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Norwalkers decry smell from plant and McCarthy editorial

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Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) ajudicator Brendan Shain, right, listens as Diane Lauricella spells out her issues with the Norwalk sewage treatment plant and the Department of Public Works Monday.

NORWALK, Conn. – A Democrat-dominated public hearing held Monday night was as much about a public attack on a local activist as it was about reportedly offensive smells in East Norwalk and the possibility of sewage flooding into Long Island Sound during a storm surge.

The hearing on the renewal of the permit for Norwalk’s sewage treatment plant drew about 15 people to the Department of Public Works cafeteria on South Smith Street, where seven people spoke to Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection adjudicator Attorney Brendan Schain. They included a marina worker who said odors from the plant occasionally make him sick.

Last to speak was Diane Lauricella, who had been referred to as “irresponsible” and “without a degree or credentials” in an opinion piece written by Common Councilman David McCarthy (R-District E) and published on Nov. 19 in The Hour (Nov. 18 online).

Lauricella requested the hearing. “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,” McCarthy wrote.

First to speak was Water Pollution Control Authority board chairman Darren Oustafine.

“The presence of this hearing could be construed in my opinion as some form of deliberate malfeasance on the part of the WPCA. At worst, or at best, it kind of has the appearance that some sort of information was being withheld,” Oustafine said.

The chairman went on to say there were more people present for the hearing than are ever present for board meetings, that environmental information is included in all board agendas and that if anyone wanted to learn more they might attend a board meeting or read the information on the WPCA website.

Mike Mushak said he had toured the sewage treatment plant once and been “blown away” by the sophisticated process and that he “100 percent” supported the permit being renewed for the “fabulous asset to the city.” But there are trees growing on the revetment, as well as groundhogs burrowing there, he said. These types of things lead to levy breaches, he said.

Norwalk got less rain than other cities during Superstorm Sandy, he said, and yet the plant was nearly flooded by the combination of rainfall and the storm surge.

McCarthy’s opinion piece was “unfortunate” in that it “ridiculed” Lauricella, he said.

“This was a form of intimidation of the public and we don’t need that in Norwalk,” he said. “I think that is why there is a lot of the animosity in this room. … I think this hearing was done in good faith, not because anybody thought anybody did anything wrong, just like she felt like she needed a voice, a chance to speak, about what is a huge drain on taxpayers in Norwalk.”

Theresa “Missy” Conrad also defended Lauricella from what she called a “personal attack,” saying that, some years ago, Lauricella  found a brownfield site that was poisoning wells in the First Taxing District.

“I know that Diane goes to so many meetings,” she said. “She isn’t somebody who went to school 20 years ago and never learned a thing since; she keeps up on it. I think she deserves more respect.”

Diane Cece said the hearing could have been filled with people praising the plant, but McCarthy had poisoned it.

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A display at Monday’s hearing.

Cece used to commute through East Norwalk, but the smell made her gag, she said. DPW Director Hal Alvord insults people’s intelligence when he says that the smells come from low tide, she said.

Scott Kimmich said he was there because he is a Norwalk citizen who buys oysters by the bushel. Climate change is upon us, he said.

“I know there is a smell situation, but I am far more worried about more frequent flooding and a surge that goes over the dike,” he said.

If he were in Alvord’s shoes he would welcome a hearing, he said.

Keith Brown said he is a managing member of SoNo Wharf, which he said was directly south of the plant.

“There is a serious problem of odor from this plant and it is not leaves and it is not low tide. It has actually caused me to leave my office at times because I felt ill,” he said.

On such occasions, he has been told by plant workers that a door was left open on a sludge building, he said.

“I don’t get a clear definition of what is going on. It is clearly a controlled situation because it happens a t certain times and it’s very present and it’s very noticeable and then it goes away,” he said.

He’s been told that there are trucks backing in, but when he gets to the plant workers say there have been no trucks, he said. It’s “more of a chemical odor, more something to do in the process,” he said.

There was a building designed to be liquid tank removal building but is now being used as a solid waste removal building, he said.

Alvord said after the meeting he couldn’t explain Brown’s problem.

“I don’t sit where Keith Brown sits,” he said. “I know Keith. I’ve not been in his office, I can’t tell you what is going on. Are there occasions when there are smells? Yes.”

That’s when the doors of the dewatering building are opened to take sludge out, even though there is a negative pressure system, a permanganate system and a new odor control system, he said.

“When you open the door you’re going to get some odor that leaves because that is the smelliest part of the whole system, in there,” he said. “So we’ve done everything we can to control that but when you take the trailer out and bring the new one in that’s going to happen. But its a short period each day and it’s generally, not always, around 6 a.m.”

Lauricella said she didn’t realize that the smell problem was so bad until she went around looking for people to sign a petition. She also provided Shain with copies of an article in The Hour informing people that they shouldn’t flush their toilets as Sandy approached.

