Tetreau issues update on park safety, fill pile in Fairfield
A Message from First Selectman Mike Tetreau:
As we approach the end of August and our focus turns to school and autumn, I want to update you on what has been a very busy month here in Fairfield, notably because of all of the developments related to the question of the safety of our parks and ballfields, and concerns over the management of the aggregate fill pile at the Town’s Public Works Yard on Richard White Way.
I know you have many questions, and many concerns. Up front, I want to apologize to you for any worry, anxiety or disappointment you may be feeling. I hope you will spend a few minutes reading this update in its entirety, and I welcome your feedback. Some of this may be information you already know, but I think it is important that you see the full picture.
In managing the Town’s response to this situation, I have three priorities:
Transparency and Communication.
I’d like to address each of these individually, but let me start by providing some important background.
Julian Development, a regional company, was awarded a three-year contract to manage the fill pile at the public yard, beginning in mid-2013. One of the primary objectives was for Julian to reduce the size of the pile, which had grown over time. Much of the material in the pile could be processed and reused or sold for commercial purposes so long as it was done so in conformance with existing regulations.
Because of mismanagement by Julian Development and two senior Fairfield Department of Public Works (DPW) officials, hazardous materials were brought to the pile site (in violation of the contract) between 2013 and 2016 on at least on one occasion, and potentially contaminated materials (fill, topsoil) from the pile were applied to Town properties, including ball fields, school grounds and other public areas.
While this is a serious issue in and of itself, a subsequent investigation has brought forth additional information regarding improper conduct and mismanagement.
The Fairfield Police Department is investigating possible criminal behavior related to this matter, and the Connecticut State’s Attorney has brought criminal charges against Jason Julian of Julian Development, DPW Superintendent Scott Bartlett and DPW director Joseph Michelangelo. These criminal procedures will likely continue into 2020, but this does not prevent us from taking all appropriate actions to ensure our parks and ballfields are safe and ensure accountability for those responsible.
I have terminated the employment of Mr. Bartlett, and placed Mr. Michelangelo on administrative leave pending the outcome of our internal review of what has occurred.
I am also adamant that the Town pursue Julian Development to the full extent for testing, remediation and administrative costs we will incur as we respond to this situation, along with any and all monetary damages a court may order.
A complete timeline of all related events and actions can be found on our webpage.
Priority #1: Public Safety
At my direction, I have asked our Health Department, led by Sands Cleary, to take the lead in managing the day-to-day work of testing and - when necessary - remediating any sites found to be contaminated.
For this purpose we have retained Tighe & Bond, a Licensed Environmental Professional (LEP) firm to conduct the field testing, supervise the laboratory analysis, assess the findings and provide recommendations on remediation.
Thus far we have identified 21 sites that we know received fill and topsoil from the Julian-managed pile between 2013 and 2016. Those sites have all been tested now, and as of the date of this update, we have received results for nine sites, four of which will require some remediation. While the contaminants found exceed the regulatory standards by marginal amounts and the exposure risk is relatively low, we nevertheless will always err on the side of safety and will be remediating the affected areas at these sites.
In addition, out of an abundance of caution, the Public Schools Superintendent, Michael Cummings, has closed additional school athletic fields for testing, which has begun.
Beyond this, our Health Department is working with DPW in identifying any other town properties where this fill may have been used. This effort is still underway and we will share with you additional information in the coming weeks. However, the initial list of 21 sites represents the priority sites warranting immediate attention.
Every decision we make will be based solely on science, best practice and the law, with the health and well-being of our residents being of the utmost importance.
I have been assured by public health experts that the results from the tested areas show that concentrations of contaminants detected in the soil are not high enough to present a public health exposure risk to children or adults using these areas. (You might find interesting the following video of Meg Harvey, an epidemiologist with the State Department of Public Health, discussing the relative risks of the contaminants found by the testing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z5cmf43B80I).
In all of this we are working with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) and the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH). Both agencies have been extraordinarily helpful.
Priority #2: Accountability
My second priority is to understand how all of this happened, seek accountability and to take all necessary measures to ensure this sort of episode never happens again.
While our internal review is underway, from what we already know it is apparent that decisions were made and actions taken by the leadership within the Department of Public Works that were violations of our Town Standards of Conduct (which can be found within our Town Charter, Article XI), DPW’s own operating procedures and the Town Government’s internal controls. For instance, material from the aggregate fill should never have been used on Town sport fields and parks.
Separate and apart from the ongoing criminal investigation, it is clear that Julian Development breached its contract with the Town (it was strictly prohibited from allowing hazardous waste onto the site), and both Julian Development and the two DPW leaders violated the public trust and jeopardized public safety.
As your First Selectman, I cannot tolerate such conduct, whether deliberate or otherwise.
I must rely on the professionalism, integrity and judgment of the Department Heads that run the day-to-day operations of the Town across our many departments. In this instance, my trust in our leadership of the Department of Public Works was misplaced.
In the coming weeks I will be announcing a set of measures aimed at improving how we operate the Department of Public Works, how we manage contracts and outside vendors and suppliers, how we manage our internal controls and how we adhere to, and enforce, our Town Standards of Conduct.
As a first step, we will be soon launching a confidential hotline - managed by an independent outside party - to enable Town employees as well as residents to raise concerns over improper conduct. (Of course, whenever an employee or resident sees any illegal conduct that should be brought directly to the attention of the Police Department.)
All of these initiatives are designed to give you the confidence that your Town Government is doing its absolute best - in conformance with all rules and best practices - to continue to make Fairfield the very best place to live, work and visit.
Priority #3: Communication & Transparency
I am committed to full transparency in this process - communicating to you through every channel at our disposal - our Town website, FairTV, regular news media updates, social media postings, Town meetings and addressing your direct questions and concerns.
Our special purpose webpage - fairfieldct.org/filluseissues -- where we post updates and the full rests of all field tests we carry out. Every test result and every remediation action plan will be posted to this special webpage created just for this issue.
We have set up an email address -- firstname.lastname@example.org -- so that residents can address their questions and concerns and be sure of a prompt response.
We have hosted two town meetings so far and will host more as need and demand warrant.
We have made ourselves available for news media interviews, and will continue to do so.
We post updates via Twitter and Facebook.
In short, I am committed to keeping you continually informed on the ongoing process and appraised of our solutions for resolution.
I want to thank everyone who has reached out to me to offer feedback, ideas and - yes - criticism. All of it is helpful.
In closing, I again express to you my apology for the concerns these matters have caused, and I will continue to share with you updates on our progress in responding to this situation and in protecting public safety.