Protect the Partrick Wetlands
and our Community

Neighbors Still Fear F.D. Rich House Plan
By Kirk Lang
Printed in the Westport News

Despite approval by the Conservation Commission to allow ARS Partners to develop the former F.D. Rich property, an approval that came after thorough review of the property, much of which is wetlands, neighbors of the project believe there are still environmental concerns that need to be addressed.

ARS had applied to construct 31 single-family units on the site but the Conservation Commission only granted approval for 25. Larry Weisman, attorney for ARS Partners, appealed the decision and two weeks ago submitted a new application showing 24 units. Weisman said the site limitation on the 25-unit approval would really only allow 21 units to be built. Part of his new application shows two units in locations that were previously denied by the commission.

When Weisman was before the commission two weeks ago with his new application, Wilton Road residents Mark Van Summern and Chester A. Harlow requested the commission reject or at least suspend consideration of the proposed development until outstanding environmental issues are resolved.

Van Summern also requested the town appraise the Department of Environmental Protection and solicit the DEP's services in the investigation, analysis and direction on how to proceed with regard to future development of the 55-acre site, the largest open space in town that sits on a major aquifer.

Conservation Director Alicia Mozian said it would probably be illegal to throw out an approved decision and "start over." However, at the request of concerned neighbors, she has asked the DEP to once go over information related to the project. She said DEP had been all materials related to the project once before.

"When ARS bought the property, they removed thousands of tires and 250 tons of arsenic-laden soil and the DEP worked with them to remove the soil," she said.

She added, "If seems if the DEP wanted more done, they would have asked for it." Neighbors do not believe the site is 100 percent clear of contaminants. Harlow said, adding, 250 tons is only "about 10 truckloads."

"Is that enough?" he asked. "What about the rest of the contaminated area?" Harlow said neighbors with wells that feed from the aquifer are concerned about future construction.

"The area may be stable now, because there's no disturbance, but what about when you start digging and excavating?" asked Harlow. "Even minor blasting could possibly affect the equilibrium of the site."

He said there has been nothing in writing that states the site is safe. An area adjacent to the site used to be a town landfill. It has since been capped and is now used as a lay-down area. In a 1986 letter from then Planning Director Melvin Barr to then Conservation Director Fran Pierwola, Barr said now that a F.D. Rich project was on the drawing boards, "we have an opportunity to unload this landfill site. Your assessment may affect its marketability. Please advise Marty (Hauhuth, who was First Selectman at the time) ASAP.

Barr added, "In the meantime I will ask the town attorney if we can sell our 'landfill liability' as well."

In Van Summern's letter to the commission to reject the proposed development, he states one issue relates to the statutory requirement that a landowner report certain environmental hazards. One section of the statutes requires that the DEP be notified within seven days of a landowner becoming aware that groundwater within 500 feet of a potable supply well is contaminated above the DEP's groundwater protection criteria.

"Data on file with the town indicates this situation exists," he said. "Similarly, reports on file verify contaminants defined by the Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies as leachate parameters are prevalent in groundwater at this site." Van Summern said discussions with personnel in the DEP Bureau of Water Management said the groundwater may need to be reclassified to reflect the current impacts and historic use as a legal and illegal landfill and that the leachate plume may require permitting by DEP, permitting that would require a monitoring plan that fully defines the extent of pollution by leachate parameters. He added a site owner generating the plume must control all property within the plume or have written consent to impact properties.

A few days after Van Summern's request, Mozian handed over all documents related to the former F.D. Rich property, including the Conservation Commission's decision, to DEP officials. However, she said the commission went the "extra mile" in trying to protect the property. Besides requiring enhanced wetlands setbacks, the commission, concerned about blasting, prohibited building basements in units closest to the former landfill.

Mozian added the Bridgeport Hydraulic Company uses the aquifer to supply drinking water to roughly 90 percent of the town.

"They test their public wells all the time," she said. "The BHC and the DEP have classified that aquifer as suitable for public drinking water." Mozian added that Van Summern is getting much of his information from a 1997 report, which has since been updated.

"From what the '99 report said, there's contaminants but they are below the allowable levels, to my knowledge," said Mozian. She added that Bridgeport Hydraulic said it would have had concerns if the development was on a septic system. However, it will be connected to Norwalk's public sewer system.

Harlow, a chemist, said he has no problem with ARS building on the site, as long as "there were guarantees that future liability would not come back to haunt us." If someone were to get sick, Harlow believes the town, not the developer, might be liable.

Van Summern is pleased the Conservation Commission is having the DEP review the project.

"They're starting to pay attention to something that's a critical issue," he said. "All we're asking for is an expert from the DEP to give us a fair overview, if there are any long standing environmental issues that could adversely impact our neighborhood's drinking water. Van Summern said a majority of the proposed development is where the town dump was.

Jamie Cochrane, of Partrick Road, wondered who will assume liability if anyone gets sick from development of the site, ARS or the town. "This is so much more important than what's going on at the beach (with dogs)," said Cochrane, "or the Probate judge not paying his bills. This has an impact on so many people."

The DEP did not return calls for comment. An assistant at Weisman's law office said he's "not interested in commenting."

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