When Michael Girard presented his Peck Orchard Knoll excavation proposal to the Planning and Zoning Commission of Granby, CT, he and his engineer claimed that there was no realistic chance of environmental damage. The proposal called for removing about 100,000 cubic yards of sand and gravel from the site, a hilly residential lot.

The proposal was withdrawn after the Commission showed reluctance to give Peck Orchard Knoll carte blanche to excavate… and because it turns out that they didn’t need a special permit to create what is, in essence, a strip-mining operation on a residential lot in Granby. A simple building permit, issued after pro forma inspection, suffices under Granby’s regulations. However, the plans submitted with the building permit application were substantially the same as the special-excavation plans.

A warm weekend, causing almost two feet of snowpack to start melting, shows evidence that Peck Orchard Knoll’s claims that runoff wouldn’t be a problem were… inaccurate.

While the plans call for Phase One to be a driveway with various sediment controls, the actual first phase of the project is using an old wood road that was cut illegally close to the adjoining property line, according to the town’s previous building inspector. The wood road has been “improved” with crushed stone, but without any inherent runoff controls.

Gravel access road into Peck Orchard Knoll showing muddy runoff leaving the property and heading down Peck Orchard Road

The “wood road” access road into Peck Orchard Knoll, Sunday, March 9, 2014.

The result, as seen here, is a river of muddy water, laden with sediment, running down Peck Orchard Road.

Peck Orchard Knoll access road, showing muddy, sediment-laden water entering the road and running downhill

View of Peck Orchard Knoll access road facing uphill.

Runoff does run down Peck Orchard Road for quite a ways, and a fair amount of water comes down the hill from above Peck Orchard Knoll. However, much of it leaves the road in the swale just uphill from the access road. On this day, the runoff that did come from uphill was practically clear. All of the brown, muddy sediment in these photos is coming from Peck Orchard Knoll. There is a fair amount of sand on the side of the road; Granville plows Peck Orchard Road, and they use a sand/salt mix. However, the sand mix is clean, and doesn’t create mud, especially not this long after the last snowstorm. In the next picture, you can clearly see how clean the “upstream” water (on the right) is, and how muddy the runoff from Peck Orchard Knoll (left) is.

Close-up showing contrast between practically clear water from uphill and deep brown muddy water from Peck Orchard Knoll's access road

Clear runoff in the center/right is from uphill on Peck Orchard Road. Mud at the left is entirely from Peck Orchard Knoll’s access road. Water is flowing downhill, toward the top of the photo.

What about the sediment control? Well, to be fair, Peck Orchard Knoll did install some sediment controls for this wood road. There are hay bales:

Crushed-stone driveway with muddy runoff; along the left edge of the driveway, there is a stack of hay bales neatly piled on top of the snow, completely out of the potential path of any runoff.

POK’s access road. Note sediment-control hay bales (stacked, on left).

And there’s also landscaping cloth:

A used, haphazardly-bundled section of black landscaping cloth, with wooden stakes entwined within, sitting on the snow beyond another landscape-cloth silt fence bordering the POK access road

This bundle of landscaping cloth was, at one time, placed across POK’s access road when they weren’t working. On Sunday, it was carelessly discarded, near (or possibly over) the property line.

Obviously, the Simscroft-Echo Farms employees who are excavating the site didn’t think that it was critical to reinstall the erosion-control system before leaving the site the last time they were working. They aren’t working every day; they’re removing sand when they have a buyer for it. They certainly weren’t working this past weekend, when temperatures were as high as the mid-fifties.

The effect of this negligence is a new river delta in front of Linda Varcoe’s home on Peck Orchard Road:

Sediment lining Peck Orchard, with a broad swath of muddy runoff  crossing the width of the road

The sediment on the left is mostly dirt, mud, and stone dust from the wood road. Some of it is road sand, but notice the muddy texture: road sand doesn’t look like that.

The entire width of Peck Orchard is coated with runoff here. At night, when the temperatures drop below freezing, this will be black ice.

You can also see here that the road is starting to break down from the runoff, perhaps enhanced by the additional heavy truck traffic. Unlike Hartland, Granby does not routinely seal cracks on Peck Orchard Road. However, historically the road has been lightly used and has held up pretty well. This year, it’s a different story.

