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Oak Hills Park Authority hopes to start spending state’s $1.5 million soon

Oak Hills Golf Course superintendent Jim Schell
Oak Hills Golf Course superintendent Jim Schell said Thursday that he has worked to eradicate weeds on some of the course’s unmowable spots and will plant fescue grasses soon. “The fairway seeding that we did was a successful but unfortunately the undesirable grass recovered nicely,” he said.

Updated, 2:15 p.m.: Comment from DEEP.

NORWALK, Conn. – The Oak Hills Park master plan will be considered in October by the Common Council’s Recreation, Parks and Cultural Affairs Committee, the next step on the way to obtaining the $1.5 million pledged by the state toward park renovations.

“Hopefully we will get full Council approval in October, which will be a milestone for this group because it will the first time ever we had an approved plan,” OHPA Ad Hoc Driving Range Committee Chairman Ernie Desrochers said.

Desrochers was leading last week’s OHPA meeting in the absence of Chairman Clyde Mount. Other topics touched upon included the remediation needed due to leaking oil tanks, three incidents of vandalism, favorable financial reports and a visit from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

“Thanks to a concerned neighbor we have a surprise visit from the pesticide police on Tuesday. The woman who came from the DEEP was very kind. She inspected everything and our records. She had a recommendation but no citation, so we’re clean,” Superintendent Jim Schell said.

Yvonne Lopaur, who was not present at the meeting, later confirmed that she had contacted DEEP, and provided an email exchange with Diane Jorsey of DEEP. “The photos that you provided do not depict storage issues with respect to pesticides,” Jorsey said, promising to send an inspector.

On Tuesday, Jorsey said, “An inspection of the golf course was conducted and the inspector reported verbally that no pesticide violations were found.  Their final report is not complete at this time.”

The council needs to approve the Oak Hills master plan before OHPA can receive the $1.5 million grant authorized by the state bond commission.

Desrochers said the state is getting the paperwork together for the grant. “It needs to go through the same contractual process that any contract the city of Norwalk goes through,” Desrochers said, explaining that the state Attorney General will approve the paperwork.

Because of the size of the grant, all of the vendors will have to be pre-qualified through the Department of Administrative Services, he said. Desrochers said he didn’t know how long it will long it will take to get the work started because he doesn’t know the procurement process.

“We would all like them to be done by next spring. The flip side to that is we want to make sure we get it done right and we have the process to get it right,” Desrochers said. “… Our plan is to do the RFPs (requests for proposals), to get going on those immediately, so when we get it all approved we’re in the position to pull the trigger.”

Purchasing Agent Gerald Foley has been a great help, he said.

Discussions continue about the need to remediate the soil contaminated by three leaking oil tanks, which have been removed and replaced.

“There is a desire on the city’s part, recognizing the fact that the tanks should have probably come out when the authority was formed, or at least tested, so they are trying to find common ground in terms of remediating the soil and everything, which I think the city will help us with,” Desrochers said. “… They haven’t made a commitment but they haven’t said no. They recognize that the soil needs to be remediated, so I guess we’re going to try to work all of that out.”

The vandalism involved a golf cart and a beverage cart being pushed into ponds, and a golf cart being pushed into a fence.

The fence-hitting cart suffered little damage but the damage to the beverage cart will cost $800 to $900, Schell said. The drowned golf cart is not working but is being worked on, he said.

He had learned that just about any key would work in the golf carts and was looking into something more secure, he said. Executive Director Shelley Guyer said an insurance claim had been submitted, but he didn’t know what the deductible is.

Guyer delivered a rosy financial report.

“Sales in August were significantly up again from prior the year,” he said. “Revenue rounds were up 13 percent. The overall dollar revenues were up 8.4 percent.”

The rounds are up 15 percent for the fiscal year, overall golf revenue is up 9.1 percent, and the course continues to see an increase in resident rounds, he said.

“What I am seeing appears to be a cumulative effect that has been going on through the year, that the farther into the year we get, the more residents come back and the more the rounds seem to be increasing,” Guyer said. “I think it’s just that the word about the course has really started to spread and people are hearing about the wonderful greens at Oak Hills.”

Desrocher said there had been a meeting a couple of weeks ago in Mayor Harry Rilling’s office, where there was a presentation on the course’s finances and a discussion about the mayor’s tournament, which was held Monday.

“They were a great help, the mayor’s office,” Desrochers said. “(City Clerk) Donna King should get kudos, with all the work she has done. Big time. She has helped with sponsorships, she has helped with getting foursomes. She has done a wonderful job. Harry was real supportive of it too.”

Comments

8 responses to “Oak Hills Park Authority hopes to start spending state’s $1.5 million soon”

  1. Suzanne

    Why does Oak Hills need a driving range? They appear to be doing well financially without one.

  2. Tom Reynolds

    Oh brother! Here we go again. Where in this article is a driving range mentioned?

