Updated with PowerPoint presentation, 10:36 a.m.
NORWALK, Conn. – South Norwalk residents – rich and poor – worked together Thursday evening for the protection of their common interest: the air and water quality in their mutual neighborhood.
The plans to clean up five polluted Meadow Street properties – to a degree – drew tepid reviews from residents and activists at a public hearing at the Maritime Aquarium. One woman said officials were “putting a Band-Aid on a lethal wound because it’s convenient,” but said she understood that was all they could do.
About 15 people showed up to hear the intentions of Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) officials and licensed environmental professionals for the properties, now owned by Meadow Street Partners, LLC (a real estate entity formed by several City Carting principals). None of the people were from city government, although Democratic mayoral hopeful Harry Rilling listened to the first part of the presentation, then left before the question-and-answer session.
Waste Management of Connecticut, the former owner, is on the hook to pay for cleanup of materials that existed before that company owned the land.
John Hankins of Fuss & O’Neill, the firm hired to do the cleanup, explained that what had been marshland in 1895 was filled in with soil that contained coal fragments, coal ash and metals. The businesses that flourished there further contaminated that fill. The property at 36 Meadow St. is the worst, with PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyls) left over from its time as Demilo Brothers scrap iron salvage.
Soil testing revealed petroleum, solvents and metal (in some cases under buildings) in some spots, Hankins said. The plan is to excavate and remove contaminated soil down to the water table and replace it with clean soil, with a thin marker layer between the two. People would be kept from disturbing the dirt by an asphalt cap and the existing buildings.
It’s far from perfect, people said, but officials said that, practically speaking, that was all that could be done. The cleanup will be done to industrial standards, officials said, not to the more stringent codes for residential development.
Deed restrictions will theoretically prevent future owners from disturbing the deeper levels of contamination, officials said.
Amy Jimenez of Village Creek questioned that.
“You’re just going to cap it, call it a cement playground forever,” she said. “… I think that’s short sighted.”
Dianne Lauricella asked if the possibly rising sea level had been considered, and said DEEP seemed to be thinking only of people, not the sensitive estuary and its shellfish.
“I don’t know that I was aware of that,” DEEP Environmental Analyst Jeff Wilcox said. “I don’t know in the past if that was a concern or not.”
Lauricella asked Wilcox if he had been contacted about the situation by the mayor’s office or other Norwalk officials.
“The answer is simple,” Wilcox said. “No.”
“I am shocked the city has not reached out whole-heartedly to the neighborhoods,” Lauricella said. “Usually in other cities the administration gets involved.”
Officials struggled to keep the focus of the meeting on topic as area residents broadened their complaints.
Lynnelle Jones said she watched from her Wilson Point home as polluters dumped hazardous materials into Long Island Sound, and she said she watched the Coast Guard clean it up, without the public ever finding out about it.
Marlon Richards of Meadow Gardens complained of explosions in the area – news to the officials. Told by Lauricella that the problem was at Lajoie’s Auto Wrecking and Scrap Recycling, the officials said that wasn’t in the scope of their project, but eventually promised to look into the situation.
After the meeting, Lynn Detroy, who does not live in South Norwalk but attended anyway, said she wished the properties had been sold to developers so they wouldn’t become “just another garbage dump.”
“These people tonight are really upset,” she said. “I don’t blame them. And there’s no representation here of the city officials. It’s shocking. Shocking. I mean nobody.”
She said she had worked for years at Stamford Community Health Center, which, she said, was built on a dump. She said she saw many children with asthma and women who were having problems with their pregnancies.
“It was awful and I don’t think this is any better,” she said. “I’m worried about the health of the people and the health of the Sound.”
Most of the work would be done by fall, but the proven health risks of PCBs mean that the plan for 36 Meadow St. will require approval from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which may take a while. That work is expected to be done in 2014 at the latest.
Comments about the plans may be submitted until April 11. Email [email protected] for more information.
Corrections made, 10:34 a.m.