Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A Community Plan

Sometimes it's amazing how much better citizens function than state bureaucracies.

Less than two weeks after the DEP released its own plan, a draft "Community Plan" is now circulating the neighborhood and people are being encouraged to provide comments and suggestions. Unlike the DEP's plan, the Community's draft is being circulated well in advance of the next public meeting on September 19.

Here's the basic idea: Set reasonable soil standards, clean up the genuinely contaminated homes in our neighborhood fully, and compensate people (at no additional cost to the taxpayer) for the inevitable disruption of their lives.

If it sounds simple, that's because it is. This was never a particularly complicated problem. That's why average citizens in our community, people who aren't interested in creating work for the DEP's contractors and consultants, were able to come up with a plan that works so much better for the community it was intended to serve. We all probably have some good ideas about how to improve it, but even in its existing form this plan solves the problem more quickly, fully, and justly than the DEP's proposal. It even costs less than what the DEP proposed and will not leave our community permanently stigmatized and saddled with land use restrictions.

How can that be? Here's an edited version of the proposal that is going around the neighborhood:

A Community Plan

Our Community Plan proposes to remove all soils from the site that do not meet reasonable environmental and health standards, and to leave all properties in the area with a legal certification that they are clean. The plan we have drafted eliminates the many harmful elements of the DEP’s plan, provides a better and more lasting protection of human health and the environment, takes steps to permanently remove the stigma from our neighborhood, restores our homes to their true value, and will allow us to live without lingering fears of contamination or disruption of our lives.

Our Community Plan is based on three basic principles:

1. Full clean-up

There should be no contaminated soil left on any residential property. No resident should have to live with an environmental land use restriction, and the neighborhood as a whole should not have to suffer the continued stigma, dislocation, and loss in home value that the DEP’s plan would entail. The demand for full clean-up and a final resolution to the problem has been the most basic and consistent request of people in our community from the very beginning. It must be honored.

2. Reasonable standards

To attain this goal, the DEP must set reasonable cleanup standards. We propose setting a lead level of 1200 mg/kg for our properties, which is what the U.S. EPA recommends. We also propose setting our soil standards for cancer-causing contaminants at the level at which the risk that you might get cancer from the soil in your yard would be equal to the risk that you might be killed by lightning (1 in 20,000). Both of these standards are extremely protective of our health and the health of our children.

These standards can be adopted easily, with the stroke of a pen. The Commissioner of the DEP has the full authority to set any standards that she wishes for a site. The DEP's current levels are extreme and go well beyond any reasonable protection of public health.

Instead of doing a partial and temporary replacement of the top four feet of soil, which would leave our neighborhood stigmatized and insure that the DEP and its contractors will be back digging up our yards again in the future, the DEP should adopt a more reasonable soil standard (the “lightning standard”) and then clean up the few genuinely contaminated homes in our neighborhood fully. This will allow us to have a final and permanent removal of the contaminants in our yards and set us free to live healthy lives and to buy, sell, and use our homes as we wish.

3. Clarity, closure, and compensation.

People have suffered in this neighborhood as a result of the years of delays, the mistakes made, and the endless uncertainty about whose home lies on landfill and about what will be done. Because of the way that the DEP has mishandled this, a terrible stigma now hangs over all of our properties, whether our soil is contaminated or not.

To remove this stigma and to bring clarity and closure to all concerns about contamination in the area, our plan proposes that the DEP enter a clear legal statement (a “memorandum of understanding”) into each of our land records. This legal statement would describe what, if any, contamination existed on our property, detail any and all mistakes that the DEP or its contractors might have made in reporting their findings, describe how any cleanup that took place served as a permanent and binding resolution of the problem, and give each one of our properties a clear and clean bill of health with no restrictions on its use.

