As published in the Record Journal Sunday July 7, 2013
By Andrew Ragali
WALLINGFORD — The town has drafted a response to nine environmental violations issued by the state for a municipal recycling center on John Street and a Public Works dumping and storage facility on North Turnpike Road, according to Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr.
Dickinson said the town plans to respond to the June 13 notice of violation from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection by the end of the week to comply with the department’s orders. The town violated state environmental laws and regulations by improperly disposing of residential waste oil at the 157 John St. facility, while Public Works was cited for illegal dumping on the 91 N. Turnpike Road property.
According to the DEEP, a letter of compliance must be submitted no later than 30 days from when the notice of violation was issued. On Friday, Dickinson said he did not believe the compliance letter had been sent to DEEP yet.
“The communication from DEEP is still being reviewed,” Dickinson said.
Civil penalties of up to $25,000 may be assessed for each day the town was knowingly in violation of DEEP standards, although the town’s response “may affect DEEP’s decision whether or not to pursue a formal enforcement action,” according to the notice of violation.
The notice advises the town that the local violations “can reasonably be expected to create a source of pollution to the waters of the state, by a release of used oil and other solid waste to the ground.”
Asked if the town will contest any of the violations, Dickinson said “at this point, it’s being reviewed.”
“A determination will be made,” he said Friday. “Nothing has been totally decided as of yet.
“We’re looking to comply with most of it as far as I know.”
Eight of the violations stem from the town’s recycling center and how used oil was recycled at the facility. The town contracts with Fabio Enterprises of Old Colony Road to run the recycling center. Violations vary, from the lack of a “used oil” sign, to the failure to provide a spill containment area, or failing to ensure no person other than an employee of the facility, or a person under direct supervision of an employee, pours used oil into the collection tank.
On May 15, Laurene Buckowski, a sanitary engineer at DEEP, visited the town to investigate any possible violations. She was escorted by Public Works Foreman Stephen Palermo. According to an interoffice memo between Buckowski and DEEP Supervising Environmental Analyst Frank Gagliardo, Buckowski said there was about 10 gallons of an oily black liquid in the oil recycling containment area. Buckowski states in the memo that Palermo said the area would be closed, cleaned out and renovated due to violations.
Dickinson reported during the June 11 Town Council meeting that, due to improper disposal practices, oil recycling would no longer be available to residents. At the time, Dickinson said residents were disposing of liquids other than oil, such as antifreeze, and that the service would be discontinued because an employee of the facility could not constantly oversee it. He did not mention the environmental violations.
“It makes me wonder why the mayor would say the reason we shut it down is because of the wrong liquids,” said Democratic Town Councilor Jason Zandri, who is opposing Dickinson, a Republican, in the upcoming mayoral election.
If Dickinson wasn’t being forthcoming during the June Town Council, “I would not be very happy, as a councilor or a resident,” said Democratic Town Councilor John Sullivan.“That is extremely serious to me. I’d be disappointed in Mayor Dickinson if he did that.”
Republican Town Councilor John LeTourneau said the issues at 91 N. Turnpike Road, known as the “dog pit,” need to be kept separate from the issues at the recycling center. LeTourneau said he was surprised the department only handed out nine violations in total because of past experiences with the department and how “they have to go by the books.”
DEEP officials familiar with the violations in Wallingford were not available for comment, a spokesperson said.
Concerns about practices at 91 N. Turnpike Road date back 20 years. In 1993, Town Environmental Planner Brent Smith issued a cease and desist order to Public Works Director Henry McCully, asking him to stop all expansion activities at the site. According to a letter from Smith to McCully on May 12, 1993, the order was issued because in March of that year McCully came before the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission and said expansion at the site would stop. Between March and May of that year, Smith wrote that commissioners observed further activity at the site.
“If private citizens are obligated to abide by state and municipal environmental legislation, should the town itself be any different?” Smith wrote.
In 2008, the Department of Environmental Protection investigated the site after receiving a complaint that catch basin clean out waste was being dumped there, according to a March 3, 2009 department memo. The memo states that McCully was made aware of the issues, and that he would address the problem with the local wetlands commission. The DEP found McCully’s response adequate and closed the investigation.
The current violations at 91 North Turnpike Road stem from a complaint by local resident William Comerford, who noticed large pools of oily liquid at the site on April 8 and reported it to Environmental Planner Erin O’Hare. Comerford took video of what he found. On April 10, Comerford contacted the DEEP. Donnell Thigpen, of the department’s emergency response unit, visited the site that day and filed an “emergency incident field report.” He said an investigation of the area revealed “soil in the storage area that had a petroleum odor, it appeared that the pile was not covered immediately, causing the liquids to migrate around the area.”
O’Hare and McCully then arrived on scene, Thigpen said, adding that McCully had hay bales put around the release to prevent any spread. McCully could not be reached for comment.
On Friday, O’Hare said her jurisdiction, as well the jurisdiction of the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission, is 50 feet outside of wetlands. The release, as O’Hare characterized the dumped material, came within 47 feet of her jurisdiction. “It’s very serious,” she said. O’Hare said she is investigating the incident on her own, and will share a report during the July 24 wetlands commission meeting. At this point, “I don’t see any contamination to the wetlands,” she said.
According to the DEEP’s notice, a violation was handed out in regard to dumping at the “dog pit” because more than 10 cubic yards of oily waste or catch basin material were stored at the site without proper permits.
O’Hare said she would approach her investigation with due diligence.
“I would get to the bottom of it no matter what department is involved,” she said.
Democratic Town Councilor Nick Economopoulos said Friday that a fair investigation isn’t possible within the town.
People in town positions shouldn’t be investigating people in town positions, he said. “The town should not self-investigate.”
LeTourneau said he expects O’Hare to be honest, and hopes her investigation doesn’t just scratch the surface, “because you have people’s reputations at stake.”
The Planning and Zoning Department was also briefly involved with the situation at 91 N. Turnpike Road because the area is in a protected aquifer zone, and the department oversees aquifers. The town was ordered by DEEP to cease dumping at the site, so the department is no longer involved, according to Town Planner Kacie Costello. Materials must now be shipped to the proper facility by an outside contractor.
From now on, “you really shouldn’t be dumping anything there,” Zandri said. “There has to be a better location to temporally maintain those materials until carted off.”
Republican Town Councilor Tom Laffin said the facility does not need to be totally abandoned “if you watch it and you’re careful.”
Councilors agreed that if necessary the party responsible for the violation should be punished. But punishment, they said, should depend on whether the violations were malicious or not as determined by the Personnel Department.
Republican Town Councilor Craig Fishbein questioned whether the investigation by O’Hare was necessary.
“Certainly it makes things tricky,” he said of a town employee investigating another town department.
Going forward, O’Hare said she will establish town regulations for what can and cannot be placed at 91 N. Turnpike Road.
Economopoulos said that within the next few months he plans to put the topic of illegal dumping on the Town Council agenda to address the “attitude of disrespect to the taxpayer, to the environment and to authority.”
“If you don’t answer to those things,” he said, “who do you answer to?”