Norwalk sewage permit renewed at $50K price tag

Norwalk’s sewage treatment, as seen Thursday from the hill at Oyster Shell Park.

Updated, 4:49 a.m., Feb. 8: The fourth and fifth paragraphs of this story have been edited for clarification purposes. Also, levy changed to levee. 

NORWALK, Conn. – A state environmental agency has renewed the permit for Norwalk’s sewage treatment plant, as predicted by city officials who sharply criticized a Norwalk citizen’s request for a hearing on the matter, decrying what they called an unnecessary expense.

“We’re going to get the permit because what’s the alternative? Closing the treatment plant and dumping raw sewage into Long Island Sound?” Norwalk Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord said last week.

Alvord and Common Councilman David McCarthy (R-District E) both expressed consternation in late November with Norwalk environmental activist Diane Lauricella, who obtained 36 signatures on a petition, forcing the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) to hold a public hearing on the matter.

Lauricella said in December that McCarthy’s attitude toward the public was part of the reason the hearing was held – talking to the council’s Public Works Committee might have been an option, but she and others felt that was out of the question because McCarthy is the committee chairman, she said.

She had suggested the state hold a public information session instead of a hearing, she said.

A woman studies photographs of Norwalk’s sewage treatment plant at December’s public hearing.

Although the decision rendered by a DEEP adjudicator accepts expert testimony that the concerns expressed at the Dec. 2 public hearing were not germane to the permit’s parameters, Lauricella on Thursday night said, “Under tremendous odds, including holding the hearing the day after the Thanksgiving holiday in a remote, scary location (15 South Smith St.), bullying and implied threats during the last administration that frightened many individuals and officials into silence, we still exercised our right to request and speak at a public hearing about an important city system,” she wrote in an email.

By bullying, Lauricella was referring in part to an opinion piece written by McCarthy and published in The Hour.

McCarthy referred to the “irresponsible actions” of an activist that he did not name and wrote “… 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.”

Alvord said last week that the cost was not nearly that high.

“We’ve spent $25,000,” he said. “The DEEP has spent a similar amount of money.”

Lauricella’s late-night Thursday response: “The apparently false threat that the hearing proceedings would cost the city ‘hundreds of thousands of dollars’ in a cowardly, nasty Op-Ed by Council DPW Chair David McCarthy needs to be investigated, for it discouraged many from speaking up, including our other elected local and state officials. Actually, city staff chose not to negotiate with the petitioners to avoid a formal hearing when an offer to compromise was made in the early stages.”

McCarthy did not return a late night email giving him a chance to respond to that allegation.

Seven Norwalk citizens spoke at the December hearing in Norwalk. Concerns expressed included complaints about a smell coming from the plant on occasion, the procedures to notify the public in advance of a plant shutdown and the integrity of the levee around the plant, which has trees growing in it and groundhogs burrowing through it, according to Mike Mushak, an activist. That last item was important because the plant was close to flooding during Superstorm Sandy, said Mushak and Lauricella.

Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) Hearing Officer Brendan Schain holds a public hearing in December at the Norwalk Department of Public Works center.

That hearing was followed by a hearing in Hartford. Anne Straut-Esden, a DEEP sanitary engineer, testified that odors are not regulated through the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit process, meaning the smell is irrelevant to the permit, according to the decision (attached below) written by Hearing Officer Brendan Schain.

Straut-Esden and Norwalk DPW employee Ralph Kolb testified that the structural integrity of the levee is not regulated through the NPDES permit process, according to the decision. The emergency protocols are also not part of the NPDES permit process, Straut-Esden testified.

Alvord said last week that the trees would be easy to deal with – cut them down, he said.

“The levee is not what is protecting the plant from flooding,” he said. “The water comes up through the catch basins because water seeks its own level. The flooding that started in Superstorm Sandy – nothing was coming over the levee, we weren’t worried about water coming over the levee. The water was coming up the catch basins.”

Alvord said DEEP was ready to renew the city’s permit before Lauricella requested a hearing.

“This is not a DEEP-against-the-city kind of thing,” he said.

Lauricella is standing firm.