To compensate our neighborhood, if only in small part, for the disruption to our lives, we propose that a special fund be established. The basis of this fund will be the approximately $1,500,000 in State bond funds that were transferred illegally to the DEP’s contractor, Loureiro Engineering Associates, beyond the 60-days allowable under its contract. This money can be recovered by the State of Connecticut and transferred to the members of our community, much like the mechanism that operates in the Federal Government under the False Claims Act. It would present no further cost to the taxpayers of the State or the Town of Hamden. We will also request that the Olin Corporation match those funds in exchange for our support for this alternative plan. Assuming that there have been approximately 500 affected households, we would each expect to receive a check for approximately $6000. Needless to say, all $72 million dollars of the DEP’s plan were earmarked for its contractors. Not one of us would have received a single penny under the DEP’s plan.

It’s your choice

No one has the right to tell you what to do with your own property, but if you prefer this Community Plan to the plan put forward by the Department of Environmental Protection, it is important to express that opinion before the end of the 60-day comment period on October 20.

If you have comments or suggestions on the Community Plan, you can send them to the email address linked to this site. Unlike the DEP, we truly want your input and will make changes based on your ideas before submitting it to the DEP at the end of the comment period.


When it comes to public comment, Commissioner McCarthy has made it clear that there are only two opinions that she genuinely cares about. One of them is the opinion of Governor Jodi Rell. The other (and much less so) is the opinion of our Legislators. We will be submitting a final version of this plan to the DEP at the end of the comment period, but they will do nothing if the Governor and the Legislature do not take up our cause. If you do not want to see your neighborhood and your Town permanently harmed, you must write to these officials now. The Governor's staff must read and respond to emails within two weeks. So we need to start sending those emails now.

Here is the list of officials to whom you should send your response:

Governor M. Jodi Rell

Senator Martin Looney

Senator Joseph Crisco

Representative Peter Villano

And so they can't say that no one told them...
DEP's Thomas W. RisCassi

Friday, August 25, 2006

It's Time for a New Plan

Question: Does this Fitzgerald and Halliday diagram illustrate the end goal of the DEP's defunct remediation plan, or the problem that the plan was designed to remedy?

Answer: BOTH

That's right. After years of waiting, on August 18th Commissioner McCarthy unveiled a proposed "remedy" that was virtually identical to the department's explanation of the cause of soil contamination at Newhall: covering up a contaminated landfill. Did it really take the DEP and Loureiro Engineering Associates several years to come up with their proposal to replace the few feet of soil that were placed over the original landfill, at a cost of 72 million dollars? If nothing else, LEA found a brilliant way to extend the life of the DEP's Big Dig boondoggle. If this "plan" were implemented, the DEP and its contractors would have the opportunity to dig up our neighborhood again in 25 years.

It's no surprise, then, that the DEP's bizarre plan and the closed process that created it were universally rejected by our community and its legislative representatives at the public meeting on August 18th. Not one person voiced even conditional support. If you missed the meeting, you can relive it through Sharon Bass' excellent and vivid recounting of the events, or watch it on CTV, which has been rebroadcasting the meeting. Casey Miner also nicely captures the DEP's unique combination of bureaucratic arrogance and scientific incompetence in her story in this week's Advocate.

There was a general consensus that the DEP's performance at the meeting was no better than their plan. The DEP's responses to questions were only half-hearted. Director of Remediation, Patrick Bowe, and his Assistant, Rob Bell, first tried to claim that when the landfill had been covered initially, it probably hadn't been covered over with enough soil. Had they actually checked with the Town to identify how the site had been dealt with originally? Of course not.

Is There Any Risk?

But the big elephant in the room that the DEP was clearly afraid of, and which they tried to dodge at the meeting, was the question of what risk, if any, we face from the soils in our area. The DEP staff blushed and squirmed when the audience broke into applause at the calls by one of our neighbors not to dig up our soils to protect us from cancer risks that are 50 times more remote than the risk of being killed by lightning. Sharp criticism of their ridiculous standards is not something that the DEP are used to hearing, because it's not something that most people know about (the DEP hides the details in cryptic formulas like the ones shown here). The fact is that there are only a few areas of Newhall that present a significant risk to our health, and they can be cleaned up fully and completely. In fact, the DEP's own remediation plan presents a greater risk to public health and the environment than the current conditions do...which is why that plan is dead in the water.

