BETHLEHEM — This month, the Town Board approved the acquisition of a little more than 22 acres of land adjacent to South Bethlehem Park. The Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company purchased the property last year and is granting it to the town in exchange for impacting approximately five and a half acres of wetland in Bethlehem to complete its Connecticut Expansion project.
Tennessee Gas received the necessary approval from the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) to disturb the protected lands in September 2016, contingent upon a wetland mitigation plan with a land preservation component, according to a memorandum written by the Department of Economic Development and Planning. This meant that the gas company was required to purchase property in the approximate area of the disturbed wetlands and commit a certain amount of wetlands on that property to preservation.
The Onesquethaw Creek flows through the northeast corner of the property at 437 Bridge St., which had previously been identified by the town as a desirable acquisition. In 2015, the Town Board approved $40,000 in ‘Parkland Set Aside Funds’ to purchase the land for the potential future expansion of the adjacent park. Upon learning that the ACOE mitigation plan had identified the parcel as suitable for preservation and Tennessee Gas would be acquiring it and placing restrictive covenants on more than seven and a half acres, the town decided not to pursue the purchase. Instead, Tennessee Gas has agreed to simply convey the property to the town at no cost.
Within the 7.675 acres of restricted land on the property, a tree clearing restriction has been placed on 7.035 acres of upland forest adjacent to Onesquethaw Creek, and on 0.639 acres of an agricultural field adjacent to the existing forest area that will be planted with native tree species for reforestation. Tennessee Gas is required to implement and maintain the reforested area until ACOE provides final approval.
The town’s future plans for the property may include recreation lacrosse fields, per a discussion that took place during a Town Board meeting on May 13, 2015. The town’s five-year Capital Plan identifies a master plan for South Bethlehem Park to be prepared in 2018. At that time, a layout plan, preliminary development costs, and further analysis of any potential impacts will be evaluated.
“It’s of value to the town from an open space perspective. It also provides some recreational benefits,” said Planning Director Rob Leslie of the town’s new land. “But there are no plans in place at this moment for those recreational improvements.”
All five board members voted to approve the conveyance, and passed a resolution declaring that there would be no significant environmental impacts resulting from the transfer.