Wednesday, September 22, 2021

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Tempers Get Toxic at BOS Talk on Chemicals Near Senior Center

Hittle said that given the property was not currently under the jurisdiction of any “regulatory programs”—and probably wouldn’t be given these low levels—remediation could simply consist of mixing and moving the earth about the property.

“The DEEP in my opinion would not have the appetite to get involved with a site like this,” he said, calling it “relatively minor.”

He said, however, the town needs to weigh costs versus concern, offering several options that included relocating the contaminated soil to New Jersey, which would run $250,000 to $500,000, moving it across town to one of two sites by the Greens Farms Train Station, or just covering it where it is.

Peter Ratkiewich, director of the Department of Public Works, said that whatever the town chose to do, it would involve lengthy permit processes and additional cost.

“This problem isn’t anyone’s fault,” he said. “It’s inherent in the soil we inherited … We now own it, so we have to deal with it, one way or another.”

WestportNow.com Image
A view of the area on the Baron’s South, just south of the parking lot cul de sac, where the soil mound is spread. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Jarret Liotta for WestportNow.com

To begin, the BOS is asking Hittle to do more testing throughout the property, to conduct a historical assessment, and — at the urging of at least two RTM members — employ a professional to do a health risk assessment as well.

“It’s important for us to understand how and when arsenic is dangerous,” said Kristen Schneeman, RTM District 9.

“Planting grass on it and hoping we all forget about it … isn’t the right solution,” she said.

“I’m very disturbed,” said Sal Liccione, District 9, noting that the previous DPW director, Steve Edwards, who was brought in as a consultant earlier on the question, “needs to explain himself” as to why the soil wasn’t tested over two years ago.

Two of the petitioners—Morley Boyd and John Suggs—were also upset, citing an email chain that showed officials had moved some of the soil offsite, despite claims that they hadn’t.

In particular, Boyd presented the BOS with an email chain from June, 2018, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that includes an exchange between Jennifer Fava, Parks and Recreation Department director, and Dan DeVito, operations supervisor, in which they discuss using some of the fill at Baron’s South for a “berm” in the Soundview parking lot at Compo Beach.

“When do you want to pick it up?” Fava asks.

“Can we do it on Monday?” DeVito says.

Boyd also presented pictures, which he said showed the same soil from Baron’s South at the parking lot a short time later.

“A reasonable assumption is that Parks and Recreation did what they said they were going to do,” he said.

WestportNow.com Image
Morley Boyd presents the selectmen with a copy of an email chain which he maintains shows that the tainted soil has been removed from the Baron’s South Park and used in a parking lot at Compo Beach. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Jarret Liotta for WestportNow.com

But Ratkiewich, who maintains that none of the soil has ever left the property, said this email did not represent “a smoking gun.”

“I would maintain that this is hearsay,” he said, noting that soils can look very much alike and he didn’t believe it was the same soil.

Meanwhile Suggs was chastised by First Selectman Jim Marpe two separate times after he shouted out during the meeting.

“Test it!” Suggs yelled out during a testy exchange between Ratkiewich and Boyd.

“Would you please excuse yourself, John,” Marpe said, banging his gavel. “You have no right to be shouting out here. You’ll get your turn.”

One RTM member, Louis Mall, District 2, defended town officials and said there was no danger posed by the soil.

“This is not … a health hazard to anyone,” he said, noting the recommendation at the November RTM meeting was “to do nothing.”

“I think the town needs to know how its employees are being treated,” he said, calling the complaint a frivolous goose chase on the part of Boyd and Suggs.

“I would like to call a halt to this harassment that is going on in Westport with this FOIA nonsense,” he said.

Ratkiewich said he would try to get back to the BOS with an update in about six to eight weeks following Hittle’s findings.

At that time, he said, he would prepare cost estimates on different options.

Hittle said that given the property was not currently under the jurisdiction of any “regulatory programs”—and probably wouldn’t be given these low levels—remediation could simply consist of mixing and moving the earth about the property.

“The DEEP in my opinion would not have the appetite to get involved with a site like this,” he said, calling it “relatively minor.”

He said, however, the town needs to weigh costs versus concern, offering several options that included relocating the contaminated soil to New Jersey, which would run $250,000 to $500,000, moving it across town to one of two sites by the Greens Farms Train Station, or just covering it where it is.

Peter Ratkiewich, director of the Department of Public Works, said that whatever the town chose to do, it would involve lengthy permit processes and additional cost.

“This problem isn’t anyone’s fault,” he said. “It’s inherent in the soil we inherited … We now own it, so we have to deal with it, one way or another.”

WestportNow.com Image
A view of the area on the Baron’s South, just south of the parking lot cul de sac, where the soil mound is spread. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Jarret Liotta for WestportNow.com

To begin, the BOS is asking Hittle to do more testing throughout the property, to conduct a historical assessment, and — at the urging of at least two RTM members — employ a professional to do a health risk assessment as well.

“It’s important for us to understand how and when arsenic is dangerous,” said Kristen Schneeman, RTM District 9.

“Planting grass on it and hoping we all forget about it … isn’t the right solution,” she said.

“I’m very disturbed,” said Sal Liccione, District 9, noting that the previous DPW director, Steve Edwards, who was brought in as a consultant earlier on the question, “needs to explain himself” as to why the soil wasn’t tested over two years ago.

Two of the petitioners—Morley Boyd and John Suggs—were also upset, citing an email chain that showed officials had moved some of the soil offsite, despite claims that they hadn’t.

In particular, Boyd presented the BOS with an email chain from June, 2018, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that includes an exchange between Jennifer Fava, Parks and Recreation Department director, and Dan DeVito, operations supervisor, in which they discuss using some of the fill at Baron’s South for a “berm” in the Soundview parking lot at Compo Beach.

“When do you want to pick it up?” Fava asks.

“Can we do it on Monday?” DeVito says.

Boyd also presented pictures, which he said showed the same soil from Baron’s South at the parking lot a short time later.

“A reasonable assumption is that Parks and Recreation did what they said they were going to do,” he said.

WestportNow.com Image
Morley Boyd presents the selectmen with a copy of an email chain which he maintains shows that the tainted soil has been removed from the Baron’s South Park and used in a parking lot at Compo Beach. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Jarret Liotta for WestportNow.com

But Ratkiewich, who maintains that none of the soil has ever left the property, said this email did not represent “a smoking gun.”

“I would maintain that this is hearsay,” he said, noting that soils can look very much alike and he didn’t believe it was the same soil.

Meanwhile Suggs was chastised by First Selectman Jim Marpe two separate times after he shouted out during the meeting.

“Test it!” Suggs yelled out during a testy exchange between Ratkiewich and Boyd.

“Would you please excuse yourself, John,” Marpe said, banging his gavel. “You have no right to be shouting out here. You’ll get your turn.”

One RTM member, Louis Mall, District 2, defended town officials and said there was no danger posed by the soil.

“This is not … a health hazard to anyone,” he said, noting the recommendation at the November RTM meeting was “to do nothing.”

“I think the town needs to know how its employees are being treated,” he said, calling the complaint a frivolous goose chase on the part of Boyd and Suggs.

“I would like to call a halt to this harassment that is going on in Westport with this FOIA nonsense,” he said.

Ratkiewich said he would try to get back to the BOS with an update in about six to eight weeks following Hittle’s findings.

At that time, he said, he would prepare cost estimates on different options.

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