  3. Debora

    Mr. DeRocher says, “There is a desire on the city’s part, recognizing the fact that the tanks should have probably come out when the authority was formed, or at least tested, so they are trying to find common ground in terms of remediating the soil and everything, which I think the city will help us with,” Desrochers said. “… They haven’t made a commitment but they haven’t said no. They recognize that the soil needs to be remediated, so I guess we’re going to try to work all of that out.””
    .
    It doesn’t matter how politely this is phrased. The suggestion that the City should pay for or assist with the soil remediation at Oak Hills should be withdrawn. OHPA did pay for soils testing “back when the authority was formed”, but they were only concerned with the soil under the site where the proposed driving range was to be built. The OHPA has had the tenancy of this land for 17 years. The lack of remediation of the soil is a clear violation of the lease with the city and both parties were likely aware of the issue when the lease was renewed in 2012.
    .
    Compliance with Laws
    13.01. The AUTHORITY shall, at its own expense, throughout the term of this LEASE comply with all laws, ordinances, rules, orders and regulations of all governmental authorities and all insurance bodies which may be, at any time duly issued or in force, applicable to the DEMISED PREMISES or any part thereof or to the AUTHORITY’s use thereof.
    13.02. Specifically, but without limiting the scope of the above statement, the AUTHORITY hereby affirmatively covenants and agrees to faithfully observe and comply with any and all ordinances, as amended from time to time, of the city of Norwalk; the terms and requirements of the INDENTURE; and all requirements of the CITY, state or federal grants received in connection with the PARK.
    The AUTHORITY shall also comply with all applicable laws, orders and regulations f whether federal, state or local.
    ARTICLE 14
    Hazardous waste Indemnity
    14.01. The CITY will indemnify and hold the AUTHORITY harmless from and against any and all costs, liabilities, expenses and penalties incurred in connection with the presence, release or discharge of Hazardous Materials on, under or from the DEMISED PREMISES which occurred or was in any way caused to occur at any time during the period up to the date of this LEASE.
    The AUTHORITY hereby agrees to indemnify and hold the CITY harmless from and against any and all costs, liabilities, expenses and penalties incurred in connection with the presence, release or discharge of Hazardous Materials on, under or from the DEMISED PREMISES which occurred or was in any way caused to occur during the term of this LEASE or the period during which the
    AUTHORITY has control over or conducts any activities impacting the DEMISED PREMISES.
    Hazardous Materials, for purposes of this paragraph, shall include, but not be limited to, substances defined as “hazardous substances” in The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980, as amended, 42 U.S.C. Section 9601-9657; The Hazardous Materials Transportation Act of 1975, 49 U.S.C. section 1801-1812; The Resources Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976, 42 U.S.C. Section 6901- 6987; and those substances identified in Section 22a-451 of the Connecticut General Statutes.

  4. Yvonne Lopaur

    The Oak Hills Park Authority (OHPA), the autonomous body set up to manage Oak Hills Park, failed to post the minutes of its July 17, 2014 meeting on the city’s web site. The Authority is required to post its minutes after all its meetings. Therefore the failure to publish its July minutes appears to be another example of which there are scores of its effort to keep information from the public. At the July meeting Jim Schell, Oak Hills Park’s golf course superintendent said the manner in which he was storing chemicals used on the course met all safety requirements. But that turned out not to be true. Now one reads in Nancy on Norwalk that a woman from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection visited Oak Hills Park a week ago and had a recommendation but we aren’t told what the recommendation was. Typical. What we do know is that the OHPA has refused to follow the environmentally sound practices for the golf course recommended by Audubon International. Also typical. The OHPA is composed of individuals who seek to promote the interests of golfers at whatever the cost to all the taxpayers of Norwalk. And it is shameful that the Mayor and Members of the Common Council have been allowing it full reign to do so.

  5. Suzanne

    The driving range is mentioned solely for the reason OHPA gives for its necessity: to defray costs that cannot be covered due to low income, i.e., enough rounds. Therefore, if the OHPA is reveling in a great amount of income, the necessity for a driving range is moot.

  6. Casey Smith

    @Yvonne,

    I read the article carefully and Mr. Schell made the following statement, “She inspected everything and our records. She had a recommendation but no citation, so we’re clean.” That means there was no violation. This was confirmed by the statement from the DEEP “An inspection of the golf course was conducted and the inspector reported verbally that no pesticide violations were found. Their final report is not complete at this time.” A recommendation is how the DEEP would LIKE things to be done, not how they are REQUIRED to be done.
    .
    When the official DEEP report is released from the State, I don’t doubt you’ll be able to obtain a copy. At this point in time, it appears that the recommendation is only verbal. I’d be interested to know if you took the time to call the Golf Course and ask Mr. Schell what that recommendation was or if you are claiming that the information is being withheld when you weren’t at the meeting when it was mentioned.
    .
    Similarly, while having an Audubon International rating might be nice sometime in the future, right now the Authority appears to have more important priorities.

  7. Tom Reynolds

    Thank you, Casey. Well said. They keep harping on the same old trash whenever they post. The article was a favorable one for Oak Hills, yet they try to twist everything just because they don’t like the OHPA. Toxic chemicals – false. Soil tests in 1998 near the current tank problems being performed – false. Non-compliance with Audubon – false. Oak Hills, as stated in previous meeting minutes, is something like 80% compliant (more so than most parks and golf courses in America).
    I guess they are done fighting the mosque for now, so they have to come after the OHPA. I just wish they could get a cause that is worthwhile. They are probably the same people who emailed and called the Governor’s office and the State Treasurer and Bond commissioner telling them to rescind the $1.5 million dollars that the state granted (free money) to Oak Hills. They claim they are all for saving the taxpayers of Norwalk, yet they tried to get the State of CT to take back the money.
    Anyone who ever took an Economics 101 course would be laughing at Norwalk if we gave the money back. Every town in CT would laugh at us, too.

  8. Suzanne

    Let ’em laugh.

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