by the steep topography and proximity to cemetery plots.

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Further complicating the discussion was the slope of a channel within the project area, with concerns about erosion and the movement of amphibians through the terrain. The necessity of the proposed width of the shared-use path was questioned, particularly in light of the environmental impact. The project’s engineer provided insight into the trail alignment and explained the difficulties of altering the course due to topographical and financial constraints. Safety concerns regarding the use of switchbacks on the trail, especially for cyclists and children, were also raised.

The urgency to spend grant money by the deadline of June 30th, exacerbated by staff turnovers, added pressure to the proceedings. The commission discussed the possibility of researching a crossing and revising the wetland replication area for the next meeting. Continuation of a hearing for a project on Colony Road until March 25th was decided, along with deliberations on another project on M Street.

Members of the commission spoke about their attendance at the MAC Conference, where they participated in classes on ordinances, wildlife habitat protection, and drone usage. The potential benefits of drones for environmental monitoring were weighed against legal considerations.

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Lastly, discussions touched upon concerns over a landfill, project site photos, and the accuracy of wetland delineation. It was agreed that the wetland in question would be reflagged.

Note: This meeting summary was generated by AI, which can occasionally misspell names, misattribute actions, and state inaccuracies. This summary is intended to be a starting point and you should review the meeting record linked above before acting on anything you read. If we got something wrong, let us know. We’re working every day to improve our process in pursuit of universal local government transparency.

Mayor:
Michael J. Nicholson
Environmental Commission Officials:
Greg Dumas, Duncan Burns, Jr., David Orwig, Norman Beauregard, David Beauregard, Corinne Smith, DOUGLAS DILLON (Conservation Agent)

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