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Oak Hills environmental cleanup concerns prompt surprise meeting

Two men enjoy Norwalk’s Oak Hills Park Golf Course Thursday afternoon.

NORWALK, Conn. – A meeting called to discuss compromised oil tanks at Oak Hills Park has prompted Freedom of Information (FOI) concerns among Norwalk activists.

The Dec. 27 Oak Hills Park Authority special meeting was posted on the city’s website more than 24 hours before the meeting – not on the calendar page – in compliance with FOI, but the agenda was changed that morning, park Executive Director Shelly Guyer said. Diane Cece of the East Norwalk Association spotted the agenda on the website the following Sunday and alerted the Friends of Oak Hills Park that there had been a meeting with an email asking if an FOI complaint was in order. Those answering said yes.

The agenda stated discussion of “certain environmental and lease issues.” The problem is a third compromised oil tank, which was removed in December, OHPA acting Chairman Clyde Mount said. Two other oil tanks were removed earlier last year, he said. All date back to the 1960s, he said.

The meeting agenda also called for an executive session to discuss the issue. Action on the issue in public was expected before the meeting adjourned.

“The action to be taken is for the chairmen to request a meeting with city officials to develop a plan for remediation of the soil,” Mount said. “We feel the city may have resources and experience we do not have readily available to us on the authority, and since environmental issues are discussed in our lease with the city, that we should approach them for guidance in developing a plan.”

The issue was first brought to the public’s attention at the June OHPA meeting.

“We pulled the oil tanks out of the ground and we had the ground tested because a couple of the tanks were leaking,” former Chairman Bob Virgulak said then.

Virgulak went on to say he was “fed up.”

“Oak Hills Authority and the golf course is not going to pay to remediate that soil,” he said. “The city of Norwalk is going to have to come up and pay for the remediation. The whole town is going to have to do that, or however the mayor wants to do that. But if they plan on remediating the soil it’s not going to be on the backs of the golfers at this time. It’s part of the crumbling infrastructure and quite frankly, I’m fed up with borrowing money that the golfers have to pay back to fix an infrastructure that’s deteriorating terribly. … As far as I am concerned no more money is going to be spent. Any capital projects that we do are going to be capital projects to enhance the golf course. And not pay for infrastructure. It’s in the hands of the mayor and the Common Council, as far if they care to remediate the soil at this point.”

Cece and others do not think the issue merits an executive session under Connecticut FOI statutes.

“Just saying ‘environmental issue’ does not meet the requirements of FOIA,” Cece said in an email to Guyer. “FOIA regulations are very restrictive on the nature of items that an be discussed in exec session, and also who can or cannot be present.”

Guyer disputed that.

“In our opinion, the environmental issue falls under ‘(B) strategy and negotiations with respect to pending claims or pending litigation to which the public agency or a member thereof, because of the member’s conduct as a member of such agency, is a party until such litigation or claim has been finally adjudicated or otherwise settled;’ of the FOIA definition for Executive Sessions,” he wrote back.

Cece wrote back, “Can you confirm that there is a pending claim or pending litigation regarding an environmental matter? I believe ‘pending’ means you have been notified to expect the claim, versus you ‘think’ there might be….”

Guyer has not replied.

Cece used the “document properties” function on the agenda PDF, “which indicated the agenda was created at 7:32 a.m. Dec. 27 on the Oak Hills computer. That is clearly an FOI violation, she said, as agendas must be posted 24 hours in advance.

“I also did a screen print of the City Hall calendar for December 27th and the meting is not posted there (also a violation of FOI,)” she said in an email to the Friends.

She then asked Guyer about it.

“The original Agenda was uploaded the morning of 12/26 (I don’t have the exact time but it was before 10:30 a.m.) and was amended on the morning of 12/27 at 8:42 a.m.,” Guyer replied.

Mayor Harry Rilling said in a Dec. 29 email to NancyOnNorwalk that he was not made aware of any meeting.

“I will ensure media notifications occur with all special meetings,” he wrote.

OHPA Dec. 27 agenda

Comments

3 responses to “Oak Hills environmental cleanup concerns prompt surprise meeting”

  1. Mike P.

    Here we go again…sounds like another Oak Hills bailout because the OHPA will undoubtedly ask the taxpayers to front the bill for this potentially very expensive cleanup of 3 leaking tanks.

    Looking over the City website, I see another executive session meeting was held on 11/18 to give raises to the employees. Maybe they should have figured out how to pay for these leaking tanks prior to handing out money to the employees? It will be very interesting to find out how much of the salary base was increased, Nancy, is there anyway you can figure this out?

  2. Debora

    It might behoove them to read the lease and not just talk about it. The cost of cleanup is the responsibility of the OHPA, and environmental issues are specially called out in their own section.
    .
    Not only that, but while that condition exists, they are in violation of the lease AND the post – grant obligations from the original state grant used to partly fund the purchase of the park land in the first place.
    .
    Waving the lease at the “landlord” is not an option here. The only assistance the City is allowed to provide is to allow OHPA to defer the “rent”.
    .
    Finding this clean-up is sure going to complicate those finances (again).

  3. Beth Altman

    If you go to the city website norwalkct.org and look at the BOE agenda for the January 6th meeting they post the golf courses balance sheet. It shows $7000 less in the bank at the end of November 2013 than they had at the same time at the end of November 2012. They needed 150k loan last year with more money in the bank than they have this year. Is another loan in the works? Get the range built to help this place.

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