A group of Representative Town Meeting members has sent a letter to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection charging that the agency is violating its own permit process for the planned cleaning of lead from the Mill River.

Exide Group, Inc., is under a consent order from the DEEP to clean up lead that leached into the river when its factory -- since demolished -- was manufacturing batteries. It is in the process of getting approval for its remediation plan, as well as two permits, to do that.

According to the RTM members, under the consent order, Exide cannot apply for permits prior to receiving approval for its remediation plan.

Robert Bell, assistant director with the remediation division of DEEP, however, said that is not correct. "They're not right," he said of the RTM members' position Monday.

At issue is the language that states: "On or before 90 days after the Commission has approved, as applicable, a remedial plan ... pursuant to paragraph B2.d of the Consent Order, the Respondent shall apply for all permits that are necessary to carry out the remedial action approved by the Commissioner."

The letter, signed by 33 RTM members, asks DEEP Commissioner Daniel C. Esty to "require that the permitting sequence set forth in the Consent Order be followed and that any permitting activity be suspended and/or terminated and resubmitted after the SED/RAP has been fully evaluated and approved by DEEP, pursuant to the Consent Order."

Bell said that the "on or before" language does not mean that Exide cannot submit its permit applications until after it has gotten approval for the remediation plan.

"Typically, when we issue consent orders, we're concerned about the respondent's action," Bell said. "Some people don't want to do the work, so we set deadlines for various steps along the way so they can't drag it out."

For example, he said, officials don't want a respondent, such as Exide, to then wait another four years to begin the permit process after receiving approval for the remediation plan.

"Typically, fast is good," Bell said. "It gets the project done."

He said there are advantages to having all three things -- the remediation plan review, and the process for the Clean Water Act permit and the Office of Long Island Sound permit -- going on at the same time.

"The agency will look at all these comments before making any decision," Bell said.

In a letter to the editor, RTM member Michael Herley, R-1, the chairman of the legislative body's Public Health and Safety Committee, said he is "deeply concerned" about the proposed environmental cleanup of the lead in the Mill River.

He said by "apparently not following the consent order and proceeding in what appears to be an expedited fashion, Exide's actions could result in the town, municipal bodies and residents not having sufficient time to give full review to the proposed project."

Exide Group Inc. manufactured car batteries at its factory at 2190 Post Road from 1951 to 1981 and contaminated its 6.25-acre property and the adjacent Mill River with lead. In 2006, Exide demolished its factory and removed lead-contaminated soil, and now plans to clean lead contamination in the river.

The Shellfish Commission is submitting a petition to DEEP asking for a public hearing on Exide's application for a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit under the federal Clean Water Act, as has RTM member Kathryn Braun, R-8.

The NPDES permit has received tentative approval from the DEEP, but that would be "useless," according to one DEEP member, without an approved remediation plan.

Exide's plans call for dredging 21,400 cubic yards of lead-contaminated

sediment along 4,000 linear feet of the river, from upper Southport Harbor to Mill Hollow Park.

It is expected that dredging would take place over two seasons, from August of 2013 to November of 2014, with confirmation sampling of sediment left in the river done in the spring of 2015.

This is the second cleanup of the lead contamination by Exide. Cleanup of the factory property and abutting Mill River began in 1983, when 4,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment was removed. Ground contaminants were removed between 1987 and 1990.

The 2008 consent order was issued when lead-pollution levels failed to subside after the initial cleanup efforts in 1983.

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