Public meetings address fill pile concerns
FAIRFIELD — Residents showed up this week to voice concerns about the town’s parks and fields.
Public meetings held Wednesday and Thursday evening updated the community and gave residents the chance to ask questions about contaminated fill use.
This came after the town announced Tuesday that Gould Manor Park’s sidewalk area would be closed for remediation to rid the site of arsenic, lead and asbestos.
The Parks and Recreation Department and Board of Education also announced Wednesday that they’d close other potentially affected sites pending test results out of “an abundance of caution.”
Wednesday’s meeting brought crowds of concerned residents to Fairfield Ludlowe High School. In an apparent effort to stave off potential rowdiness, residents were asked to write their questions down for officials to read and answer.
First Selectman Mike Tetreau opened the meeting, introducing the panel of officials present: Health Department Director Sands Cleary, Vice President of Licensed Environmental Professional Tighe & Bond Jim Olsen, Conservation Director Brian Carey and Connecticut Department of Health Epidemiologist Meg Harvey.
Harvey, who has been advising the town on protective steps, took the lead on questions about health risks posed by potential contaminants.
Many questions cited residents’ personal concerns, such as having children playing on fields three seasons a year or coming home from practice covered in dirt from diving for soccer balls.
Harvey emphasized that results from Gould Manor Park showed chemical concentrations only marginally above the state’s standards, and it would take a far greater concentration to pose severe health risks.
She also noted that playing on the fields and parks in question would not allow for prolonged exposure. Health risks, she said, usually arise when people live for years in residential settings with the chemicals in question, and are not likely to come from sporadically encountering contaminated soil.
“Even if there is exposure, that does not necessarily mean that you’ll have a health risk or health symptom,” Harvey said. “In order to get to that point, you have to have a lot of the chemical getting into your body, and that usually has to happen over many repeated exposures over a long time to chemicals that are highly present in the environment.”
Additionally, she said, few residents would have been likely to come into contact with contaminated soil directly, since grass on top of it would serve as a barrier.
Other questions asked about the environmental implications of potential contamination, such as whether they should be concerned about toxins leaching into water supplies.
Carey said contamination would not impact drinking water, as the sites in question are not areas that runoff into the town’s clean water supplies.
Some resident concerns took aim at the First Selectman, questioning his oversight and responsibility for the contamination.
Tetreau emphatically said that he does take responsibility for the town’s actions and is working diligently to ensure that this never happens again.
“Absolutely. The buck stops here,” he said.
Tetreau added, however, that his ability to provide adequate oversight was compromised when Public Works employees Joseph Michelangelo and Scott Bartlett lied about the fill pile’s management.
“You count on your trusted advisors to tell you the truth,” he said. “When they’re dishonest, that poses a challenge. I can’t do everyone’s jobs for them”
Bartlett and Michelangelo, Tetreau said, failed to inform him that soil not approved for residential standards was being used on parks and ballfields. If he had been informed, he explained, he would have tested the fill before use and prevented this contamination.
Bartlett and Michelangelo were arraigned two weeks ago on charges of illegal dumping. Bartlett’s employment was officially terminated last Friday, Tetreau said, and Michelangelo is on paid administrative leave while the town reviews his actions. Tetreau emphasized that neither have been convicted yet.
“Being arrested is not proof of guilt,” he said.
Bartlett and Michelangelo are scheduled to appear in court again on Sept. 18.
When certain questions brought up the political implications of the issue, Tetreau shut down these references and brought the focus back to the town’s responsibility.
“There is nothing political about this,” he said. “We are moving forward to make the town safe.”
Tetreau is running for re-election this November, and his Republican opponents have been calling him out for lack of oversight and transparency on the issue.
Other questions asked about the financial burden of the current soil testing and remediation.
Tetreau said the town currently has an $80,000 contract with Tighe & Bond for testing, and remediation costs will depend on how much work is necessary.
He said the town is continuing to pursue civil litigation with Julian Enterprises that should pay for these repairs. The arbitration hearing, which began in July, is set to continue in September.
“We expect to prevail in that and get our money back,” he said.
The town held another public information meeting Thursday night, and they plan to hold more next week. All the meetings will be available on FairTV, Tetreau said, so that residents can stay informed even if they cannot attend.
“The goal is to be completely transparent as we go through this process and to keep everybody updated as to where we are, what we’re finding out and what the next steps are,” he said.