“I’m not leaving because I’m unhappy,” said Pat Sesto, Wilton’s soon-to-be-former director of environmental affairs. “This is just a neat opportunity that I wish was coming up three years from now. You don’t get to choose when opportunity knocks.”
In this case, the opportunity for Sesto is a position with the town of Greenwich, where she will lead a seven-member inland wetlands department.
The hardest part about leaving the department she’s run since 1992? Her many coworkers and co-conservators.
“I’m going to miss the people,” she said at her office Thursday. “I have so many great conservation partners here in town and I love my ‘work family.’ Leaving them is going to be hard.”
As anyone who has requested a permit from the Inland Wetlands Commission can confirm, the department is as fast as it can be, processing more than 100 applications a year.
“We’re such a well-oiled machine, and in the broader community I have always been well-supported by the community and by lots and lots of conservation partners and friends,” Sesto said.
A career-long proponent of open space acquisition by municipal governments, Sesto has led Wilton’s conservation efforts to the tune of 437 acres — helping preserve countless meadows, fields and woodlands as open space.
“Open space, clean water and natural resources make the character of this town, and the character of the town dictates property values remaining high,” she said.
“I hope the community here has come to expect and respect that this is a valued department that shapes the town as much as Planning and Zoning.”
While Sesto says she’s happy her department and commission issue more positive than negative decisions, she’s proud of leading a department that has stood up to environmental threats.
“This was the department that represented the town when the 345 kV power line was proposed. We represented the town at the state level, and we changed the outcome for Wilton.
“The power lines still came through, but they came through underground,” a costly but much more environmentally friendly method, she said.
Even on a smaller scale, however, Sesto is proud of “treating the land one parcel at a time,” finding fair compromises between landowners’ wants and the environment’s needs.
She cited Kevin O’Brien, a well-known real estate adviser in town, as saying, “You never get denials at Inland Wetlands. But I go in asking for the Big Mac and I come away with a small fries.”
One project she looks back on specifically was the creation of a fishing pond at a property on the New Canaan border. Unlike most ponds in the area, which are simply dredged and are often covered in algae, this one was scientifically designed.
“It was one of the more fun and extravagant projects we’ve worked on,” she said. “The owner had a fisheries guy come in from Montana, and there were underwater habitats built specifically for the kind of fish that lie in wait for food. There were nesting areas built, and different water depths and temperatures [for the fish]. That was a really neat project.”
Overall, Sesto said, “I hope that I’ve helped some people, because that was always my intent.”