“I am very concerned that this is considered emergency management communication,” she said.

She also handed him printouts of comments left on the Hour’s website that showed citizens are concerned, even though there are reportedly few complaints made to the city. She had photos of trees growing on the revetment and evidence of gopher holes there.

“If the water were to rise there might be a breech,” she said. “If we don’t talk about this then we can’t ask the council and others for grants and money to possibly harden this particular item.

“The new FEMA laws should be looked at and compared with the original design,” she said. “If we want to harden this revetment, or barrier, or dike, whatever you want to call it, we should start looking for that money now. There needs to be some kind of review.”

Shain let her speak for 12 minutes, although everyone had been told they had five. Lauricella said she would work with legislators to try to make the permit renewal process more friendly to the public, require that all governmental bodies related to water quality be consulted and that DEEP had the resources to do surprise inspections.

“I know what sewage smells like and I know what low tide smells like,” she said. “One reason why there aren’t more people (here) is that when people get discouraged when they are told it’s low tide or they don’t know they have an outlet, they give up.”

She requested a condition be put on the permit that would require a better notification system, with a neutral party for citizens to complain to.

That ended the meeting, which was the first part of the hearing. It will be continued in Hartford Wednesday. Citizens have until 5 p.m. Friday to file written comments.

Anyone looking for information can tour the plant, Alvord said. Tours are set up year round.

McCarthy said in a late-night email that he would have been at the hearing but was traveling for work.

He defended his opinion piece in The Hour.

“I am unaware of there having been any personal attacks made against Ms. Lauricella,” he wrote. “Pointing out that someone has used a mechanism intended for serious issues to cause a derailment of a state permitting process without any charges of impropriety whatsoever is pretty far from ‘personal.’  Not one word of what I wrote has been disputed.”

He continued, “While Ms. Lauricella has the right to free speech,  she has a responsibility when her words cause damages.  It is akin to shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.  In this case, there is only a monetary cost, but what would you be doing if I, or any other member of the public, cost the city this amount of money without so much as an accusation?”

McCarthy did not immediately respond to a request for a figure on how much money the hearing was costing the city.

Comments

17 responses to “Norwalkers decry smell from plant and McCarthy editorial”

  1. The Norwalker

    The only item that maters is that the awful smell from the plant runs me out out Veterans Park regularly when I go there on the weekends to relax!

  2. How do you know it was all democrats?

    1. Mark Chapman

      @IrishGirl

      Democrat-dominated, not all Democrats. Nancy was there. She has covered the city for three years and knew most of the participants and their affiliations. It was good reporters do, knowing the players. Most, she said, were Democrats. Not all.

  3. M Allen

    Mark – cold you draw in a thought bubble over the DEEP guy’s head and we can have a contest to fill in what he’s thinking?

  4. Oldtimer

    The water discharged from the plant, most of the time, is cleaner than it has ever been, except when it rains hard. The odor from the plant is another matter. Alvord makes excuses, but other communities control odor all the time. What is our problem ? DEEP needs to look at how solids that are trucked away are handled and set standards, and enforce them, so the problem is solved, once and for all.

  5. Casey Smith

    A very revealing statement…”Lauricella said she didn’t realize that the smell problem was so bad until she went around looking for people to sign a petition.”
    .
    People have also signed petitions to ban “dihydrogen monoxide” and others wanted to add birth control to the water. These were not comedy skits (although Penn and Teller did do one based on the “dihydrogen monoxide” petition)and there are YouTube videos posted. I’m sure I could find more interesting petitions that people have signed, but that should give everyone a fair example.

  6. M Allen

    Has anyone put forth a recommendation? They seem to have gripes, but I’m wondering if they had ideas. Harden the site for a 1,000 year storm? Double the capacity for a city of 180,000 so when it rains we’re covered? Put the waste building inside another building so no open door ever leads to the open air? Move the facility? We could have stipulated for the record: McCarthy Bad Man. But what exactly do you want the DDEP or the city to do?
    .
    And so what McCarthy singled Lauricella out wihtout mentioning her name? Lead the charge and you get the pushback when people don’t agree with what you’re doing. But to waste the DEEP guy’s time with whining about a letter to the editor? 99.9% of the people who read that letter didn’t even know who he was talking about. No wonder the look on his face in that picture seems so pained. Was this the forum to comment on the McCarthy letter? It doesn’t change a damn thing when it comes to the operations or standards.

  7. M Allen

    .. and how many microwaves, toaster ovens and toasters does one small lunchroom for 3 people need?

