The Environment Committee of the Representative Town Meeting took stock of the legislative landscape for the year ahead at its Thursday meeting with a wide-ranging discussion of issues -- from open-space properties to trees to artificial turf playing fields -- it hopes to tackle.
"What I'd like to do is use our meeting to some extent as a forum," said Wendy Batteau, District 8, who is the committee's new chairwoman.
State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-136, shared information on his work at the state level, including the Shoreline Preservation Taskforce. "The ultimate goal for many of us would be create a comprehensive water plan," he said, noting that it's been tried before, but has never found footing.
"We lack all sorts of good baseline data in water supply availability and supply across the state," he said, calling the subject a hornet's nest. "It's a huge undertaking, but it's better to do this now then to wait until we have a water crisis."
"We're maybe not that far away from having water supply issues," he added.
The removal of the trees lining the driveway at Longshore Club Park -- which sparked controversy before the decision was made to go ahead with the plan -- was also discussed, along with plans for planting new trees.
"At the meeting on Saturday morning they made it clear that there would be no talk of what happened next," Diane Cady, District 1, referring to an informational meeting First Selectman Jim Marpe and Parks and Recreation Director Stuart McCarthy held Jan. 12 to explain why the 15 old-growth trees would have to be cut down.
"It seems like an unhappy time to be cutting down trees," she said. "While they look sad with some lack of winter growth ... they still have some dignity left to them."
She suggested the town hire a landscape architect to design the park driveway for future generations. She said she believes there were many people in town who would support that expense.
"It's not worth just assuming that it's going to be what it was, even in 50 years," she said, noting that many of the trees that have been planted there in recent years are not large shades trees similar to the tulip and maple trees being removed.
Regarding the recently outsourced maintenance for Longshore Golf Course, Batteau said the committee should be informed about the firm's use of pesticides, which they previously were able to monitor when town crews did the job.
"There's going to be an outside company doing that, so we need to find a way to follow up," she said. Stuart McCarthy, the parks and recreation director, "had said that information would be open," she said.
"I think we should be telling them what goes on the golf course," Cady said, and the committee members agreed it might be worth making a diplomatic suggestion.
"I had a list of what we were putting on and it was really scary stuff," Batteau said of past maintenance practices. "Some of it was spot or on an as-needed basis ... but if it gets to the point where someone decides to put down tons and tons of pesticides ... that would be a problem and I think we just want to know what they're doing."
The committee also discussed the future of the artificial turf athletic fields in town, which continue to be the subject of debate over possible health risks.
"Meanwhile we have these turf fields that are toxic," Batteau said.
Another member noted that the temperature on the artificial turf fields is often 10 degrees hotter and that there have been reports of children burning their feet through their shoes.
"That's another topic that I think could come under the topic of environmental improvement," Batteau said.