The Community not only deserves better, but it can do better. It's time for us to develop an alternative plan.

Saturday, August 19, 2006


Dear Commissioner McCarthy:

At the public meeting held on August 17, 2006 at which you released your Plan for the clean-up of the Newhall neighborhood, you may recall that one of our neighbors stood up and asked you what you would do if it were your yard that lay on top of a former industrial dumpsite.

You never responded. But the question is more relevant to your situation than you might think.

Don’t worry. We’re not talking about the yard of your home in Canton, Massachusetts. We’re talking about the “yard” in front of your offices at the Department of Environmental Protection.

We’re talking about Bushnell Park.

That’s right, much like our much humbler parks here in Hamden and in countless other towns throughout the state, Bushnell Park was once an industrial waste dump, a site of such extensive contamination that it was described by the Reverend Horace Bushnell in the late 1800s as “hell without the fire."

Bushnell Park in 1850: “Hell without the fire.”

According to the website of the Bushnell Park Foundation, today’s Bushnell Park was once the wetlands of the “Little” or “Mill” River (later known as the “Park River”), but by the mid-19th Century, the area had become a polluted stretch of chemical-intensive industries (including two tanneries) and garbage dumps. During the mid-19th Century factories like the Pratt and Whitney Machine Parts Co. and, later, Col. Albert Pope's bicycle and automobile factory emptied their wastes into the river, which reportedly ran murky with industrial wastes. In the 19th Century, what would later become Bushnell Park was a contaminated wasteland…and Bushnell just covered it over to create the park that now bears his name.

And unlike Newhall, the contamination in Bushnell Park does not seem to have been contained very well. Well into the 1930s and 1940s, the befouled Park River regularly flooded the entirety of Bushnell Park and the surrounding streets, leaving a layer of contaminated silt on the surface of the greens. These are the very areas that the staff from your Department and the surrounding government offices now sit on the grass to eat their lunches each day during the warm weather.

So it seems that we are all in the same predicament. Perhaps now you can relate to our situation a little better than you initially thought.

Or to put all of this in the language familiar to your Department, our “Phase I” investigation suggests that your yard is on landfill waste to a depth of at least four feet, and you may be placing a significant number of people at risk from contamination from the fill materials.

What is to be done?

This brings us back to the question you were asked by our neighbor and we are very curious as to what you will do about the Bushnell landfill. Will you sound the alarm and begin to channel millions of dollars in State bond funds under emergency contracts (without competitive bids) to favored contractors like Loureiro Engineering Associates, as you and your staff have done at Newhall? Can we expect you to sign a Consent Order with United Technologies (Pratt and Whitney) and the Town of Hartford to pay for the removal of the top four feet of soil, including the removal of all of the historic trees and structures of the Park, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, to clean Bushnell Park up to your Department’s arbitrarily strict remediation standards? Will you draw out the process for years and then finally put forward a plan that evicts those working around the Park (including the Governor) from their offices for the duration of the remediation, while providing them with no compensation whatsoever for the utter disruption of their lives? Or can we expect to wait, as those of us in Newhall have, for 28 years following your Department's initial site investigation before any decision is taken about what is to be done?

Please let us know at your earliest convenience.

Sincerely yours,

The Residents of Newhall

Thursday, August 17, 2006


There were three excellent articles in the local press today about Hamden’s Big Dig following the release of the Auditors' report.