“We are still evaluating the CTDEEP Final Decision and the Draft NPDES Permit and will contact the petitioners shortly to discuss how we can implore the city and the CTDEEP to improve the operations of the sewage treatment plant now, not in years,” she wrote. “We stand by our heartfelt concerns and suggestions.  Many local residents, business owners and visitors expressed valid concerns about the sludge odors, emergency notification process and flooding structures.”

She said the decision seems to violate NPDES standards.

“We respectfully disagree with the Hearing Officer’s findings and the fact that the CTDEEP Commissioner waived his authority to modify and add additional conditions to the permit,” she wrote. “This decision still seems to violate NPDES  permit standards that state (from the actual Draft Final Decision wording):

“’the Commissioner of Energy and Environmental Protection shall examine all existing or proposed disposal systems, and shall compel their operation in a manner which shall conserve and protect the natural resources and environment of Connecticut and protect the public health, safety and welfare.” General Statutes § 22a-416. If conducted as proposed and in accordance with the terms and conditions of the draft permit, the regulated activities will not impair or damage natural resources or the environment or threaten public health, safety or welfare.’

“What is that still-present sludge odor doing for our public health, safety and welfare?” she asked.




10 responses to “Norwalk sewage permit renewed at $50K price tag”

  1. Mike Mushak

    The spelling of levy, by the DEEP officials in their documents, is incorrect, and should be “levee”. A “levy” is a fine, a “levee” is a dyke to keep floodwaters out. NON is forgiven for repeating the spelling by officials, who one would think would know how to spell a structure that the Army Corps of Engineers spends billions on every year around the country maintaining the integrity of by removing trees and burrowing animals.

    The levee that protects our crucial $500 million taxpayer-funded treatment plant has been compromised with an extensive groundhog colony with dozens of burrows that would allow floodwater to flow in and blow the levee apart.

    It is also covered with an invasive forest of Ailanthus altissima, also ironically called tree-of-heaven as it is the tree-of-hell, since it is fast-growing and short-lived with huge fleshy roots that that hold fresh water, allowing it to grow in salt water environments. When these trees die at a relatively young age, after growing up to 6 feet a year with tropical looking leaves and soft white trunks, the huge fleshy roots rot and disappear, leaving cavernous voids in the levee wall where floodwater or even normal tide water flows in and can erode the holes into fatal failures.
    Since taxpayers have invested so much in this plant, and potential flood damage could destroy the city’s economy and our quality of life for months or years after a catastrophic storm (the water came within a foot of the top during Sandy), I thought the condition and lack of maintenance of the levee was an issue worth mentioning.
    The claim by Mccarthy and Alvord that this hearing would cost “hundreds of thousands”, to intimidate the public, is unconscionable and worthy of an apology. I file this under their equally absurd claim, without any evidence, that there have been “dozens of unreported truck strikes” on the Rowayton Ave train bridge, a claim they made on the record to justify that nearly $3 million boondoggle project. There was only one truck strike in 17 years, reported to the police. The “dozens of unreported truck strikes” they are claiming happened were never reported to the police, and there is no evidence of them except some scratches on the bridge ceiling that were caused most likely by the 2010 truck strike, since they show up in a news photo taken in April 2011 by none other than Nancy Chapman, when she worked for the Daily Norwalk. That is seen here: http://norwalk.dailyvoice.com/news/rowayton-demands-more-details-bridge-project.
    I digress to that fact about the bridge for one reason, to illustrate how exaggerated claims are made by some Norwalk officials in the name of self-interest, and not in the name of serving the public with fact-based decisions. When it comes to decisions that affect taxpayers and the future of our city, can we really afford to have officials who just “make things up” to support expensive boondoggles or intimidate the public in a perfectly legal hearing process? What else have we heard false claims about, City Carting contracts perhaps? Never trust anything you hear in Norwalk, at least from these two officials.
    Caveat emptor.

  2. Oldtimer

    The people who elected McCarthy need to be reminded of his history of “making up” his own facts when he runs for re-election. If honesty doesn’t support something he favors, he resorts to “making up” his own version of history. That habit should be enough to limit his time in elected office.

