Monday, July 24, 2006


Until very recently, most of us had very positive ideas about the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. Like most Americans, we believe in preventing Global Warming, saving whales, and keeping our lakes and rivers clean. We have warm feelings for Smokey the Bear, and believe that no child should be left inside. But unlike most Americans, we have been forced to make a sharp distinction between the important task of protecting human health and the environment—the stated purpose of the DEP—and the actual reality of our State’s Department of Environmental Protection. The inconvenient truth is that the Connecticut DEP enjoys a national reputation for corruption. Not long ago it was profiled by the country’s leading environmental magazine in an article appropriately entitled "The Department of Environmental Corruption." And as Carole Bass has shown in the series of fabulous investigative articles in the New Haven Advocate that sparked an ongoing Grand Jury investigation, the DEP is one of the Connecticut bureaucracies where the Rowland legacy is still alive and well. It has been quite painful to learn the extent to which Ranger Rick (and Ranger Regina) have had their hands in the public till.

How did we come to this rude awakening? Because we live in Southern Hamden, where the DEP is about to embark on the largest remediation project in its history and its first experiment in “cleaning up” a large residential neighborhood. Millions of our tax dollars are about to flow to the DEP for its “Big Dig” at Hamden’s Newhall site and the prognosis is looking grim: Spades haven’t even hit the dirt in our neighborhoods, but the Department is already under investigation for misdirecting millions of dollars to favored state contractors and rigging its expanded site investigation so that many ordinary homes were wrongly stigmatized as former dumpsites in need of a multi-million dollar cleanup. As residents of the neighborhoods that are the object of the DEP’s first residential remediation, and as taxpayers and principled citizens of the State of Connecticut, we are now on high alert. Our experience to date tells us that if the DEP is left to its own devices, the very best we can expect is ineptitude—they simply lack the necessary expertise to handle a project like this. We also have good reason to fear the worst—that like so many of its past projects, the DEP will simply use this project to put more money in the hands of some politically-connected cronies, favor its contractors over its responsibility to our community, and put our lives and homes at risk.

But that will only happen if good people sit by idly and do nothing…and that’s not going to happen. From the moment people in the neighborhood began to figure out that something was terribly wrong and brought it to the attention of our elected officials, Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney and State Representative Peter Villano have been nothing short of heroic in their efforts to defend the community and bring the DEP to account. Mayor Henrici has begun to get more actively involved, and we hold out the hope that appeals to conscience and principle will bring Senator Joseph Crisco to rally to our cause as well.

All of this brings us to this site and the reason why we are here. In the last three years, the DEP has already spent over $400,000 of State bond funds on public relations firms for the Newhall site to keep our community in the dark. More money is already on its way. But money doesn’t buy truth, and the façade is cracking. We hope this site will widen the cracks and let the light shine through. Please join us in keeping a vigilant watch and helping to get the word out.