Protect the Partrick Wetlands
and our Community

Water Worries Drive Critics of ARS Plan
Don Casciato
Printed in the Westport News

Opponents of the ARS Partners plan to develop the F.D. Rich property near Newtown Turnpike unleashed an environmental counter-attack Wednesday night at a hearing of the Westport Conservation Commission.

Objections ranged from possible contamination of well water in the area to the impact of the proposed homes on the property to the disruption of the habitat for the animals living at the site. The evening also provided a recent history of landfill in Westport.

Actually, the number of homes desired for the site was the reason for the hearing in the first place and opened the door to environmental concerns. The developer, ARS Partners, wants "the construction of 24 single-family residences, instead of the originally approved 25 units, with two of the units being in upland locations previously denied," according to the application.

The applicant also wants some relocation of sanitary sewer and public water areas at the property.

The opponents' case started with a multi-tier presentation.

Court Case Threat

"Our purpose is to follow this through to the court," said Matthew Mandell of Partrick Road. "It is not our burden or that of the community but of the applicant. The applicant is guilty until proven innocent at this point."

Later in the hearing, Larry Weisman, who represents ARS, challenged his interpretation of the law.

"You have been misinformed," said Weisman to Mandell and the commissioners on the issue of responsibility and innocence.

Mandell also read a letter from John Kennedy, another Partrick Road resident, who stated a study of the Rich property was needed and a completed detailed study didn't exist.

"We need to know the risk," he said.

And Kennedy wants the developer to post a bond so "he is not allowed to skip town" after completion of the project.

Health Issues

James Cochrane, of 64 Partrick Road, raised health issues and referred to a 1995 memo from Alicia Mozian, conservation director, to Planning and Zoning Department Director Katherine Barnard. The document discussed the 32,000 cubic yards of waste on the property. There was a landfill from 1958 to 1965 and subject to bulk wastes from 1965 to 1987, according to some Westporters.

The waste is a primary key to fears about a housing development at the site. Opponents raised doubts about contamination of the water supply and whether dangerous chemicals were present.

The concern about water safety and the battle against ARS led to a decision by a group of residents to test their water.

"I am here because of my daughters," said Sean Timmins, of his reason for testing the water.

The first series of tests showed one of the 10 exceeded acceptable limits [called maximum contamination level [MCL] and one had no problems. Nine have at least one contaminant, according to Timmins.

A chart showed the results in colors from green to yellow to red, with red indicating excess. Findings in the water included iron, nitrates, lead, zinc, uranium, manganese, mercury and arsenic.

Not enough is known to guarantee the safety to the community," he said. Further testing is planned.

Gerald Kagan, a commission member, said the information is interesting, but complained that it is irrelevant if your don't know where it came from. The tests are being conducted randomly so at this point in time residents of the area wouldn't know the results.

Kagan also said the commissioners needed to know how close to the site the tested well water was located and asked Timmins if water was tested when his home was purchased. The area of concern is 500 feet of the Rich property, but some of the opponents of development wanted the distance to be extended to one half mile.

Leon Starr, chairman of the commission, suggested that Timmins should "let Bridgeport Hydraulic know" about the test results.

Testing Consistency Urged

"We need this procedure done consistently," said Judith Nelson, director of health services for the Westport/Weston Health District, when she was asked by the commission for comment.

She also said that the water described by Timmins fit the "typical profile of well water in the area." Excessive flooding and other weather conditions can distort the findings, according to Nelson. "I don't know how deep the wells are or the treatment system in the [specific] area."

A consensus surfaced at the hearing in which it was agreed that more testing of wells was needed and that state samples have to be drawn.Testing all wells within 500 feet was suggested.

Stephen Edwards, director of Public Works, also was invited to the meeting by the commission. Asked to talk about the 32,000 cubic yards of waste, he said that the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will continue to sample the area.

"There is some confusion here because of the remediation done by the state at 19 Newtown Turnpike," he said.

Edwards also observed there are other landfills in town at the library and the Green's Farms railroad station. "Unfortunately, there are a number of former landfills," he said.

Deed Restrictions Ignored

Mandell asked to have the town "come in and test the water." In addition, he warned that deed restrictions are unenforceable once people move into their houses. "New owners will run amuck," he said, and predicted that they would use pesticides to kill bugs and put fertilizers on their lawn despite rules against it in the homeowners agreement.

He complained to the commissioners: "This is not the first time the commission let something get out of hand. We want all conditions met up front and not after the application is approved."

Diane Lauricella, of Chestnut Hill Road in Norwalk and the Sierra Club's Fairfield County leader, also attacked the commissioners.

"I was asked to look into this issue," she said, adding that she was an environmental investigator. "I'm concerned about the impact. You need help. I would reject the application for incompleteness. You need a thorough examination. There is going to be disruption of a lot of the surface area [at the site]."

Shortly after Lauricella suggested that the commissioners "read their regulations" Mozian said the Sierra official hadn't read all the documents in the case.

Town Attorney Ira Bloom attended the hearing and afterwards pointed out that the commission had hired consultants to help with the case.

The meeting ended on a contentious note. "Keep the [hearing] record open," said Edward Lerner, an attorney representing a client near the disputed site. "Some of the information raised about contamination requires some study."

Starr countered: "I have lots of questions about the applicants, but I don't intend to keep the hearing open ad infinitum. I gotta tell you, we have to move judiciously on to other issues.

Lerner replied: "Don't move recklessly."