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Alvord produces bill: $24K for sewage treatment plant hearing

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.

Norwalk sewage treatment plant 005
A display from December’s Norwalk sewage treatment permit hearing.

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.”

Norwalk NPDES permit 2014 invoice

Comments

20 responses to “Alvord produces bill: $24K for sewage treatment plant hearing”

  1. John Hamlin

    Question: Maybe if there was more information provided to the public in the first place there would not be the widespread suspicion that the City was hiding something? Transparency tends to cost less in the long run. And good government costs money, no question. On the subject of wasted money — shouldn’t taxpayers be more concerned about $500,000 studies that the City then ignores than about a mere $24,000 that helps shed light on a legitimate concern? And since when does anyone include “staff time” in calculating costs? I think we should be consistent about doing that when we look at every project or none at all.

  2. Diane C2

    Aren’t these bills alone enough reason for the mayor to finally fire Hal Alvord?

    BTW, did Mr. Alvord produce the actual back up documentation for each of the payment vouchers? I’d like to see exactly what he authorized as $24,000 of legal work for a two hour public hearing.

  3. Don’t Panic

    Perhaps the public should start producing bills for the amounts of their time that get wasted by Mr. Alvord and his decisions. Should we submit “bills” for the hours spent negotiating for information that is in his department’s charge, making requests of the state when he stonewalls, the repairs to our vehicles from poorly maintained roads, the endless administrative time keeping track of items that are obscurely labeled on public works committee agendas and watching the web site, and all the self-service we are required to do even though we are paying taxes to the city to provide them.
    .
    He does appear to suddenly have time for a public relations campaign as he senses his fortunes are turning here in Norwalk.

  4. Soylent Green

    LOL. Sure, attack Hal. Not the [person] who pushed for the hearing in the first place. Meanwhile, Bridgeport and New Haven continue to spill gazillions of gallons of effluence that ends up on our shores and she is totally silent about that. […]

    This comment has been edited to comply with our policy.

  5. John Levin

    Maine?

  6. Casey Smith

    Interesting comments here. So, Mr. Alvord made a claim and backed it up, but people still want him fired? Oh yeah, that’s definitely the way to go. Has the City finished the process with the former Town Clerk employee yet? Does anyone know how much that cost the City in legal fees? And that was with reasonable cause. Or how about what it cost us all for letting Haselkamp go?
    .
    Mr. Alvord claimed it cost $50,000 for the hearing and then produced the payment vouchers as he was asked to do. That covered 50% of the cost and it would be reasonable to assume the staff had to gather information along with the outside contractor for the legal firm. Having to submit documents to the court for something last year myself, it took a great deal of time tracking down documents and having things notarized and that was for just one person. And there were only local travel costs involved for me.
    .
    Considering this whole issue came up over a question about increased legal fees and the documentation that was provided, I find it ironic that people want to incur more legal costs over the issue.

  7. Suzanne

    Mr. Alvord needs to appoint a Czar of Record Keeping so that these continual misrepresentations of costs due to public comment are not repeated. The public has a right to know where their tax dollars are going. That a department head does not know what those figure amounts are when there is a protest is not just bad governance – it is bad business. This is a consistent problem with this department. No wonder taxpayers object: they cannot trust that what is presented for a given issue by the DPW is actually true or correct and this article, citing everything from McCarthy’s “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to Mr. Alvord’s $50,000, then $25,000 makes it hard to trust the veracity of any DPW figures. Saying what has been presented, I assume as requested by NON with voucher or receipt back up, did not include staff time is a big yawn and more of the same. Why isn’t Mr. Alvord keeping verifiable staff time costs? Lifting the level of government to business standards is the least he could do: after all, this is not a business person’s money we are talking about. It is our’s.

  8. Mike Mushak

    Amen to John Hamlin and Diane Cece’s comments. Mr. Alvord’s characterization of the 36 people who signed the petition as “protesting the permit” is another one of Mr. Alvord’s famous mis-statements, to be polite. No one “protested” the permit. The hearing was a legally sanctioned part of the process to have an opportunity to have question answered, and Mr. Alvord and Dave McCarthy were simply annoyed by that pesky public looking over their shoulders. And why shouldn’t we be concerned? Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Alvord repeatedly described the plant as “award-winning”, completely ignoring the 2011 state consent decree from DEEP after Norwalk “screwed up” as the state put it, as seen here http://www.ctpost.com/local/article/Aging-and-failing-wastewater-plants-sending-1308610.php#page-2
    .
    This is from the link:
    .

    “Norwalk’s system discharged raw sewage 28 times in 2010, mostly in periods of heavy rain. A ruptured main pipe and equipment failure contributed to three of the incidents.
    When these types of failures in any system cause sewage discharges, the DEP looks to consent decrees.
    “In these cases we tell towns, `OK, guys, you screwed up. Tell us how you plan to fix it, and then fix it,”’ said Greci. “We prefer to get consent decrees, where we say, `We’ve got enough to whap you upside the head. Take care of this.’ We establish realistic timelines and accomplishable goals in our consent orders. We know what the realities are.”
    .
    Also, the contractor running the plant in a 20 year, $13 million contract paid for by taxpayers was investigated by federal EPA criminal investigators for contract violations including a raid on their offices at the treatment plant as seen here:http://www.waterindustry.org/New%20Projects/OMI-3.htm.
    .
    There have been many ongoing episodes over the years of eye-watering sewage odors spreading over Liberty Square in East Norwalk, and South Norwalk where hundreds of millions of new development are planned. When folks complained, Mr. Alvord dismissed the complaints as “low tide” odors, even when the odors happened at high tide. After years of denying there was any problem with how the plant handled odors, this year, lo and behold, Mr. Alvord requested funds to upgrade the building that handles the sludge where the odors emanate from. If there was no problem before, why spend the taxpayer’s money to upgrade the building yet again? Instead of being honest about it, the public was told basically that they were crazy and there was nothing wrong. Then why fix it now?
    .
    Based on all of these problems, and years of being lied to by officials, representatives of the shellfish, recreational boating, environmental, and fishing communities had EVERY right to question officials before the state permit was granted. When the public was being told the plant was “award-winning” (which were self-requested industry awards not involving on site inspections), while the plant is under state decree for dumping raw sewage into our precious harbor 28 times in 2010 alone, closing shellfish beds and fouling Norwalk’s greatest natural asset that supports a thriving oyster industry, well, can you blame them for being concerned?
    .

