Four Things Everyone Should Know About Hamden's "Big Dig"
(With warm thanks to our neighbors up on Prospect Hill for sharing the results of all their hard investigative work)
1. THE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION IS NOW UNDER INVESTIGATION BY THE STATE AUDITORS’ OFFICE FOR ITS WORK AT THE NEWHALL SITE.
The Auditors’ office has been investigating since mid-April and their report should be out later this summer. We expect that the AG’s office will soon step in as well. Hopefully they can figure out how to recover some of the $2,455,000 in bond money squandered by the DEP at the Newhall site.
2. THE DEP CHANNELED THE NEWHALL FUNDS TO A FEW FAVORED CONTRACTORS, WITH WHAT APPEAR TO BE BLATANT VIOLATIONS OF STATE CONTRACTING LAWS.
Much of the State’s bond money went to the DEP’s lead contractor at the site, Loureiro Engineering Associates (LEA), under a limited Contract that was designed to provide rapid, short-term (30 day) response to hazardous spills. Through seven unauthorized “addenda” to a modest original work proposal of only $48,229.95 submitted in May 2003, LEA was ultimately paid $1,306,682.03 (as of March 2006) by the State of Connecticut over a period of more than two and a half years for work on the Newhall Remediation site in Hamden, CT. Because LEA was initially hired to do some soil sampling at a couple of neighborhood plots, it never had to compete against other potentially much more qualified bidders for its jobs, such as:
1. Serving as the lead Contractor overseeing the investigation of the Newhall site.
2. The lucrative soil investigation of over 120 homes when DEP expanded the site.
3. Serving as the Contractor responsible for the development, cost analysis, and evaluation of alternative remediation plans.
Moreover, through a bidding process that LEA administered, LEA also awarded contracts to perform “emergency remedial measures” at the site to its wholly-owned subsidiary, LEA-Cianci.
And this is apparently only the beginning. Department emails obtained by one of our neighbors under the Freedom of Information Act show that the Department planned to allocate large sums to LEA in this manner, several times per year, until at least 2009. In June of this year, in the midst of the ongoing investigation by the State Auditor’s office, LEA was awarded a $5 million remediation contract by the DEP.
3. INSTEAD OF CLEANING UP THE SITE SEVERAL YEARS AGO, THE DEP EMBARKED ON A COSTLY AND UNNECESSARY EXPANSION OF NEWHALL.
The few genuine areas of contaminated landfill were already well defined in 2003. Instead of cleaning these areas up three years ago, the DEP spent much of its $2.5 million of State Bond funds expanding the site to include new residential neighborhoods and homes that were known NOT to be former landfill areas. By doing so, the DEP:
1) Created the many years of unnecessary delays that have so frustrated residents
2) Squandered the millions in bond money that were earmarked for planning the clean-up of the contaminated areas
3) Took a clean-up that should be manageable and affordable and artificially bloated it in size by throwing in over 100 homes and neighborhoods that could not possibly be on landfill.
Among the areas that the DEP now claims fall within the boundaries of a former “dumpsite” are: a) One of Connecticut’s oldest Jewish cemeteries, established in 1855, currently operated by Temple Beth Sholom of Hamden; b) The Alling Street neighborhood, a historic neighborhood of homes built between 1850 and 1870, long before any dumping of contaminated waste occurred in the area; c) Prospect Hill, the regional highlands, where maps, aerial photographs, and documents tracing back to the middle of the 19th century confirm that this area was never a dump or landfill of any kind, and where the DEP found no subsurface contamination or waste at any of the 63 homes of the neighborhood.
4. THE DEP’S SOIL STANDARDS AT NEWHALL ARE DESIGNED TO CREATE MORE PAID WORK FOR STATE CONTRACTORS, NOT TO PROTECT HUMAN HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT.
For example, the DEP set an artificially low lead standard (400 parts per million) for the Newhall site, guaranteeing that ordinary residential soils would be identified as contaminated wastes. Not only was this lead standard well below the true State and Federal standards (the EPA standard is 1200 ppm), but it was far below the average soil lead concentration for all homes of this age in the Northeastern United States (542 ppm for homes built prior to 1940, 573 ppm for homes built between 1940 and 1959). If the artificial standards that the DEP applied in this case were applied throughout the Northeast, the vast majority of homes built prior to 1959 would be classified as lying on contaminated waste and slated for remediation. The DEP also deliberately lied to residents, telling them that this artificially low level was the State’s standard.
DEP’s standards have nothing to do with public health: The Department of Public Health has determined that even much higher levels of lead in soil pose no significant risk to human health. And it isn't just lead. The levels that the DEP has set for cancer-causing agents at the Newhall site are so absurdly low that the probability of getting cancer in your lifetime from what the DEP is calling “contaminated” soil is fifty times more remote than the likelihood you will be killed by lightning—and that’s only if you ate a 100 mg tablet of your soil every day for thirty years. These ridiculously strict standards are clearly not about “environmental protection,” but they will generate millions of dollars in work for the select group of state contractors who get paid a lot of money to remove contaminated dirt.
IF THE DEP SET REASONABLE STANDARDS AND FOCUSED ON THE AREAS OF GENUINE CONTAMINATION, THE FULL AND COMPLETE REMEDIATION THAT OUR NEIGHBORHOOD HAS DEMANDED WOULD BE POSSIBLE, AFFORDABLE, AND COMPLETED ON SCHEDULE.