Fiddich Review Centre

Conservation Commission weighs options to protect Meriden peak

MERIDEN — As Suzio York Hill gears up to resume traprock extraction near Chauncey Peak this spring, the Conservation Commission is exploring options to protect the popular hiking destination from potential damage from the use of explosives for quarrying. 

Chauncey Peak, renowned for its dramatic cliffs and bird’s eye view, is also the site of a fierce debate, pitting environmentalists against Suzio York Hill thanks to the peak’s proximity to quarrying operations conducted by the crushed trap rock, asphalt and concrete supplier. 

In November, the Mattabesett Trail was rerouted indefintiely near the top of the mountain due to to work at the Suzio York Hill quarry. The detour still allows Mattabesett hikers to witness an extensive mountain view and summit Chauncey Peak, but they are now flanked by orange fencing while doing so. Suzio York Hill Vice President Ric Suzio said the company will begin quarrying in an area adjacent to the trail. Though altering the pathway of the loop encircling the Bradley Hubbard Reservoir, Suzio said the company will not interfere with major hiking trails.

Quarrying is defined as the process of cutting into rock or ground to extract stone or minerals. The practice relies on open-air excavation and mining, frequently deploys explosives and has been linked to land and water quality damage by British environmental researchers.

Suzio insists his company will not further encroach upon the peak, takes “all precautions necessary” to prevent blast damage and makes “smaller blasts” near trails, but his commitments do little to assuage the concerns of naturalists who cite the uncommon geography of Chauncey Peak and the Suzio York Hill quarry as the focal point of their concerns.

The deed which first leased out land to Suzio York Hill allows the company to operate within 50 feet of the peak, ideally leaving space for a natural protective buffer between a demolition zone and exposed rock.

Yet, Meriden Conservation Commission Vice Chair Eric Barbour said the cliffs of Chauncey Peak are unique in that they lack a natural barrier between themselves and the nearby mining zone, heightening the risk of unintentional damage to the landmark or contaminating the Bradley Hubbard Reservoir resting at the cliffs’ base. The commission added the Chauncey Peak trail diversion to its agenda for discussion at a meeting last week. 

Barbour spoke to anxiety among peak enthusiasts that Suzio York Hill may eventually decide to quarry closer to the edge after exhausting trap rock resources at current blast sites, harming the landmark in the process.

“The concern was that they’re not going to hold off forever because the site is so steep,” Barbour said. “They can’t go any further without [doing damage].”

Of the options floated to safeguard Chauncey Peak last week, commission members initially floated the idea of adjusting the ridgeline ordinance Article VII, a city law shielding Meriden trap rock ridges from development. As of now, the protections outlined in Article VII explicitly exclude Chauncey Peak. 

But, commission Secretary David Rauch said while amending this ordinance is possible, it is virtually a non-starter given its uphill climb to become municipal law and the fact that doing so would not change current, contractually enshrined ownership of the land area adjacent to the peak. 

The most probable recourse for the commission, Rauch said, would be launching a grassroots fundraiser to purchase the land near Chauncey Peak from Suzio York Hill.

“That would be very difficult because it would be changing the law and taking somebody’s property, and that’s bad,” Rauch said “If the public wants control of that property, then they should buy it and they should be willing to sell it.”

Buying out the company through crowd-funding would prove to be a daunting task, however, with Suzio stating the land in question is “not for sale,” and suggesting hikers, in his view, appreciate quarrying near Chauncey Peak for sightseeing.  

“People enjoy the fact that it’s that close,” Suzio said. “We get several postings of people who enjoy looking over one side at the reservoir and then seeing an active working quarry on the other.”

As an alternative, the commission discussed lobbying state lawmakers to secure grant funding through designating Chauncey Peak as a vital natural landmark.

Rauch said Connecticut state law requires municipalities to justify land grant requests through proving the area is “unique valuable habitat.” Rauch conceded Chauncey Peak might not meet those criteria, but the Bradley Hubbard Reservoir may, given its interest as a water source and the potential for contamination from quarrying.

“One of the things that this commission could consider doing is…having somebody do the land survey, do the evaluation of the quarry property, so that a grant request could be put in to the state to ask for money to buy out that part of the quarry,” Rauch said.

Rauch acknowledged intricacies of acquiring grants and obtaining protected designations for large swaths of land, but remained optimistic about the city’s prospects should it choose to seek support in the legislature.

Rauch expressed hopes lawmakers would look favorably on the commission thanks to a lack of state-protected land in city, providing Meriden with a secured green space of its own, 

“In Meriden, the only state owned property is a sliver of land…that’s probably really in Middlefield, not in Meriden, so we haven’t gotten state money that other communities have gotten.” Rauch said. “So, to ask for our trap rock ridges to be made into state property seems to be a reasonable thing to do.”

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