  8. Mike Mushak

    Why is it that in Norwalk a simple request for a public hearing on a permit application, for a publicly-funded facility that affects the health of our precious harbor, including the multi-million dollar oyster and boating industries, and which absorbs as much taxpayer money as the renovation and maintenance of all of our schools (well into the hundreds of millions), would be described by Mr. McCarthy, Chair of the Public Works Committee, as “irresponsible”?
    .
    Why would Mr. McCarthy say the hearing, held in a cramped cafeteria at the treatment plant with a noisy refrigerator drowning out voices, be costing “in excess of hundreds of thousands of dollars”? Where are the costs involved? If the hearing required necessary improvements be made to the treatment plant, we have no evidence of that, and no official including McCarthy will explain where that figure came from. And if necessary improvements had to be made to satisfy permit requirements, why is that a bad thing, and shouldn’t they have been done regardless? If the lawyer DPW hired is charging the city “in excess of hundreds of thousands” to sit in on a couple of hearings, that is a story certainly worth investigating, but what is more likely is that McCarthy just made up that number to add to his attack on concerned members of the public. This vestige of the Moccia-era way of governing by bullying is sad to witness, and must change.
    .
    Why would Mr. McCarthy make a bold claim before the public hearing that “the legal hearings will undoubtedly certify that the plant operates at the highest levels of efficiency and safety”? This sounds more like blind trust than a fact-based assessment. We should be proud of the award our plant won in 2012, but the fact came out last night that this award was from a self-nominating procedure at an industry convention, based on conditions from one year only where permit violations were down (less intense rainfall events that year perhaps?), and without any verification by any official authority. I would have felt much better to know the award was based on on-site inspections and was not self-nominated.
    .
    A recent zoning application involved a private transfer station that was also self-regulating to the state DEEP, by a private consultant paid for by the owner, and even though evidence was presented in the hearing that showed potentially toxic effluent flowing off site into public storm drains across from a playground and into the harbor every time it rains, which continues to this day, this plant was certified to be compliant by both city and state officials. A healthy skepticism towards this entire process of environmental regulation in Norwalk and in CT is therefore warranted in my mind. Good government is fact-based and includes accountability and transparency, and so a much better approach by city officials would have been a simple informational hearing months ago when the permit process started, to air the issues and get public feedback with answers provided at that time, so that this could have been a smoother process without a last-minute hearing where little information was provided to the public at all, and so many questions continue. This is no way to govern, and I hope lessons were learned by everyone.
    .
    It seems now that other officials including Hal Alvord are backpedaling from that outrageous claim of “in excess of hundreds of thousands” in costs made by McCarthy,Chair of the Public Works Committee, which simply draws attention to the validity of many other claims made by him, including savings estimates by the 10-year City Carting contract, the “beautiful efficiency” of our road paving system (which we all know has issues), and his excuses as to why our sidewalks are so dilapidated all over the city (he blames home owners but the truth is complete lack of enforcement by DPW staff of existing ordinances is the real issue).
    .
    McCarthy’s intimidation of the public in this process, who have legitimate concerns about the safety and efficiency of the taxpayer-funded treatment plant, is more irresponsible than anything he accuses the public of doing.

    McCarthy owes an apology to the public and to the dedicated volunteers of the WPCA, as well as staff of the DPW, who conducted themselves with professionalism and courtesy last night. I hope Mr. Mccarthy would use his position to begin to fix the things that really need it instead of attacking the public, which includes better sidewalk enforcement, better paving procedures that don’t get dug up immediately and ruined by utility companies, properly installing the unsafe bike lanes on Strawberry Hill to match established standards and that won’t risk children’s lives as the current layout does, and a safe solution to the Seaview Avenue fiasco near the East Norwalk Yacht Club that sacrificed pedestrian and bicycle safety including crosswalks and sidewalks to the selfish requests of Mayor Moccia’a friends who wanted to continue to park illegally.
    .
    In other words, McCarthy should start showing some responsibility to the public that elected him by a very slim margin, and stop acting with such hubris. We expect and deserve better than that.

  9. Casey Smith

    So, is this whole issue about whether or not the sewage treatment plant meets the State regulations for license renewal or is it about bashing particular Common Council members, specific City staff and the former administration?

    I just heard an interesting comment on a news interview that was attributed to Diane Sawyer. She apparently said that a complaint is really a very poorly expressed request. The interview participant said that it was their policy to have their group members make requests rather than complain. I guess my question boils down to was this an attempt to educate or litigate?

  10. Don’t Panic

    @Casey,
    I beg to differ with the esteemed Ms Sawyer. A complaint is what happens when requests go unanswered.

  11. DEEP_endent

    @MAllen.

    The caption reads……”8 years, 5 months, 17 days, and 4 more hours of this nonsense before I cash in my pension and move far away from these lunatics.”

  12. Oldtimer

    Last time I saw McCarthy in person he was at a fund raiser for Mayor Rilling, working the room. I was amazed. I haven’t looked, but I would be surprised to learn he made a real contribution. He was a big supporter for the City Carting outsourcing contracts and insisted there was no rotting garbage odor coming from open(covered only by screen) trailer loads of garbage left outside in hot weather. Having personally checked the area where the trailers were parked only minutes before he says he personally checked, I knew then he is not honest. I wondered then if we pay for the extra weight when it rains on those trailers.

