NORWALK, Conn. – An outside law firm ran up a tab of more than $24,000 representing Norwalk in its successful bid to renew its sewage treatment plant permit, documents provided by Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord show.
Alvord told members of the Common Council Finance Committee at their May 8 meeting that the sewage treatment plant permit “protest” had cost $50,000. NancyOnNorwalk asked him to provide copies of the bills to substantiate that. On Monday, Alvord turned over four invoices from Verrill Dana, a Maine law firm, totaling $24,545.
The “protest” Alvord spoke of began with a petition with 36 signatures, which forced the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) to hold a series of public hearings on the matter. Diane Lauricella, a self-described “good governance advocate,” spearheaded the petition and made at least two trips to Hartford to testify about the plant. A hearing in December in Norwalk drew about 15 people, some of whom said the plant occasionally smelled, some of whom said they were worried about flooding in a storm surge.
The issue came up on May 8 because the Finance Committee was considering the 2014-15 Water Pollution Control Authority operating budget. Councilman Jerry Petrini (R-District D) asked Alvord why the legal expenses were “up quite a bit.”
“We have some permitting things that needed to be done, we use outside counsel for that,” Alvord said. “You know, there was a protest against reissuing the permit for the sewage treatment plant. The tail end of those costs – the majority of those costs were in the current fiscal year. But some follow into that – the final permit has not yet been issued. It’s going to be issued. It’s going to be issued in its original form, it’s just that it would have happened a year ago without the protest and it’s costing us, you know, $50,000 more.”
On Monday, he said he could only provide documentation of Norwalk’s outside legal costs. DEEP also spent a considerable sum of money, he said, but he didn’t have the time to track down a dollar figure on that.
The $24,545 does not include Norwalk’s staff time, he said.
“OMI people put in a ton of time on this stuff,” he said. “Our people … put in a lot of time, there were a number of trips back and forth to Hartford. (There were) at least a couple of meetings in Hartford, then another one here.”
In February, when word was received that the permit was renewed, Alvord gave a slightly different rendition of the costs.
“We’ve spent $25,000,” he said. “The DEEP has spent a similar amount of money.”
Public Works Committee Chairman David McCarthy (R-District E) attacked the request for a hearing in a November editorial that said “… the city will now be forced to spend perhaps in excess of several hundred thousands of dollars to go through a series of legal hearings that will undoubtedly certify that the plant operates at the highest levels of efficiency and safety.”