Casey Miner’s piece in the New Haven Advocate was a masterpiece in many respects. Of the many wonderful anecdotes, our personal favorite was the discussion of how LEA went to a historic home built in 1852 on Alling Street, took soil samples where the owner told them the old outhouse used to be, and then used those samples to claim that the home (which pre-dates the Winchester plant) was built on landfill waste. Perhaps, since the DEP appears to be so wedded to employing its lead Big Dig contractor, LEA’s services would be better suited to “remediating” the pit toilets in Connecticut’s State parks rather than managing the scientific investigation and clean-up of Newhall. Given the DEP’s creative “interpretations” of the law, they could probably even cover this work under an emergency spills contract.

High praise is also in order for today’s Hamden Daily News piece. More than anyone else, Sharon Bass was able to bore down to the essentials in the Auditors’ report and get beyond the happy press release that the DEP put out in the morning, which they hoped would substitute for an actual reading of the report. It almost worked. At the DEP’s request, the Auditors withheld the release of the report (dated August 14) until just before the close of business yesterday, long after most daily reporters would have needed to file their stories. Fortunately, our daily reporters were enterprising enough to track down a copy and Ann DeMatteo got a strong and well-balanced story into the Register for today’s paper.

But after reviewing the Auditors’ report in more detail, it is clear that it raises more questions than it answers. Even for a document that is intended to be the first step in an investigation, it left too many inconsistencies and loose ends for the Attorney General’s office to follow up on. We’ll be providing a full list of questions and a correction of several errors in the Auditors’ report to our elected representatives in the coming weeks, but here are a few questions our friends at the Attorney General’s office (and in the press) might want to ask the Auditors while we finish our work:

Question 1: A Protracted State of Emergency at Newhall?
Your report points out that LEA’s billing for services under the Spills contract “exceed[ed] the sixty (60) day maximum for emergency service contracts by almost three years.” (p.5) Even if we were to assume that Elsie Patton had the authority to hire LEA without receiving competitive proposals, and to extend the contract for an additional 30 days (although your reasoning here is sketchy), is it not the case that neither she nor anyone else at the DEP had the authority to extend the contract beyond 60 days? Was there any legal contractual basis for the “services” which LEA performed beyond the sixty days allowable for an emergency contract under the laws of our State, services for which LEA was provided over $1.5 million? Since the extended use of an emergency contract for non-emergency purposes appears to be the most significant violation of the laws of our State, one that renders all other contracting issues moot, why is it buried on page 5 and not referenced in the introduction or conclusion?

Question 2: An Appropriate Scientific Assessment?
Throughout the report, you repeatedly attest to your lack of scientific qualifications to evaluate aspects of the work done by LEA. You state, for example, that:

"We reviewed these communications even though we recognized that we do not have a scientific background that can allow us to reach any scientific conclusions regarding what actions were required."

"We wish to emphasize again that we do not have a scientific background that can allow us to reach any supported conclusions regarding what the factual information presented means in terms of what remediation will be required."

"We emphasize that we do not have the expertise to reach scientific conclusions regarding the interpretation of these test results in terms of what remediation actions are necessary."

It is not at all clear to us how the areas where you repeatedly profess a lack of scientific qualifications differ from the other areas where you felt comfortable assessing LEA’s soil sampling work. We are very disturbed by information that you relied on the DEP’s own staff (Diane Duva) to evaluate certain aspects of LEA’s investigation (particularly regarding the soil sampling protocol and the expansion of the investigation to the Prospect Hill). It is also a matter of concern that several of the most important claims demonstrated in the Prospect Hill Residents’ Report were never addressed in your report. Was this, too, because you felt you lacked sufficient scientific background to address them? In addition to examining the financial problems at Newhall, you were tasked with evaluating an apparently flawed scientific investigation. If you lacked the necessary scientific expertise, why did you not hire qualified experts that would allow you to perform the assessment rather than leave matters unaddressed or rely on the staff of the very department that you were investigating?

