Cleanup to start on some fill pile contaminated sites in Fairfield

Photo of Katrina Koerting
The town has filed suit against Julian Development for its failure to reduce the fill pile at One Rod Highway, and for accepting some contaminated materials. Fairfield,CT. 5/10/17

The town has filed suit against Julian Development for its failure to reduce the fill pile at One Rod Highway, and for accepting some contaminated materials. Fairfield,CT. 5/10/17

Genevieve Reilly / Genevieve Reilly

FAIRFIELD — The contaminated fill pile has plagued the town for years, but some relief could be in sight with long-awaited remediation set to start at some of the sites in the next two weeks.

“Unfortunately, this is a lengthy process, exacerbated by COVID and the fact that the environmental agencies are working remotely and slower than usual,” First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick said. “My administration is committed to cleaning up this mess and I ask for our residents’ continued patience.”

The town’s consultant submitted the proposed final testing plans to the Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection for some of the 20 or so contaminated spots, called “known sites,” that require remediation.

Both the EPA and DEEP have approved the final remediation plans for Sunset Avenue, Southport Beach Park, Lake Mohegan Park, and Mill Hill Elementary School.

Officials expect to start the actual cleanup there in the next two weeks, starting with Sunset Avenue, Southport Beach Park and Lake Mohegan Park.

“We definitely want to have the schools — McKinley, Osborn and Mill Hill — addressed as early as we can,” Tom Bremer, Fairfield’s chief administrative officer, said at a recent finance board meeting. “I’m supposing that when the schools are let out in June, that’s when they’ll attack those sites.”

Officials expect the schools to be completely remediated before the next school year starts.

The town’s licensed environmental professional, Tighe & Bond, will monitor the work and has managed the testing so far. Cisco LLC, of New Haven, will do the actual remediation.

History

The fill pile issues date back several years.

Julian Enterprises is accused of dumping contaminated material into the fill pile on the town’s property on Richard White Way, which was shut down in 2016 when lead and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, were found. The company is also accused of selling the contaminated fill for other construction projects around town.

The town has sued Julian Enterprises, as well as Osprey Environmental, the company hired to test the soil back then and build the berm.

The police department also launched a criminal investigation, resulting in the arrests of a number of former town employees.

“When I came into office, I didn’t know the extent of corruption with regard to the fill pile, but having been here for 18 months, witnessing multiple arrests and felony charges, it’s shocking to me the extent of which things went unchecked,” Kupchick said.

Seven main sites were originally found that needed to be addressed, but Bremer said the actual number of affected sites is closer to 30 or 40. Some of these sites might have contaminated areas the size of a desk.

Once those seven original sites are remediated, the town will clean up the other areas, though some of the smaller spots have already been addressed.

The fill pile itself also needs to be capped and poses its own problems.

“Because of the way the fill pile is and the berm was constructed, there’s leeching from the field into the water,” Bremer said. “So not only do they have to test the dirt — the fill pile itself — but they have to go out and test the marshes as well.”

Kupchick said they have brought in a firm and added oversights to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

“We have hired licensed environmental professionals to ensure the process is handled properly and we are not remediating any sites until all environmental agencies sign off on the testing protocols and then the remediation plans,” she said.

Costs

About $2.1 million has already been spent on the fill pile remediation, but the final costs remain unclear.

A large factor will be which remediation plan the EPA and DEEP agree to, especially for the fill pile itself.

The town originally expected to cap the fill pile with two feet of soil. There’s talk now of making it four feet.

“It’s a six acre site so the cost gets very extreme when we’re talking about that much material,” Bremer said.

He said testing will most likely be required “forever” at the fill pile itself, costing about $100,000 to $150,000 annually. The amount of testing could be rolled back as time goes on and if the results are favorable.

Chris DeWitt, a finance board member, said the fill pile has been a moving target for the town for nearly three years and is in the back of all of their minds when approaching town spending.

“This thing is this huge variable,” he said at a recent finance board meeting. “We don’t know if it’s $80 million, $100 million. I feel like it’s going to be in the tens of millions. I don’t think it’s going to be less than $10 million.”

Affidavits from the spate of arrests around the scandal last November state that recent estimates show it will cost the town between $5 million and $10 million to clean up the contaminants.

Bremer expects to have a better pricing ballpark in January or February once all of the testing is completed and analyzed and there have been several meetings about the plan.

“I’ll have a much better sense after our initial meetings with DEEP and the EPA,” Bremer said. “They may take a very difficult position which would change all of the dynamics. If they are much more open to what we are suggesting then I would be much more aggressive in my pricing.”