  9. Oldtimer

    Unless those invoices are detailed and show very clearly that this law firm was paid only to represent the City at the permit renewal process and nothing else, I would still have my doubts. Why would the City need outside counsel for such a simple process ? That permit has been renewed regularly for a long time. Did he produce any figures to show how much was spent the last time it was renewed without requiring a public hearing ? He is claiming all of this expense is the result of a petition for a public hearing, the extra cost of the hearing process. It still fall far short of McCarthy’s hundreds of thousands.

  10. Joe Espo

    Thanks Diane C, Diane L, Mike M, and all the others who staged this very expensive protest just for the hell of it. $24 k could have been used to fix a sidewalk or two, instead.

  11. EveT

    Did anyone else notice the “eye-watering sewage odors spreading over Liberty Square in East Norwalk” after the heavy rain on May 8-9?

  12. Peter Parker

    Just another example of Alvord’s incompetence, inaccurate information dissemination, and his total and blatant disregard for Norwalk taxpayers!

    Alvord’s position serves at the will of the Mayor, so again I am compelled to ask, when will this Mayor do something about him?. Alvord’s unchecked conduct will undoubtedly lead to the Mayor’s demise In the next election.

  13. Peter Parker

    @ Casey Smith, Your comments don’t make any sense. Alvord’s actions have proven him incompetent, among other things, time and time again. Good business practice would be to [make a move to replace the man] quickly and cleanly, and absorb any cost sooner rather than later. The longer the Mayor waits, the worse the stink form the garbage will get, as will the cost. Delaying the discharge of Mr. Alvord will only cost the Taxpayers more, and quite possibly any chance of the Mayor’s reelection.

    This comment has been edited to comply with our policy

  14. Peter Parker

    What were presented are not even invoices, they’re request for payment vouchers, which are a totally different thing. Where are the invoices, and why did the City have to go all the way to Maine to secure a law firm to do the work?

  15. Casey Smith

    Mr. Parker, I would be very careful about describing a City employee as “trash” and I’m somewhat surprised that NON let that comment be posted.
    .
    You claim incompetence but show no evidence of it. Kindly remember that Mr. Alvord was asked by a Council Member why the legal costs were increased in the budget. He answered the question and now everyone is furious with him. Also remember that he did not start the hearing process that incurred these costs.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @Casey

      You are correct. Sometimes we miss things when catching up in the morning, especially when they are written by a commenter who is not on automatic moderation due to past comments. We do need to sleep sometime, and we tend to work all night so you all can have fresh stories with your morning coffee. We tried putting all comment on moderation but that was roundly booed. We hope that those commenters will restrain themselves from taking advantage of those periods when we are away from the keyboard (remember, we are a two-person editorial operation)

      That said, I think the expression that was part of that comment is fairly common to describe eliminating a problem, and was sort of borderline as online comments go. It wasn’t the kind of direct name-calling that we have been seeing an explosion of recently, but, upon further review, it did not quite pass the smell test.

      Thanks for your input.

  16. Suzanne

    Mr. Chapman, Quick comment. I think your editorial policies are working. I see a lot more “conversation” about the issues and a lot less personality driven invective. Congratulations.

    To those who object to the 36 petitioners who requested this hearing: it is called a DEMOCRACY. Those who need a hearing get to be heard. Those in government, in service to the people (the complainers seem to forget that), must listen to the concerns. If that costs money, well, in this case of a need for real transparency, then it is going to cost money.

    I agree with the comment above: if the City had been transparent about the process to begin with, had presented clear reports and clear numbers to begin with, had addressed the concerns of the public to begin with, we would all be $24,000 richer. And then, maybe one or two more patches in the sidewalks could have been placed. BUT, because, I am afraid I have to indict him once again, Mr. Alvord is either too disorganized or too entitled, he does not see the reason the public might need answers in this case. Mr. McCarthy resides in the same attitudinal house. First and foremost, these people must understand that they are servants to the taxpayers. They just learned a $24,000 lesson at taxpayer expense. I, too, ask “How long is this going to go on?” And, “When can we expect this lack of concern for the public, responsibilities of those in leadership positions, to stop?”

  17. Casey Smith

    Mark, – You all at NON are fine. I don’t expect you to be monitoring 24/7. I agree that the remark was borderline comment, however, I also believe that civility should rule. So thank you for that.

  18. How about a petition to have Alvord removed from his position? You can cite any one of his major faults that cost taxpayers plenty of money or cite his lies as one of public mistrust?
    Then send it to the mayor – who after all is the people’s mayor and can discharge Alvord….

  19. One and Done

    I know it may be a shock to some, but the reality is we are funding DPW much less than we did 25 years ago.
    .
    Removing Alvord who is one of the few competent department heads in the city would be a logical move for this mayor who bends in a soft breeze of political pressure. He could replace Hal with a task force and we could watch the city really fall apart instead of watching it miraculously stay somewhat together on a shoestring budget.
    .
    One and Done.

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