Question 3: What Are the State’s Legal Standards for Cleaning Up Residential Properties?
In the report, you discuss the lead standard, and claim that the “printed” State of Connecticut Regulations of the DEP should not be seen as the applicable standard. Is there some “oral” regulatory tradition that you consider to have more legal validity than the printed regulations of the State? You refer to the EPA standards, but it would appear from your report that the EPA’s suggested lead standard for residential yards is 1200 mg/kg. There appears to be no legal, scientific or health basis for the DEP’s Newhall lead standard of 400 mg/kg, which is below the average soil lead levels for homes of this age in the Northeastern United States. The Department of Public Health suggests that blood lead levels in children only reach a point of concern if they are playing in soil contaminated with lead at a level of 1500 mg/kg, 365 days per year, for 100% of their playtime hours. Given this information, wouldn't the DEP still be protecting public health and the environment if they used a more reasonable standard?


Wednesday, August 16, 2006


The Connecticut State Auditors have now released their report on the financial violations and other concerns regarding the work done by Loureiro Engineering Associates for the Department of Environmental Protection at Hamden's Newhall site. Once you cut through the Auditors' typical benign, deferential tone, there are some very disturbing findings in this report. It will be interesting to see how the DEP tries to spin the fact that the Auditors have now asked the Attorney General’s office to take the next step and open up their own investigation into the DEP's illegal contracting and misuse of state funds.

As is often the case with politically-sensitive bipartisan reports like this one, the more important information is buried deep in the middle of the document. As a public service, we thought it might be helpful if we ferreted out some of the essentials. The full report is available on the Auditors’ website, but here are some of the critical passages:

1. “Our review disclosed that the Loureiro Engineering Associates has been billing the DEP for services rendered as far back as April 2003 exceeding the sixty (60) day maximum for emergency service contracts by almost three years.” (page 5 of the Auditors’ Report)

This confirms the fundamental concern we have raised from the beginning, that DEP illegally transferred funds to LEA by extending a no-bid contract designed for emergency response to hazardous spills (the Spills Contract). Legally, services were to be provided under the Spills contract for no more than 30 days, with an additional 30-day extension possible with the written approval of the Commissioner. No one, not even the Commissioner herself, has the authority to extend the contract beyond the 60-day maximum for emergency service contracts. Nonetheless, through seven addenda “approved” by a DEP employee with close personal ties to LEA staff, the supply of “services” under the contract lasted for over three years.

What does this mean? It means that every dollar spent on LEA beyond that sixty (60) day period, a sum totaling over $1.5 million dollars, was spent in violation of state contract and Connecticut state law.

2. The Auditors’ report also confirms that LEA was self-dealing the interim clean-up contracts at Newhall to its wholly-owned subsidiary, LEA-Cianci, and that LEA-Cianci billed the State for five times the small amount for which those services were originally contracted.

Regarding LEA’s award of a contract to LEA-Cianci, the Auditors’ report states the obvious: “a subsidiary of a prime contractor should not be hired as a subcontractor.” (p.5) The report also identifies a significant problem with LEA-Cianci's unauthorized work. According to the report, “although the original subcontract was for $18,050 and the scope was included under addendum four to the contract, as of July 11, 2006, LEA-Cianci had billed LEA a total of $92,499.” (p.5) We can only hope that this self-dealing won't continue as the multi-million dollar remediation of Newhall finally starts.

3. The Auditors also report that DEP employees have channeled hundreds of thousands of dollars in state bond funds to LEA without using any contracts or authorizations at all. According to the Auditors’ report:

“Our review disclosed that LEA has invoiced the DEP $1,641,241 for work completed through May 2006 [on contracts totaling only $1,177,804]. Written approval for this additional work totaling $463,437 has not been obtained as of June 28, 2006. However, what we found was that payments of $193,084 were made to LEA beyond the approved addenda and that the remaining amount of $270,353 apparently represents work already completed but for which written approval has not been granted and for which payment has not been made. As of June 28, 2006, LEA has submitted addenda 7A and 8 increasing the total contract value by an additional $590,152 which will cover services through June 30, 2006 (page 5)…We believe that the DEP should not allow its contractors to expend or commit funds without first obtaining written authorization to do so.” (page 6)

In summary, nearly half a million dollars was earmarked for LEA without even the semblance of official authorization. If prosecuted fully, that is the sort of thing that might put someone in jail and should certainly lead to a prohibition on all future contracts to LEA.

