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ConsCom to wait for spring before declaring vernal pool


TOWNSEND — Dr. Sherman Bull and his wife, Peggy, will soon be moving to Townsend from their current home in Connecticut. They have chosen Townsend to live out their latter years, purchasing a piece of land on Gilchrist Street with the intention of building a farm, to enjoy in their retirement.

One of the things the couple hopes to do with the land is grade the field to plant an orchard. Their real estate agent, Roger Goscombe, appeared before the Conservation Commission with a Request to Determine Applicability (RDA) for the land. However, the commission ultimately decided that a determination would have to wait until the spring, when the members can better investigate the land.

The problem lies with a small wetland area within the field and whether it is subject to the Townsend general wetlands bylaw and/or the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act.

The commission’s primary concern is whether the wetlands area is a vernal pool, a small body of water that fills to capacity during the spring, after the winter thaw, but tends to dry out during the summer, sometimes completely. A number of species rely on temporary vernal pools for breeding.

“It looks at though it will be a bylaw wetland, but not under state,” said Commissioner Michelle Cannon. “(But) we can’t check that particular condition right now.”

The Bulls, Goscombe told the commission, “are very conservation-minded people. We’re reclaiming the fields.”

He told the commission that surveys had been done on the “50-plus” acres and a tree service had restored fields a bit in the spring, removing stumps and evening out some topsoil.

Cannon agreed with Goscombe’s assessment of the land after examining a map of the plot at 54 Gilchrist Street.

“It was historically fields,” Cannon said. “I can tell that from looking at the paper.”

“I think this wetland was man-made, eventually,” Goscombe suggested.

During the restoration work done on the land, Goscombe said artifacts from a bygone dwelling had been found, including part of a foundation from an old building and what might be a well. Then again, “it could also be a pile of rocks,” he laughed.

“The pattern of stone walls indicates past use of the land,” Cannon remarked.

The structures undoubtedly predate the current old farmhouse on the property; a building the Bulls are thinking about moving to another section of the land due to its potential historical value. In its place, a “modest” house would be built since the old one simply does not serve their needs, Goscombe noted.

“They would like to install a pond at one point,” he added.

All such plans, however, will have to wait until the Bulls receive RDA approval from the commission.

“I’m a little hesitant I would want to check it,” Commissioner Jennifer Pettit said.

If the small wetlands area does turn out to be standing water, commissioners told Goscombe, it might make sense to consider replicating it. Goscombe admitted that he did not know if it was a vernal pool or standing water, though he believed that it was not a vernal pool. He told the commission he would check with his engineering firm.

The three commission members present — Cannon, Pettit and Chairman Karen Chapman — voted unanimously to continue the hearing until a date to be determined in the spring.

Goscombe informed the commission he might be back sooner for a permit approval, if needed, as soon as the housing plans were finalized.

“This is certainly the most interesting RDA we’ve ever had,” Cannon said with a laugh.