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.