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Railroad agrees to stop filling wetlands

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Although it maintains the town has no jurisdiction over its property, the Housatonic Railroad has agreed to voluntarily abide by the town's cease-and-desist order and submit a permit application for wetlands remediation work near the company's trash transfer station in Hawleyville, Conn., off Route 25, local newspapers report.  

The agreement was reached after
railroad officials were summoned before the Newtown Wetlands Commission to
answer the town’s order. By the session’s end, five of the six commissioners
voted to uphold the cease-and-desist order and give the railroad until Sept. 9
to submit a completed application. Commissioner Ed Byron abstained.

"With respect to your
cease-and-desist order, while we are requesting that it be withdrawn and we
believe that it is outside your jurisdiction to order, we plan to voluntarily
suspend all fill activities in that area, until it has been reviewed — and
hopefully we can make a decision together," Ed Rodriguez, the general
counsel and vice president of the railroad, told commissioners.

Wetlands Commission
Chairwoman Anne Peters, however, countered: "We have authority within 100
feet of wetlands and watercourses, so that means your activity would be subject
to our jurisdiction."

The fill work is being done
as part of the railroad’s project to expand its trash transfer station.

Ann Astarita, the wetlands
enforcement officer who issued the cease-and-desist order, said, as of
Wednesday, fill was still being brought to the site. "As far as I can see,
it consists of brick, cement, various pieces of metal and sand," she said.

Rodriguez admitted areas
were filled, but said none of the fill went into wetlands. "It is true
that some additional filling on our property occurred since (receiving the
cease-and-desist order Aug. 13), but no filling of the wetlands occurred since
that date," he said. Rodriguez said he was embarrassed about the mistake,
which occurred because of a miscommunication with his contractor. "If
additional work had not occurred on the property since that occurred, I don’t
think we’d be there tonight," Rodriguez said.

Furthermore, he only agreed
to submit a permit application for the wetlands remediation if "we are not
required to forfeit our legal position that we are not legally subject to the
jurisdiction of the town."

"So you are reserving
the right to not only appeal it, but to say we do not have jurisdiction and to
subsequently ignore it?" Peters asked.

"I don’t like your
characterization of it, but essentially yes," Rodriguez said.

A few hours before the
Wetlands Commission’s hearing on the cease-and-desist order issued to the
Housatonic Railroad Co. for failure to comply with a July 24 wetlands notice of
violation, the state attorney general stepped in — backing Newtown.

"Your non-compliance is
a flagrant violation of state law and properly exercised municipal authority —
a violation I will not tolerate," Attorney General Richard Blumenthal
wrote to the railroad.

"You must immediately
comply with the law, or I will work with Newtown and the Department of
Environmental Protection in taking prompt action in court to enforce the
law."

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