4. The Auditors report also reveals that the contracting improprieties continued even while DEP and LEA were under investigation. For example, a special provision in the new $5 million remediation contracts that the DEP began awarding in June allows the State to request a proposal from only one bidder, i.e. without any competition at all. According to the Auditors' report:

“This provision appears to have been included so that DEP could hire LEA to continue working on the Newhall Perimeter Project. As we stated above, we always question whether a decision that does not provide for multiple proposals is in the best interests of the State.” (page 9)

This is deeply disturbing. We’re quite certain that the State, our town, and our neighborhood are harmed by the fact that LEA's work at Newhall has never been put out to competitive bidding and its cozy ties with DEP employees have been enough to secure its steady supply of State funds. We are heartened by the Auditors’ decision to “refer this and other matters to the Attorney General’s Office for his review and consideration.” (page 9)

We hope that the AG's office will also hire some independent experts to examine the scientific flaws with LEA's work, not just its illegal contracting. That's something that the Auditors were not given the resources to do. They had to rely on the DEP's "expertise," and it's no surprise that the fox didn't tell them about all the trouble in the henhouse.

But the indictments of the Auditors' report are an important first step. The rest will come...all in good time.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


1. The chances of getting cancer from the soils in Newhall are many times lower than your chances of being struck by lightning

That’s right. As an American, you have a 1 in 600,000 chance of being struck by lightning in any given year. Over thirty years, your risk of being struck by lightning is 1 in 20,000. That’s not very high. Most of us never give it much thought.

As a Newhall resident, even if your soil had “contamination” levels double the artificial standards being used by the DEP at the Newhall site, and you ate a 100 milligram tablet of your soil every day of your life, the probability that it would give you cancer within your lifetime is only 1 in 500,000.

Needless to say, that’s not the sort of risk that would make most of us want to spend hundreds of millions of dollars digging up the neighborhood.

2. During the “remediation” residents will kicked out of their homes

Believe it or not, people from the neighborhood have never been told by the DEP that they will be forced to leave their homes for the duration of the remediation of their property and the properties of their neighbors. The DEP is planning to remove the top four feet of their soil from the neighborhood, engineer a soil cap for the area, and then fill the area with non-native dirt to bring it back up to the original surface level. That’s not just going to take a lot of money. It's going to take a long time, and people won’t be happy about being evicted from their properties while they are "remediated"…so the DEP decided not to tell us.

In truth, the DEP hasn’t figured out what to do about the inconvenient fact that people happen to live on the “parcels” that they want to pay their contractors so much money to “remediate.” They’ve never really had to deal with this problem before. But they’re learning. We’ve certainly seen an improvement over the plan the DEP was working with back in December, before people got wise to what they were up to. At that time, they were planning on razing over 100 homes and evicting the current residents permanently.

3. The DEP’s “remedy” will only worsen the problem it claims to be trying to solve

That’s right. By the DEP’s artificially extreme standards for determining which soils need to be remediated, the proposed "remedy" will simply recreate or even exacerbate the “problem.” After the beautiful historic trees of our area are uprooted, after our gardens are destroyed, after the buildings on our property are razed, after hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of our native soil are excavated and hauled away in trucks, what will have been accomplished? Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars will have been spent, several years will have passed, our property values will have been destroyed, a few select contractors will have been enriched, but there will have been no “remediation”. In most cases, uncontaminated soil will simply have been replaced with uncontaminated fill. If we were to apply, perhaps as much as a decade from now, the standards that are being applied by the DEP on our properties today, the whole area would be again identified as “waste” and again require remediation. At great taxpayer expense, the DEP will have returned us to the status quo.

Don't like it? Neither do we.

Come to the meeting on August 17. It will be held in the ballroom at the Michael J. Adanti Student Center at Southern Connecticut State University at 6:30 pm.

Monday, August 07, 2006

DEP's ILLEGAL CONTRACTS (Part 1: The Subcontractors)

In case you were wondering how it was possible that Connecticut taxpayers ended up spending over half a million dollars on PR subcontractors at Hamden's Big Dig, we have the answer:
It was done illegally.

That’s right. The entire pyramid of subcontractors that Loureiro Engineering Associates (LEA) built with our state bond money had no legal basis. In fact LEA, the DEP's lead Newhall contractor, did not have the legal authorization to hire any subcontractors at all.

As we embark on our foray into the netherworld of state contracts at the Newhall site, let’s start at the beginning, with the special contract that the DEP used to channel funds to LEA and all of its subcontractors...

The "Spills Contract"
LEA was hired on at the Newhall site under the Department’s contract for “Hazardous Spill Response, Recovery, Removal, and Disposal,” a now-infamous contract that has been the focus of an investigation of the DEP by a Grand Jury and the CT Attorney General's office. The “Spills Contract,” as it is known at the DEP, created a coterie of pre-approved contractors who could be assigned jobs by the DEP at any time without competitive bids.

Now don't get us wrong. We aren't obsessive about competitive contracting, and if used properly for its primary intended purpose there would not be a problem with the Spills Contract. If there is an overturned tanker on the highway, we understand that there is no time to hold a proper competition for contracts to clean up the spill.

Needless to say, however, it did not make sense to use this contract to select the State’s lead contractor for the largest residential remediation in Connecticut history, where the last “spills” occurred more than 50 years ago, were “discovered” in 1979, and where the investigation and remediation are slated to last at least a decade. There was plenty of time for normal, competitive contracting at Newhall. But let’s leave the discussion of the assignment, extension, and expansion of LEA’s own contract to a later posting and focus on the subcontractors.

The Spills Contract had several safeguards embedded in it to limit the obvious risk that it could be abused. One of those safeguards was an explicit prohibition against the hiring of subcontractors. According to Section 7.1.1 of the contract, “A contractor shall not employ the services of a subcontractor, or allow labor, equipment or materials to be provided on a subcontract basis, unless such use is authorized by the Commissioner of DEP in writing or is authorized pursuant to section 5.5.1 or 5.5.2 of this Bid and Contract [Sections 5.5.1 and 5.5.2 also require the explicit authorization of the Commissioner in his or her sole capacity.]”

But the Commissioner did not authorize LEA to employ the services of a subcontractor. She also didn’t delegate the authorities under Section 7.1.1 of the contract to Elsie Patton, who signed off on the contracts, or to anyone else at the DEP. Nonetheless, Patton and LEA just went ahead and created a massive pyramid of subcontractors (and subs of subs) without legal authorization.

Why would Connecticut taxpayers pay for all of this unauthorized work, especially since it was not done on our behalf? The good news is that we don’t have to. Because all of this bond money was allocated by DEP and LEA illegally, the citizens and our elected representatives have the right to take it back. The state is not responsible for the payment of its subcontractors, only Loureiro is…and rightly so. It is only fitting that a bunch of subcontractors who are in LEA’s pocket should be paid for out of LEA’s own pocket.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The PR Campaign: $572,496.62 and counting...

The problems at Hamden’s Newhall site began to get a little bit more public attention this past week with excellent articles in the New Haven Register and the Hamden Daily News, and some informed discussion on Ann Altman’s list. We are very grateful for these reputable papers for calling attention to our site.

We hear that the press (and the blog) also led to quite a bit of unpleasant behind-the-scenes activity between the DEP, LEA, FHI, and the other Big Dig subcontractors. The only public voice, of course, was Dennis Schain’s, with a futile attempt to present the Auditors' investigation to the Register as if it were just another day at the office. Schain, who came to the DEP after serving as spokesman for Governor Jodi Rell, predictably repeated the DEP’s mantra about protecting public health and the environment, but he never did explain why two long-serving, established legislators like Martin Looney and Peter Villano thought it was important to request an investigation of the DEP’s relationship with its lead Newhall contractor, or what it was that the Auditors found in DEP’s files that has kept them so pre-occupied for the past few months. What will it take for the DEP to make a public admission that there is a very serious problem in the Department? We’ll have to wait and see…

…But in the meantime, we thought we’d share some more of our own findings. To facilitate the flow of information to the public, we’ll be putting up new postings every two or three days between now and the Commissioner’s visit to our neighborhood on the 17th of August.

Let’s start with the enormous sums spent on public relations at the Newhall site...

The "Public Involvement" Boondoggle

You might think it wouldn’t cost much to pay someone to say, “Hold on, we’re hard at work on a plan that will be protective of human health and the environment,” for three years running, but between August 29, 2003 and March 31, 2006, the DEP spent $572,496.62 on public relations subcontractors. That comes out to $1889.43 spent for each of the 303 residences that are listed as part of the Newhall site.

That kind of money should be able to buy a highly informed public, but most people in the neighborhood are still completely in the dark about what is going on. Most people in the neighborhood have no idea whether their home lies on waste, or about the nature of the risks from their soil, or what remediation will mean for their lives and property. And even though money from the State Bonding Commission was earmarked for the implementation of a "public involvement plan" (see p. 64 of this linked document), the only sustained public participation in Newhall is the Newhall Advisory Committee, which is a monthly meeting of (unpaid) community reps whose requests and suggestions the DEP consistently rebuffs. Indeed, the only request that the neighborhood has made of the DEP—for an independent scientific expert to help evaluate the different remediation options—has been repeatedly denied by Commissioner McCarthy. In short, none of the extraordinary “public involvement” funding seems to involve the public.

So what happened to the money? Let's take a look...

$337,038.04 went to Jill Barrett and her firm, Fitzgerald and Halliday, Inc. (FHI)
(August 29, 2003 through March 2006).
We genuinely have no idea how this enormous transfer of public funds to FHI can be explained. FHI produced a handful of summaries, put up a website that was virtually identical in design to one used at another FHI project, filed written reports to DEP about some of our neighbors, and sent out a few mailings...but produced no known tangible results and nothing that would appear to cost this much.

$112,721.99 went to Health Risk Consultants and its subcontractors
(Beginning August 29, 2003)
HRC seems to have virtually the same job description as FHI, unless there is a clear difference between “public outreach” (FHI) and “facilitating public involvement” (HRC). Both firms were employed simultaneously. Given how little was conveyed to the public during this time, one PR firm would have been too many. Two looks like a boondoggle, or worse...

$42,861.54 went to Pamala Moore
(May 16, 2005 through April 21, 2006)
Moore was subcontracted to serve as the DEP’s Community Office Manager. According to the job description, Moore spends 37 hours per week disseminating information to community residents. In point of fact, Moore serves as a mouthpiece for LEA and DEP on the NAC, at public meetings, and with the media, posing as an ordinary resident and keeping hidden the fact that she is on LEA’s payroll.

$39,875.05 went to Kathleen M. Conway
(March 4, 2005 through March 2006)
Most community boards are self-governing. They elect a chair, somebody keeps the minutes, and everything usually functions just fine. For some reason the DEP thought it was more important for the Newhall Advisory Committee to have a “facilitator” to perform these simple functions than it was to have a scientist to advise them. For this purpose, they chose a highly paid lawyer, Ms. Kathleen Conway, and contracted with her for $74,420. The truth is that Conway is the NAC’s official handler, whose true job appears to be to steer the committee in whatever direction the DEP wants it to go. You can count on her to call on pre-selected “ordinary residents” at the August 17 meeting to voice support for DEP’s plan.

And since all of these are LEA subcontractors, LEA takes home a percentage as well.