Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Housing plan would protect rare turtles

By Shawn Regan

HAVERHILL — A developer is offering special protections for a habitat of the endangered Blanding's turtle to help win approval of his eight-home project on Corliss Hill Road.

Zennon Mierzwa has been seeking approval for his Fieldstone Meadows development since the mid-1990s. The land is off Route 110 near the Merrimac town line.

The city originally opposed the project, but it was approved by the state Land Court. Mierzwa must still secure local and state wetland approvals and have his latest plan reviewed by the Planning Board, Economic Development Director William Pillsbury said.

During a recent review by the Conservation Commission, a population of Blanding's turtles was documented in the East Meadow River corridor, according to a letter to the City Council from Robert Moore, Haverhill's environmental health technician.

The rear section of Mierzwa's property abuts the East Meadow corridor.

After working with state conservation officials and the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, Mierzwa agreed to place a permanent building restriction on the back 15 acres of his 24-acre property, Moore said. The homes are planned on the front portion of the land.

The Blanding's turtle is a medium-sized, semi-aquatic animal with a dark olive shell and irregular pale yellow spots, according to the Center for Amphibian and Reptile Management. It's most distinguishing feature is its bright yellow chin and throat.

The turtles' range is concentrated in the Great Lakes region and extends from southern Ontario west including Michigan, Wisconsin, northern Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, southern Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska. Isolated populations are also found in New York, Nova Scotia and from southern Maine to Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts, according to the Amphibian and Reptile Management's Web site. The Blanding's turtle is listed as endangered, threatened or of special concern in almost every state where it is found.

The species is considered to be especially sensitive to the loss of wetland habitats where it lives. The restriction on the Corliss Hill land has been endorsed by the Conservation Commission and City Council.

Source: The Eagle-Tribune

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