Questions swirl around areas possibly affected by toxic fill
FAIRFIELD — As the town awaits test results from Gould Manor Park, residents are wondering what other town areas could have been affected by toxic material from the Public Works fill pile.
One local government member is concerned about the town’s soccer fields, in whose fill glass was discovered in 2015.
The town announced Wednesday it called in the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to collect soil samples from Gould Manor Park after reports of potential asbestos along the sidewalk.
The sidewalk area was renovated in 2013 with fill from the pile at Richard White Way, the subject of a recent criminal investigation into toxic dumping that has two Public Works employees charged with allegedly conspiring with pile manager Julian Enterprises.
As residents learn that hazardous Julian fill may have been used in town projects, some are beginning to wonder if other areas of past concern can be traced back to the pile as well.
Dorene Herron, who currently serves on the RTM, has resurfaced discussions of glass found in the town’s soccer fields in 2015, at which the time she served on the Parks and Recreation Commission.
“After reading about the fill pile investigation in the press and the testing of materials at Gould Manor, I recalled meetings we had involving fill used by the town on playing fields,” Herron said. “Members had received complaints that there was glass found in the soil on the fields.”
In minutes from an April 2015 Parks and Recreation Commission meeting, then-Assistant Director of Parks and Recreation Sue Kiraly said the commission had been contacted about glass found in fill on the McKinley, Burroughs, Fairfield Woods and Jennings soccer fields. Kiraly said they were making repairs and would charge the town for the cost.
At a May 2015 meeting, Herron asked then-Director of Parks and Recreation Gerald Lombardo about the issue. Lombardo said a new company managing the fields had not covered up filled-in holes with sod, as had been the town’s previous custom, and that “the Department of Public Works evidently took the fill from the wrong pile,” according to minutes.
In a June 2015 email obtained by the Fairfield Citizen, Lombardo told the commission that he had informed Scott Bartlett, the Superintendent of Public Works now charged with illegal dumping, of the issue.
Lombardo said Bartlett had the contractor immediately remove the glass from the field and add better soil. He also said the field manager would be re-implementing a field sodding program going forward.
In an email from Bartlett to Lombardo forwarded to commission members, Bartlett claimed the foreman of the fill pile said the fill had looked clean to him.
“Once I heard of the complaints, I spoke directly to the yard foreman to get a handle on the top soil selected,” Bartlett wrote. “He stated it was a screened pile and looked good, it certainly could look good in a pile.”
Bartlett also appeared to place blame for the issue on the Parks Department rather than Public Works.
“The most frustrating part to me is that our Parks manager never walked the fields to review the condition,” Bartlett wrote in the same email. “(This) wouldn’t have avoided the issue, but we would have put a plan together and fixed the fields before subjecting the public to those conditions.”
After hearing about Wednesday’s Gould Manor Park tests, Herron said, she dug up this information and sent it Thursday morning to First Selectman Mike Tetreau, Chief of Police Chris Lyddy, Selectmen Ed Bateson and Chris Tymniak, Director of Parks and Recreation Anthony Calabrese, Parks and Recreation Commission Chairman Scott Walker and former Parks and Recreation Commission Chairman Brian Nerreau.
Tetreau said his office is “taking all of these concerns very seriously.”
Bateson said he was deeply bothered by what he read from Herron.
“I was just sickened,” Bateson said. “My daughter has played on these fields. ... I find it all horrifying.”
Walker said the commission has not met since the matter came to light, but they plan to discuss it at their next meeting on Aug. 21.
According to Fairfield’s Director of Health Sands Cleary, several departments are currently working together to compile a list of projects where the affected fill could have been used. They are also seeking guidance from a licensed environmental professional.
“The LEP will be taking the lead on making recommendations on how we should proceed now, once the results from Gould Manor Park tests are received and how we assess and address any other potentially impacted areas in town,” Cleary said.
According to Tetreau, they are looking into town projects that could have used the fill in question between 2013 and 2016. Since 2016, the fill has only been used to construct a berm around the Public Works Yard, he said.
“This amounted to approximately 40,000 cubic yards that was all tested prior to use,” Tetreau said of the berm.
Tetreau also sent out a press release Friday afternoon updating the community on the situation.
“I am sorry for any concern this situation has caused you and your families and neighbors,” Tetreau said. “I also want to reassure you that the town government is working tirelessly to address these issues. Your safety is of paramount importance and drives all of our decisions and actions.”
He promised to hold public officials accountable for mismanagement and keep the community updated as the situation develops.