Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The People v. Loureiro Engineering Associates (Part I)

After keeping its report safely in bureaucratic limbo for the past eight months, the CT Department of Environmental Protection has finally released the official findings of its internal investigation on the soil investigation of the Prospect Hill neighborhood in Hamden, CT. The report, which examines the attempted eastward expansion of the Newhall site by the DEP’s lead Newhall contractor, Loureiro Engineering Associates, was written by Diane Duva and edited by Bureau Chief Betsey Wingfield and others in the DEP before its official release. The internal investigation was handed to Duva after Commissioner Gina McCarthy refused requests from our legislators to have LEA's work audited by an external environmental auditor, even one of her own choosing. For obvious reasons, Commissioner McCarthy wanted to keep the investigation of her department's lead contractor within the agency and under her direct control.

An Internal Investigation

Yet despite working under these considerable constraints, Diane Duva has delivered some remarkable findings. Like many works written under the censor’s gaze, Duva’s report has been carefully crafted; it reveals as much from what it does not say as from its stated findings. Even so, the report is damning. Most important, it shows that there are some people within the DEP who, at potential cost to themselves, still have the integrity to report findings that reveal actionable information about their agency and its powerful contractors. Commissioner McCarthy may not know it, but Diane Duva has given us the gift of truth.


Far and away the most important finding in the DEP’s internal report was that the massive, overly-costly soil investigation done by Loureiro Engineering Associates outside of the Newhall Consent Order was not designed to identify landfill or industrial wastes of the type found in some parts of the Newhall neighborhood. Instead, it was targeted to pick up the low-level “contamination”—lead paint chips, old pesticide usage, the occasional old rusty nail—typical of ordinary urban and suburban soil conditions and no different from what one would find in any older residential neighborhood. The soil investigation done by Loureiro Engineering Associates’ was rigged to target ordinary properties for a multi-million dollar remediation, a remediation which LEA knew it would be overseeing for the State of Connecticut.

What does this mean? It means that LEA should now be prosecuted by the State on a number of counts. Loureiro Engineering Associates was contracted by the State of Connecticut to look for landfill using EPA-accepted methods. When LEA instead sampled soil along the driplines of older homes and reported to DEP that they had found contaminated lead “waste” on these properties, they broke their contract with the State of Connecticut. By rigging its investigation, Loureiro Engineering Associates also violated the legal agreement that gave them access to private land, which only allowed LEA to look for landfill. In a gross violation of law and contract, LEA lied to homeowners both about what they were doing on their land and what they had “found.”

Needless to say, all of this reveals a very serious problem with Loureiro Engineering Associates, which continues to serve as the DEP's lead Newhall contractor. Contrary to public statements coming out of the DEP’s Dennis Schain, Diane Duva’s report reveals that there were significant problems with the entire perimeter investigation—an investigation that was designed, conducted, and reported by Loureiro Engineering Associates on behalf of the State of Connecticut. It is now a matter of record that Loureiro Engineering Associates not only botched its management of the remediation of Newhall in a way that is now patently obvious to our legislators, but they attempted a radical expansion of the site in 2005 through an investigation rigged to classify ordinary residential soils as contaminated waste. In doing so, they profited directly from the investigation of over a hundred properties and anticipated to gain from the illegitimate expansion of brownfield site that they knew would be placed under their management.

Indeed, despite what the summary of the DEP’s internal report says, Duva’s finding are NOT consistent with the State Auditor’s report. The Auditors knew how to follow the money, but they had no idea what a proper soil investigation should look like and didn’t hire any outside help…so they just said everything seemed fine and focused on the financial violations. Diane Duva’s report now makes it very clear that everything was not fine with LEA's perimeter investigation.

Diane Duva’s report suggests that LEA is either incompetent or corrupt. Either way, it is time for the Attorney General’s Office to intervene.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Is Gina McCarthy Dreaming of a Brown Christmas?

Well, dear friends, it's that holiday season again...time for the DEP to put coal (and trace amounts of slag, ash, and porcelain) in the stockings of our Prospect Hill neighbors for yet another year.

Yes, that's right. It's now been a whole year since the DEP first lied to the folks up on Prospect Hill, telling people whose homes were built on harmless native soil that they were living on contaminated waste...and sending their homes, lives, and families into turmoil just in time for the holidays.

And they're just about to do it again.

So if you live up on Prospect Hill and you were hoping your property would be cleared by this Christmas, you are going to be very disappointed. Why? Well, little Timmy, if Commissioner Gina McCarthy were going to do that, she would have done it long ago. She probably would have done it in the Spring when Diane Duva actually finished her report, or perhaps even last January when she realized the nefarious things that Elsie Patton and her friends at LEA had done.

No, we've known for quite some time that the Commissioner is good at making nice in public and kissing up to her superiors, but won't hesitate to crush the commoners once the cameras are put away. Neither she, nor Diane Duva, nor Pat Bowe, nor the rest of the gang up at DEP really think there is anything out of the ordinary with the soils on Prospect Hill, but they are not going to let science, the facts, or a few pesky members of the public get in the way of their bureaucratic power and privilege. Those are the hard facts. The DEP just hasn't wanted to tell you yet.

Why not? What are they waiting for? It's simple: They know you aren't going to be pleased with what they have to say, and it doesn't look good for them to be siding with their crony contractors over a community of decent and honest homeowners. And in politics, that kind of bad news has to be delivered very, very carefully. If you release it at the wrong time, important people might actually notice.

That's right, if you really want to stick it to someone as quietly as possible, there is no better time than the holidays. The Governor, State legislators, the AG, and the press are on vacation and don't want to be bothered with bad news. By the time they all come just isn't news anymore...and we're all so busy...and how was your vacation?...and, well...what do those implacable homeowners want with their crummy little properties anyway? This is the sort of thing that they pay Communications Director Dennis Schain for.

And let's not forget about our friends down in "Who-hallville," where that old Grinch Gina McCarthy is really stealing their trees this Christmas season...

It's not easy being green.