NORWALK, Conn. – Hal Alvord says he has no idea why Norwalk Police are investigating the Water Pollution Control Authority in a possible criminal matter.
“The police detective bureau or whoever can investigate until the cows come home because nobody has done anything criminal that I am aware of,” the director of the Department of Public Works said. “I certainly have (followed the law). My guidance has been we do things by the book. We are constantly checking to make sure we do things by the book so I don’t believe that anybody is going to find any criminal activity in this department or in the WPCA because we do it all the way we are supposed to do it.”
DPW Operations Manager Lisa Burns informed WPCA members at last week’s WPCA meeting that there was an investigation underway. Detectives were asking about May 1 and she didn’t know why, she said, although heavy rains had overwhelmed three pumping stations and sent sewage out of manholes that day.
Mayor Harry Rilling said a complaint had come into the mayor’s office and he had forwarded it to the police department.
“We don’t make specific comments on open investigations,” Chief Thomas Kulhawik said Monday. “The mayor did ask us too look into information he had received and our Detective Division was assigned to investigate.”
Deputy Corporation Counsel Jeffry Spahr was more forthcoming.
“The claim was that reports regarding an overflow event that occurred in May, I believe, were inaccurate,” Spahr wrote Monday in an email. “It was never clear to me why this was a police matter. I met with police and we decided that it would be best to turn the complaint over to the DEEP (Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection), which would appear to be the appropriate agency for researching this matter.”
“I have no idea what this investigation is about. None of us do,” Alvord said.
The charge of an overflow being under-reported is “almost laughable because two years ago the EPA Region 1 in Boston wanted to issue us an administrative order for reporting too much. If it weren’t so silly we’d be laughing. If it weren’t so damaging,” Alvord said. “… I have no idea where it’s coming from.”
The pipes occasionally get overwhelmed during a heavy rain and fill to the top, creating a pressurized situation similar to a pump, he said. This happened two weekends ago when 1.3 inches fell in a half an hour, causing flooding all over Norwalk and closing the Oyster Festival. The pipes aren’t big enough to handle the water, he said.
“That will occasionally happen in the sanitary system because there are joints that get loose, water gets in manhole tops, that kind of stuff,” Alvord said. That’s known as a bypass and must be reported to DEEP.
“Around the first of May” there were a couple of heavy rains and there was a mixture of sewage and water coming out of several manholes, he said. He said he had guessed 25 to 50 gallons when talking to a reporter about it, stressing that it was a guess.
“When the water and sewage mix comes up out of the manhole cover you don’t really know how much is there. It generally isn’t a lot that’s going to go someplace,” Alvord said. “… But generally, the OMI guys go out they vacuum up the stuff that is there. They know how much they vacuum in the vacuum truck because you can measure it in gallons and that is the basis of your report going to the DEEP.”
Occasionally, a bypass occurs because there is a break in a sewer main, he said. In that case it’s a matter of arithmetic. “You can measure what the flow was from that break and from the time it first started and then do the math,” Alvord said. “… So the measurement of what gets reported is always an estimate because you have to rely on when the first report came in, what the flow is, in other words you are doing arithmetic to figure out what the total bypass was.”
Plus, whatever is vacuumed from the pipe or the manhole is not a bypass and it goes into the same tank as the sewage that was on the street, he said. In other words, far from an exact science.
Alvord said it’s common knowledge that some communities do not report small spills.
“What I have told my people is – Lisa and Ralph, and her staff, OMI – I don’t give a damn how small it is, I want it reported,” Alvord said, asserting that everything is on the up and up. “If anything comes out of a manhole cover, that’s a bypass, report it. That’s what we do so we submit a lot of bypass reports to the DEEP.”