Muddy runoff pouring into a  two-inch-wide, long crack in the middle of Peck Orchard Road's uphill travel lane; asphalt debris is visible nearby. Muddy runoff fills half the travel lane.

It’s small now, but let’s see how it looks in a week after some freeze/thaw cycles.

This isn’t just a little extra runoff; it’s substantial sediment running the length of Peck Orchard Road.

Quick-flowing runoff traveling through thick muddy sediment covering one-third of Peck Orchard Road's uphill travel lane.

Some of the runoff continues all the way down the road. However, much of it enters a culvert near this road sign.

Fast-moving muddy runoff courses down Peck Orchard Road. Much of it flows into a culvert at the side of the road, hidden under snow. However, a stream of it continues down the road into the distance.

No small amount of sediment is entering this culvert, hundreds of feet downhill from Peck Orchard Knoll’s driveway.

A drainage grate is partially seen underneath a crust of ice and snow at the edge of the road. A thick layer of sediment—some of it road sand, some of it mud—creates eddies in a stream of very muddy water flowing into the grate. A discarded Nantucket Nectars bottle lies in the gutter.

Peck Orchard Road also has a litter problem. Unusually, this drink container isn’t for an alcoholic beverage.

This grate enters a culvert under Peck Orchard Road. It drains on the other side.

Covered with deep snow, a gulley in the downhill side of Peck Orchard Road leads toward Fox Brook, about 100 feet downhill of the culvert opening and currently covered with ice and snow. As such, the brook itself isn't immediately visible.

The culvert’s drainage channel comes out just uphill of Fox Brook, currently frozen over and covered with snow.

Click the photo to see a larger version. Because of the cold winter, Fox Brook is a bit hard to see; it’s in the floor of the valley seen in the background, currently covered with ice and snow. While you can’t see the runoff from this culvert in this picture, it is there, underneath the snow.

That river of mud is heading straight for Fox Brook.

And Fox Brook, a few hundred feet later, empties into Salmon Brook.

These are the wetlands that Peck Orchard Knoll said would be unaffected by their work. During the public meetings, there were those who scoffed at the suggestion that silt and sediment would enter the Fox Brook watershed.

Yet here we are, barely into snowmelt season, and it’s already happening.

We’ve still got a foot of snow to melt.

We haven’t gotten any spring rains yet.

And there’s the potential for so much more runoff, because—let’s not forget—this is a strip mine:

The Peck Orchard Knoll mining site, showing two- to three-foot deep raw cuts into topsoil, as well as exposed hillsides of fine light-grey sand, all unprotected from the elements and with no visible erosion-control measures. A large backhoe is parked on the hillside, where it was excavating sand. A large expanse of freshly-clearcut land extends uphill from these cuts, covered in snowfall.

This unprotected, raw topsoil is already washing down Peck Orchard Road just from snowmelt. What happens if we get a thunderstorm?

There’s nothing left to protect the land here. The topsoil has been scraped aside and piled uphill. There are raw cuts exposing feet of topsoil. A pit of sand is exposed to the elements. Notably absent from the work zone is any form of erosion control whatsoever. That pile of topsoil is wholly unprotected. The banks are unprotected, even as a thick pack of snow is exposed to direct sunlight thanks to the clear-cutting of the property. There’s nothing in place to keep it from washing down the road and into the creek.

Well, except those hay bales and that length of sediment fence.

You know, piled up where it won’t get dirty.

But even if it were in place, is it reasonable to think that such a rudimentary structure would suffice?

Would it hold up to an April thunderstorm?

Just a few months into this excavation—which Girard said could take years to complete—and already, these promises of environmental responsibility appear to have fallen by the wayside. I’m scared to imagine what damage will be wrought to the neighborhood by the fall.

In the meantime, the Town of Granby can’t even scrape up enough people to make a quorum to meet and discuss possible drafts of potential changes that might get enacted to change Granby’s zoning regulations to stop this sort of thing. From my point of view, it simply doesn’t seem to be a priority for Granby’s land-use-governance officials.


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