Beaver habitat topic of concern

MILFORD – Residents were back before selectmen last week to complain about the breaching of a beaver dam at Heron Pond. It was the second time since the Department of Public Works breached the dam in August that residents, lead by local environmental activist Suzanne Fournier, went to a selectmen’s meeting.

Fournier said removing part of the dam, which was done by hand, resulted in mud flats and harmed many kinds of wildlife.

Last week, she also charged that use of the gravel pit near the pond, both located on the town-owned Brox property, threatens the ground water, because collected snow and debris from the town’s streets dumped in the pit puts sand and motor oil and other potential pollutants in the ground.

“Our town has resorted to using the pit for some nasty stuff,” she said.

University of New Hampshire students who studied the area in 1998, Fournier said, cautioned that pollution spilled onto the sandy soil “would quickly percolate through the aquifer,” harming the aquifer and wetlands and any surface water the aquifer recharges.

Several other residents went to the microphone at the Oct. 13 Board of Selectmen’s meeting to say they were unhappy with the dam breaching, including Suzanne Schedin, a teacher at Heron Pond School, who said the town should reconsider the decisions made 14 years ago when the 270-acre Brox property was purchased to see if development is a good idea.

Chairman Gary Daniels conceded that town officials should have involved the Conservation Commission in its decision about dam breaching, and Audrey Frazier, commission chairwoman asked the board if they could be informed the next time work is done to the pond.

Selectman Kevin Federico said he was alarmed when he heard that the pond had been drained, so he drove there and found it was not, in fact, empty and the situation had been misconstrued.

“We should continue working together,” he said, “We are not at opposite ends of the spectrum.”

Fournier, the founder of Brox Environmental Citizens, a group that is pushing for preservation, rather than development of the Brox property, said some of the information about the property on the town’s website is wrong. There is evidence, she said, the pond has been there since the 1980s and not created recently.

Also, she said, school children are not at risk from disease from beavers, high water level is no threat to the school and draining the pond threatens what once was the state’s fifth largest great blue heron breeding area as well as other wildlife, she said.

The Brox property, where Heron Pond is located, is roughly divided in half, with the northern part intended for future mixed industrial, commercial and residential development to expand the tax base. The southern half is called community lands, where over the next 40 or 50 years officials expect town facilities – cemeteries, schools, a DPW building and a fire house – will be built.

The first community lands development likely to be done at Brox are sports fields, and Fournier told selectmen that hikers, dog walkers and others who use the property have as much right to that kind of recreation as team sports.

In the latest issue of the newsletter published by the Community Development office, however, Director Bill Parker said residents are in agreement with the town’s plans.

“Voters have spoken consistently over the years that they support development of the Brox property, not preservation,” he wrote.

Selectman Mark Fougere said the town is fortunate to have purchased Brox 14 years ago, with its valuable supply of earth materials.

He said the property’s long term use is not for a gravel pit, but as space to put community facilities when they are needed.

“We don’t have to look too far east” to find a town, meaning Amherst, that is in “crisis now” because it has no land, Fougere said.

And if we don’t use the gravel, he said, the town will be building a school and other community facilities “on top of gravel we could have sold.”

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 304, or kcleveland@
cabinet.com.