  3. spanner

    I guess I cant jump in I’m not sure of the process and what it entails only what I read so far here no council member I know could help me out.Is King Industries permit to dump into the sewage line part of this process?They are close and hooked onto a main transmission line that has broke in the past about 50 feet from that new playground dedicated to victims .When the city had a event along the river a few years back it was dug up, cap on the oyster landfill was open for repair work.The smell there was unreal is that the smell we all smell on Smith St? I don’t know cant find anyone to get the info on the permit and what King Industries if they still do dump by state permit into our sewage plant .The rest sounds like a little research or just knowing how it works when it comes to bridge strikes would be a plus.There was two yesterday one in Norwalk and one in Stamford.

  4. spanner

    There was only one truck strike in 17 years, reported to the police. The “dozens of unreported truck strikes” they are claiming happened were never reported to the police, and there is no evidence of them except some scratches on the bridge ceiling that were caused most likely by the 2010 truck strike.

    completely misleading its not the police depts job to keep track if McCarthy is counting on Norwalk police numbers and reports he is seeking from the wrong agency.(hint)Information as of today suggests the numbers from local police departments could be wrong they are not the reporting agency. A bridge strike is not always given to Norwalk police and for good reason its not their responsibility ,Maybe Hal and Dave are not telling those for a reason.Norwalk police figures can not be used as complete fact, for those who think otherwise your wrong.The agency the numbers should be coming from has never been mentioned here on anywhere else.A bridge strike yesterday in Ct never made it to the local police dept incident report.Whats that tell you?

  5. Oldtimer

    $100s of thousands ? $50K ? All fabricated numbers. If anyone made a serious effort to document the actual costs, they would not be able to confirm either of these guesstimates. There was some costs, no doubt, but nowhere near what we are being told by politicians interested in discrediting the petitioners. Alford may not be a real politician, but he counts on McCarthy’s support too much to contradict him in public.

  6. spanner

    Dennis Schain a Title Communications Director taught Brendan well,Hal knows what he is doing those who represent Norwalks best interest should know this.Dennis and Hal go back a long way.The more I read the more comical it gets.

  7. Diane C2

    Ms. Lauricella should request, nay demand, a full accounting of the $25k that Mr. Alvord claims was spent by the city or WPCA to accommodate the hearing.

  8. Oldtimer

    Diane C2
    You know the response will be “we can’t afford to do that, it would cost too much.” I agree, it is way past time to call these guys on their “made up” numbers. Any bets they will not document the actual costs ? She would have better luck asking DEEP what the public hearing cost them. If the City does not produce the real numbers immediately she should go to the FOI commission.

  9. Suzanne

    Why is this sort of process so acceptable to the citizens of Norwalk or to the City of Norwalk government? Why can one chairperson/Council member hold the rest of good sense and good governance hostage? When, Mr. Rilling, is Mr. Alvord going to be replaced? He is much too comfortable with discouraging public input as well as denigrating the public as though they do not know “water seeks its own level.” That’s the point: levee damage is legend where I come from and a very serious matter when it comes to flooding and contamination. Burrows and trees (cut Ailanthus down? Good luck with that one. Mike Mushak describes well above just how it grows and why it is so damaging and very difficult to eradicate. Along water ways, chemical remediation is not an option) represent real issues and potentially serious damage that may not cause failure today or tomorrow but Norwalk will pay for their carelessness in the end, a lot more than if they were to repair the work now. “A stitch in time…”

  10. Mike Mushak

    Yes Suzanne, the levee question is still not answered. The claim by Alvord that the levee is not for flood control, and that the flooding comes up through the storm drains (which I do believe that latter point), contradicts the evidence from Sandy. The river rose to within a foot of the top of the levee, but the water level was NOT that high behind the levee, regardless of water flowing up through storm drains which I do not doubt. The levee effectively held back the storm surge, this time at least, for the duration of the high water which was just a few hours as everyone may recall. If the levee had breached, we would have had a complete inundation of the most sensitive parts of the treatment plant-the bio ponds-which would have taken weeks to repair and get a “good” bacteria culture re-established, not to mention salt water damage to pumps and infrastructure that may have knocked the plant out for weeks or months and costilloons to repair. Why are we gambling with the integrity of the levee then? I still haven’t received any clear answers except that the absurd claim that the levee is actually not a levee, which defies the reality seen during Sandy and insults common sense.

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