  13. M Allen

    Could someone give me a little bit of a civics lesson because I honestly don’t know: to whom does the Director of Public Works report? From whom does he get his marching orders and strategic direction? Is it the Mayor or the Chairman of the Public Works Committee?

  14. Suzanne

    I am proud of taxpayers who organize and stick their necks out to make Norwalk a better place. The entirety of the above issues does not mention a single thing that is insignificant: a sewage plant with noxious odors, the grumblings of a City Council person who wishes people would just MYOB already (I forget, who is he supposed to be serving?), Department Heads requiring accountability, unheard of and lengthy contracts for garbage collection, paving and street safety. These are all subjects of concern by taxpayers attempting to improve city life. That all the commentators here would show so much constructive concern! (A self-nominated, non-investigated, industry sponsored commendation does not an award winning facility make, BTW.)

  15. dlauricella

    The public hearing was held, under tremendous odds,- personal attacks, ram-rodding approvals without public comment through City commissions and committees, intimidating words from public officials, poor date(right after a long holiday weekend), poor place (dark,inconspicuous street) and poor time(folks still commuting or feeding their families).

    Some clarification so that readers can begin to focus on the real matter at hand:

    1) Should the CTDEEP grant the City a renewal of the current water discharge permit for five more years or could there be some conditions and changes made to the permit to make its operation even better?

    2)Why are certain DPW staff and the Chair of the Council DPW Committee working so hard to insult the public and deny the public the right to offer comments and ideas? The DEEP does want to know about whether this public hearing process was done with fear of intimidation and retaliation by public officials. That makes a difference in the outcome.

    Be an “odor witness”, send your comments about when you encountered odor from the sludge plant to the contact below. The more detail the better: date, time and place you smelled it…

    Please note two things: that if you want to offer comments that relate to the water discharge permit, including pictures, sample data or videos to the CTDEEP, mention Application #20101482 Norwalk. Leave out the personal attacks.

    Email: Office of Adjudications at
    [email protected];

    Fax:860-424-4052 or

    Snail mail: Office of Adjudications, DEEP HQ, 70 Elm Street,3rd floor, Hartford, CT 06106

    DEEP Air Pollution Complaint Line
    Call 860-424-3436 and give date, time and location of smell.

    I was not the only one requesting a public hearing, as I helped coordinate the petition, signed by 36 persons, all who stated that they felt a public hearing, allowed by law, was warranted. We would have had over a hundred signatures if we had more time. Most signed because they care about water quality and clean air, others signed because they believe on the citizens’ right to know and speak.

    These citizens should be thanked, not ridiculed, for exercising their rights.

    While this should not be about me, a private citizen, it is fair game to hold Mr. McCarthy, an elected official, and City staff to account because their words send a chilling effect on any citizen and business person who may not feel everything is so “hunky dory” and who have some constructive opinions about how Norwalk can be a better place.

    @ casey
    For clarity:
    I did not encourage anyone to speak about me or the op ed written by Mr. McCarthy.

    Initially, I was not going to participate in the petition process until I did research and after I did I found several concerns that were valid to discuss at a public hearing.

    I encountered the horrible odors about 4-5 years ago when I lived in East Norwalk, brought it to the attention of the DPW, Council and others and thought that it had been resolved. As I went around with the petition this year, it became very apparent that the odor issue has still not been resolved. It became very apparent that the process for citizen complaint was not user-friendly or that civil requests had fallen on deaf ears or excuse after excuse was used. I learned that the DPW Director had told folks that the smell is from low tide or from the leaves that are piled on South Smith Street, an insult to our intelligence. Anything but what one of the real issues were: the management of the sludge storage and removal.

    The sludge odor could be reduced drastically with the controls that I was told were put in place years ago but are apparently inconsistently being applied, if at all. One rumor that needs investigation: They used to apply sodium permanganate to the sludge but because it is expensive, it is not used on a consistent basis. Another worth review: the system that maintains the negative pressure inside the sludge storage building was out of commission due to broken parts….these are all germane to the “Sludge Disposal” condition of the permit.

    As I took the time and did the research I found that this odor issue could be resolved with better management controls and I will urge our Council to put together a plan to stop the odors as soon as possible.

    There are many valid concerns besides the sludge odor, and I feel that the folks who attended the hearing did so because they care about Norwalk and our harbor and the water pollution control plant…NOT because they are from one party or the other…and I do not think that it matters what party affiliation they are. That distracts from the real issue here…

  16. Tim K

    OK all – this moving target “issue” has been beaten to death. I’m bored and done reading this blog/”news” source.

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