A FEW QUESTIONS FOR THE AUDITORS...
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?
ATTEND THE MEETING TODAY AT 6:30. WE HAVE LEARNED THAT THERE WILL BE A COMMUNITY PRESS CONFERENCE PRIOR TO THE MEETING AT 6:00pm, OUTSIDE THE BALLROOM WHERE THE DEP MEETING IS BEING HELD.