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