Gravel excavation protested

MILFORD – The Conservation Commission and Brox Environmental Citizens are protesting the town’s plans for a major gravel excavation on the Brox property.

Audrey Fraizer, commission chairwoman, said the selectmen have no plan to protect wetlands and wildlife, including a rare turtle known to be on the town-owned property. "The selectmen are not being conscientious," Fraizer said. "Someone should have a plan (to protect the environment), and they don’t."

The town is looking for a firm to take out about 635,000 yards of earth material, but Frazier said all wetlands in the area should first be identified. Suzanne Fournier, of Brox Environmental Citizens, was at the board’s April 25 meeting to say the town’s request for proposals for firms to excavate gravel ignores the conditions written into the Brox master plan, as well as a Brox natural resources inventory. A warrant article passed in March allows the town to excavate about 44 acres of gravel in the area of an existing gravel pit. The town recently advertised for bids, and Fournier said the proposal for firms "allows the operator to access all areas of the site and puts it all at risk." The Brox master plan asks the town to protect vernal pools and delineate wetlands, including a 2-acre peat fen, a rare form of wetland.

The natural resource inventory "is being treated as irrelevant," said Fournier, who showed the board an aerial map of Brox, indicating with dots where endangered Blanding’s turtles have been seen in the excavation area and in the planned exit to the area. "Turtles are in the path of danger," she said. "They are all around the pit." Board members did not comment.

"The board listened to Ms. Fournier’s presentation; needless to say we do not agree with her arguments, which has been the case for most of her opinions relative to Brox," Chairman Mark Fougere said later in an email response to a question from The Cabinet.

Fournier, who founded Brox Environmental Citizens, has been pressuring selectmen for several years on conservation issues involving the 270 acres of town-owned land, saying conservation should be the highest priority. But selectmen say voters have repeatedly decided, ever since the property was purchased in 2000, that the northern half should be sold for development and the southern half saved for future community uses. Selling Brox gravel, they say, will provide the town with up to $1 million in badly needed revenue. The 2015 natural resource inventory commissioned by the Conservation Committee characterizes Brox as an "ecological gem" with a high natural resource value, and if development must occur, that it should be confined to the gravel pit area and the forested areas immediately south and east of it. The inventory concluded that development would result in "severe deleterious effects on developmentsensitive wildlife, especially the development proposed to the north and east of the school access road, which will reduce the amount of habitat … and severe land connections between wetlands." Fraizer said she would reach out to the state Fish and Game’s nongame wildlife division to see what can be done to protect the turtles.

"Selectmen have expressed concern to me that the Milford Conservation Commission is not working with them, but we were not invited to view the RFP," Fraizer said. "My fear is that things will happen, and we’ll be trying to catch up."

Blanding’s turtles are regarded as endangered in New Hampshire, according to Fish and Game. Legally protected in New Hampshire, it is illegal to possess, sell, import, harass, injure or kill them. They live and nest in wetland habitat with permanent shallow water and use vernal pools in the spring. Among the threats to their survival are roads, loss or alteration of wetland and terrestrial habitats, and fragmentation of habitat.

Last June, the town, which uses Brox earth materials for road maintenance and in cemeteries and parks, temporarily halted some loam screening there to protect nesting turtles.

In an email, Fraizer said she supports Brox Environmental Citizens and working with such organizations is in line with the commission’s responsibilities as spelled out under state law, which says conservation commissions "shall seek to coordinate the activities of unofficial bodies organized for similar purposes." "I was on the community lands at the Brox property on April 14 and saw a Blanding’s Turtle," Fraizer said. "It was amazing. They can live to 60 years old. …

The Conservation Commission encourages a study to understand how they and other species are using the Brox property before drastic alterations are made." Fournier also said she recently sighted in Brox a brown trasher, a shrubland bird that is in serious decline in New Hampshire.

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