Brandon wetland conservation plan worries some neighbors

BRANDON — One month after federal natural resource officials touted the preservation of 500 acres of wetland on Union Street, abutting neighbors of the property are voicing concerns over future flooding and mosquito issues.
The largest conservation easement in Vermont, the preservation of the tract at the former Dean farm along the Otter Creek was celebrated by a host of state and federal wildlife and agriculture officials at a ceremony at the farm on June 23. The farm is now owned by Lyn and Jim Des Marais.
But at least three neighboring property owners told the Brandon Development Review Board late last month that the plan to return the land to a wetland by removing berms and plugging ditches would increase the flooding on their land.
Abutting property owners Nancy and Charlie Jakiela; Kjell and Linda Thompson; and Missy and Bill Thompson; and Dr. Ben Lawton, chair of the Brandon Leicester Salisbury Goshen Insect Control District; were all present at the July 20 DRB meeting in the Brandon Town Hall.
Also attending was Jim Eikenberry, a wetland specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NCRS).
Eikenberry was there on behalf of U.S. Fish and Wildlife, whose representative was on vacation. The original DRB meeting covering the Des Marais was scheduled for June, but had to be rescheduled.
Even though the June 23 ceremony at the farm celebrated the easement, parties have not yet closed on the agreement. The Des Maraises will receive payment from the NCRS in exchange for giving up any development rights. While they retain hunting and fishing rights, the land is now protected from development in perpetuity.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Des Maraises need a conditional use permit from the Brandon DRB in order to restore the wetland habitat on the floodplain in question. Any development in a fluvial erosion hazard area and flood hazard zone requires a conditional use permit, according to the Brandon Land Use Ordinance.
The plan is to take out the berms (mounds of dirt) put in by farmers to redirect water away from the fields, and plug ditches that were dug to drain water from the fields in order to farm. But the acreage in question has only been used for haying in recent years, and Eikenberry said that beavers have already plugged some of the ditches in question with dams.
Based on an engineering plan for the land prepared by state conservation engineer Rob Allen, Eikenberry said the goal is to restore the wetland portion of the Des Marais property farthest from abutters where there is a pond.
“We know there are concerns with abutting property owners and flooding,” Eikenberry said. “We have no desire to make their land wetter as a result of this project.”
He said the hydrological changes that the plan covers are designed to stay within the confines of the conservation easement.
“The site will store water for a longer period of time,” Eikenberry said. “While it will not impede high water flows, the plan will not result in water higher than one foot at any point in the floodplain.”
Eikenberry also said that the NCRS takes mosquito concerns and control very seriously. He said the goal is for the land to hold two to three feet of water to accommodate fish and other species that feed on mosquitoes.
“We designed this with mosquito control in mind,” he said.
Abutting property owner Kjell Thompson wasn’t buying it.
“I can’t believe that frogs, birds and snakes are going to eat up all the mosquitoes,” he said, adding that he didn’t believe floodwaters would move through the property the same way once the plan is implemented.
Eikenberry said the current water level will not be increased.
“The ditch plug elevation will be below the beaver dams,” he said. “We will not increase current water levels at all. I understand the concerns because the land slopes in the direction of your property, but the current level of water is not going to be raised by our project.”
Another area of concern is the Thompsons and the Jakielas said they received no notice from the NRCS of the pending conservation easement.
Nancy Dean Jakiela grew up on the Dean Farm and now lives on the other side of the Otter Creek from the farm. She read a lengthy statement into the record. The Jakielas own a 2-acre house lot and a 30-acre wooded lot that currently floods in the spring, then dries out through the rest of the year. They use the land for four-wheeling, cutting firewood, walking, snowmobiling and hunting.
Jakiela said she and her husband are concerned about an increase in the snake population if the land becomes wetter, a potential decrease in their property’s value, part of their 30-acre parcel becoming inaccessible due to water, and an increase in the existing nuisance mosquito population.
Despite Eikenberry’s assurances regarding water levels and mosquito control, Jakiela was skeptical.
“In theory, a lot of things should work,” Jakiela said, “and in theory, when an engineer looks at it, it should be right. In our experience, it doesn’t always work out that way. Our concerns are real. I’ve lived there my whole life. So when an expert says it will be O.K., that doesn’t go very far with me.”
Eikenberry reiterated that research shows that rising and falling water in wetlands breeds mosquitoes, which is why the plan is to create deeper pools.
“When you have deeper pools of water, you have more mosquito predators,” Eikenberry said. “We welcome sampling in those pools. Through sampling and monitoring wetland wildlife habitat, we feel we can control the mosquito population.”
The fact that the NCRS will welcome continued mosquito sampling on the Des Marais property was good news from Dr. Ben Lawton of the BLSG. Lawton also read a statement into the record, saying that sampling from the Des Marais property over the years shows some of the highest mosquito counts in the district’s four-town area.
“The highest single count of adult mosquitoes, 14,200, in a light trap over a 24-hour period was found on the Dean Farm on July 17, 2015,” Lawton said, adding that the second-highest count was 8,000 from a culvert on Syndicate Road in Brandon. He also said that some of the highest larval counts routinely come from the farm as well.
In the past, Lawton said mosquito larvacide and adulticide has been applied in the past to the 500 acres in question under organic protocols, as well as on adjacent roadways. In 2016, Lawton said the Des Maraises expanded the no-spray zone for adulticide to the entire property, including adjacent roads, including Short Swamp and High Pond Roads, which had been previously sprayed.
“The inability to treat these roads will have an adverse effect on the treatment of mosquitoes in the Brandon area,” Lawton said.
He urged the DRB to allow the continued larval sampling and light trapping as recommended by the state entomologist, permit the use of larvacides approved for organic farm use when necessary, make sure the NCRS plan does not increase stagnant mosquito breeding areas, allow adulticide spraying on Short Swamp and High Pond Roads, and minimize flooding of the Jakiela property, where the BLSG also samples and sprays.
Lyn Des Marais then told the DRB that while they are dedicated to organic farming practices, they would like to continue all mosquito control measures.
“We can put in the conditional use that mosquito controls will continue,” she said.
But Missy Thompson said the DRB and the NCRS have to take the long view when considering the effects of altering the wetland. There was also the issue of the DRB meeting being warned properly. The town issued a warning to be printed in the Rutland Herald, but the notice was not printed in time after the paper’s print schedule was recently cut to four days a week. The warning was posted in the usual locations around town.
“We don’t want to pass on a piece of property that has too many mosquitoes,” she said. “We have animals on that land, we use it for recreation. I think with the concerns about the meeting not being warned properly, and the official who is supposed to be here being on vacation, I think the DRB should do a site visit.”
After over 90 minutes of testimony and explanation, DRB Chair Samantha Stone said the board would recess the hearing and perform a site visit of the Des Marais property on Aug. 9 at 8 a.m.
The DRB recessed the hearing until Aug. 24 at 7 p.m. The hearing will be held at the Brandon Fire Department

Share this story:

More News
News Uncategorized

Fresh Air Fund youths returning to county

The Fresh Air Fund, initiated in 1877 to give kids from New York City the opportunity to e … (read more)

Obituaries Uncategorized

Mark A. Nelson of Bristol

BRISTOL — A memorial service for Mark A. Nelson of Bristol will be held 1 p.m. on Saturday … (read more)

Sports Uncategorized

High school athletes ready for fall playoffs this week

See when your favorite high school team is competing in the fall sports playoffs.

Share this story: