Oak Hills official contradicts chairman on who will pay for leaky tanks

An underground oil tank near the Oak Hills Park golf pro’s office will be dug up this fall, Oak Hills Park Authority Chairman Bob Virgulak said.

NORWALK, Conn. – If a sewer line breaks at Oak Hills Park golf course, the course will close, the chairman of the Oak Hills Park Authority said last week. The vice chairman says that was a “bold statement,” and that the chairman misspoke.

OHPA Chairman Bob Virgulak said last week that golfers will not pay for the city’s “crumbling infrastructure,” in reference to leaking oil tanks at the park. He also described the $150,000 loaned to the authority by the city as being for “capital projects,” although it was described at the time as being needed to meet operating expenses.

OHPA Vice Chairman Clyde Mount said in an email Tuesday that Virgulak actually meant $150,000 that was allocated in the 2012-2013 capital budget, which the authority received in April. That money was allocated to finance course improvements. A payment is due on that money in September.

Virgulak indicated last Thursday that he knew his comments would raise eyebrows.

“I think there are a couple of people in the audience who are going to be interested in that,” he said, after definitively saying that the city would have to pay for the leaking tanks.

Virgulak gave a brief report on the park’s finances, in the absence of a finance committee chairperson. He said the authority needed to pay the city $14,474 by July 1, an installment payment for the $150,000.

“That’s the one we borrowed from the city to take care of the city’s crumbling infrastructure,” he said. “Which, from now on, just to give a little report, we pulled the oil tanks out of the ground and we had the ground tested because a couple of the tanks were leaking.”

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.”

The oil tanks in question are at the park’s maintenance shack and the apartment, he said. There is another one by the golf pro’s office, but that won’t be dug up until the fall so as not to be an impediment during the golf season.

Virgulak said Connecticut Tank Removal had come out and dug up the first two, and had given him a “cockamamie proposal” for cleaning up the dirt. That included the cost of the equipment and two project supervisors, one at $100 an hour and another at $90 an hour. He said he asked for a firm estimate and was told that wasn’t the way things work.

“I said thank you but no thank you,” he said. “… it’s not going to be on our back, not this time, that’s it. Thinking about the $150,000 we borrowed for the various projects, again, should have been on the backs of the city not on the backs of the golfers. I’m not supporting any capital projects that don’t have to do with improving golf …

“If a sewer line breaks we’ll close the golf course down until the city pays for a new sewer line. If a water line breaks, the city is going to have to pay for it. Otherwise the golf course will close. That’s my feeling.”

In addition to the September payment, There is a payment due  of $14,474 on July 1 for the loan from the city to cover the park’s operating expenses through the winter, Finance Director Thomas Hamilton said.

That is Mount’s account as well.

“Chairman Virgulak miss spoke on Thursday night,” he said in an email. “The funds we received in the fall of 2012 are not for capital expenditures.  Those funds are, as you stated, were deposited in our operations bank account and were being used to meet our daily operational needs.  These needs included accounts payables and payroll. Those are the funds that we are making the upcoming payment on.”

The $150,000 in capital budget funds “raised Mr. Virgulak’s boiling point” Mount said. Purchases authorized under the capital budget included new boilers, the tank removal, the sewer replacement, bunker reworks,  new roofs, and other various projects and equipment purchases, he said.

Mayor Richard Moccia commented in his March 14, 2012 letter regarding the finalized 2012-2013 capital budget that the Oak Hills request had been added on late in the process.

“While the city has been working with the Authority to reduce operating expenses, increase revenues, and restructure their note to the city, it has become apparent that offering a first-rate product is an important part of a successful turn-around plan,” he wrote.

Virgulak’s assertion that the golfers wouldn’t pay for the soil remediation was mistaken, Mount said.

“That was a bold statement to make,” he said in an email. “We have yet to determine what will happen with the soil surrounding the tanks. We will continue to work on it and hope to have a solution by the next OHPA meeting, but, at this point, per our lease, the OHPA has to handle infrastructure issues of this type. That is the reality and it can’t be pushed on the city as stated. … The residents are not paying that, the golfers are paying that out of the fees we charge.”

130620_001 ohpa_Virgulak re oil leaks


8 responses to “Oak Hills official contradicts chairman on who will pay for leaky tanks”

  1. Fore Naught

    WOW. 1. Great reporting. 2. Looks like Mr. Mount is far more capable of oversight here. 3. Time for a change maybe?

  2. spanner

    Connecticut Tank Removal has a lot of history in Norwalk.They lied during the fire at Lajoies to the US Coast Gaurd when they told them there was no release and no PCBs burned.It was a month after did the truth seep out.Connecticut Tank Removal has been for years a shady company,a State contractor they have been errant in a lot of jobs where remediation was done for the customer not the environment.

    A couple of weeks ago they were photographed cleaning tanks behind Devine on South Main st where the fire dept must of given them a permit,there was concern that product made the storm drain.

    Hate to defend anyone but Connecticut Tank Removal is right once you start digging you can’t stop when your 70,000 pound truck is full.Now some companies don’t landfill dirty dirt its used to make hardtop like the stuff Norwalk uses for streets.

    This might be a good time to start checking streams runoff and catch basins loking for blue sheen,but knowing Connecticut Tank Removal they advised using dish water detergent to break up any sheen from smarties who know what unethical companies do.

    This is the trouble in Norwalk lets see the fire report on what actually transpired when the tanks were taken out condition of the tanks etc.Most professional fire departments take pictures of this process so others can take a educated guess whats going on.

    If gas was involved and lead is in the ground its big problems lead has been outlawed for years shows how long its been leaking if its gas.

    Shame the mayor never took a hard look at the cities environment I can only imagine what transpired so far.

    Do a FYI with the Norwalk fire dept see what they have on file during the process may be nice to see for a change I’d be wrong about what actually transpired and who actually protected us taxpayers on this.No reason the fire dept not to have been there thru this process they as we all now make enought to be on top of small things like this.

  3. spanner

    One other thing if the tanks had to be checked by stick the strike plates in new tanks prevents the stick from puncturing the tank bootom.Old tanks rarely had them and thats why most leak the kid would go out and drop the stick and after the bang on the bottom it was ready to take out and look.Did these tanls have strike plates or was it a inside guage?

    Gulf gas stations were notorious they all leaked but the office in Canton Mass were smart the ones that leaked were sold,had to mention that Cumberland Farms has a bad track record so if your city has one well consider this a crash course in underground leaking tanks and prevention.

    Coffee grounds in the cellar after a fuel leak also disguises the fuel smell so if your buying a home and it smells like decaf maybe you should ask some questions.

    Thanks Nancy for this web site it does give us all a more unique perspective on our city.

  4. Suzanne

    If Mr. Vigulak insists on Norwalk taxpayers paying for “infrastructure issues” that are a part of the golf course upkeep for which he is responsible, then every Norwalk taxpayer should have access to the Golf Course, i.e., Oak Hills Park for their use as a member of the public who is paying for the facility.

  5. envirogal

    When a tank is discovered to have a leak, the CTDEEP HazMat Unit must be notified. Will be interested in where this paper trail leads… All tanks should have been inventoried and tested by the City or their representatives years ago (if not outright pulled out/replaced with above-ground tanks or some other alternative means of supplying heat or hot water). Were these tested and someone forgot to pull them? Any questions about which entity has responsibility should be spelled out very clearly… Makes one wonder about lack of oversight is another example of poor management and lack of preventive maintenance by the City, wasting tax dollars…could be hundreds of thousands of dollars…remember the old Fire Station underground fuel tanks? Buildings Department and the Fire Marshal Office should have a list of all remaining underground tanks and their condition (tank testing is available)…what other tanks may be leaking? Most homeowners are told they should pull any underground tank over 20 years old, etc….has the City taken the same approach in order to save tax dollars and protect water resources?

  6. Oldtimer

    My understanding is a property owner (City) is responsible for remediation when there is a spill on their property. If there is a lease contract with OHPA that passes that responsibility to OHPA and OHPA can’t, or won’t, take care of it, it falls back on the property owner. It is way past overdue for a forensic audit of OHPA budgets to see if money is missing, or the operation is just not making money. It apparently made money for years. What changed ?

  7. Don’t Panic

    Very interesting turnaround here. When OHPA needed the operating loan, it’s position was that the golf course would go bankrupt and that it would be bad for Norwalk. Now that it has the loan, it threatens to shut down voluntarily.

    Also, we now have on record that Mr. V. believes that he has the authority to refuse to fund any more capital projects that “don’t enhance the golf course”. I encourage Mr. V. to go back and reread the charter he is operating under, as the non-golf portions of the park are also the responsibility of the authority.

    Is the lease a matter of public record? It should settle the oil tank issue…

  8. EveT

    It sounds backwards to say “we pulled the oil tanks out of the ground and we had the ground tested because a couple of the tanks were leaking.” When you have an underground tank pulled, you are REQUIRED to have the soil tested. You don’t decide to have it tested because the tank was leaking.

    And yes, it’s true that nobody can give a firm estimate for soil remediation, because you don’t know how much soil you’ll have to remove until you get in there. You have to keep digging until you get to clean-test soil.

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