Expert: Brox site of value

MILFORD – The Brox property is an "ecological gem" that should be preserved, an environmental consultant said last week.

If development must occur, it should be concentrated in one area of the property, said Kevin Ryan, of FB Environmental Associates of Portsmouth, who gave a slide show at a meeting of the Conservation Commission last week.

"You’re going to be hard-pressed to find another area in town that’s going to have the kind of diversity that’s present in Brox," said Ryan, calling the 270-acre town-owned property a "complex mosaic."

FB Environmental was hired by the commission last year to evaluate Brox’s natural features and to identify areas that may be sensitive to future development or changes in land use.

Brox contains many animals, including "a whole suite of reptiles" that includes the eastern hog-nosed snake, "the most unusual snake in New England" – an animal whose population numbers are dropping and appears sensitive to development, he said.

There are also two kinds of turtles – Blandings turtles and spotted turtles – and they need habitat "connectivity" because they are highly mobil, moving among wetlands, vernal pools, sand banks, ponds and hardwood forest.

With only a 100-foot buffer around wet areas, "You’re going to lose your turtles," Ryan said.

Ryan gathered his findings from a two-day site examination last year and from data from the New Hampshire Natural Heritage Bureau, a report by University of New Hampshire students who studied the property in 1998 and a consultant’s report from 2013.

Much of the forest is classified as Appalachian oak and pine, which comprises less than 10 percent of New Hampshire’s land area, Ryan said. The northern portion is hemlock and pine, the most common forest type in New Hampshire.

Three stream systems run through the property: Tucker Brook, which flows into the Souhegan River, and Birch Brook and Cold Brook, which flow into Osgood Pond.

There is a "vast wetland complex association with the streams," and Brox is much wetter than what the map shows, Ryan said.

"Save it for future generations," he said. "Let people hunt there. Let people birdwatch there. Let people mountain bike," and if there must be some development, concentrate it around the sand pit, said the wildlife ecologist and wetlands scientist.

Commission Chairwoman Audrey Frazier told the three dozen people at the Dec. 3 meeting that the commission wanted the inventory so it could make "an educated recommendation" to town boards.

Based on the inventory, the commission met last week and wrote a statement "that supports a balanced approach to the development of Brox for future municipal needs, commercial development and preservation of environmentally sensitive areas," Frazier said.

After Ryan’s presentation, she suggested the town put together a committee to reassess how development is going to be handled at Brox.

The commission’s intention, she said, is to permanently protect special ecosystems by identifying them and working with the town
to protect them.

Milford bought the property in 2000 for $1.4 million from Brox Industries, which had mined it for sand and gravel since the 1950s.

The town has been trying to sell the northern portion ever since. The southern half is intended for future community uses, including playing fields.

A deal to sell 93 acres to a Massachusetts stone finishing company fell through last summer, apparently at least partly because of ongoing conflicts between those who want to preserve the property and town officials who desire tax ratables, and say voters have made their wishes clear that the northern land should be sold and developed.

During the question-and-answer period that followed the presentation, one man said taxpayers had wanted tax-generating industry in Brox and would be unhappy to "throw it all away."

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