Update: The Wetlands Agency public hearing on the Post Road Iron Works application is continued to May 9th. 345 West Putnam Public Hearing Continued to May 9, 2016
The Wetlands public hearing at Greenwich Town Hall Monday night had many memorable moments. Lest anyone be unaware, an agency member asked the applicant’s attorney Steven Studer whether Post Road Iron Works is still in operation? The answer was yes.
Residents who had held their tongues during a 3-hour hearing on March 7 finally got to voice their opposition to the proposed 400,000 sq ft, 5-story, 355-unit apartment building with two levels of underground parking on the site of the Post Road Iron Works at 345 West Putnam Ave – but not until after the applicant’s attorney, Steven Studer accused the Greenwich Neighborhood Preservation Association “GNPA” of using outdated information for the purposes of exaggerating, overstating and mis-characterizing plans for the property.”
Studer threw down the gauntlet when he denied any allegation that his client was using a strategy of deliberately withholding information. He said his client was “preparing a comprehensive response,” including updated environmental reports, site assessment and assessment of storm water quality.
Resident after resident complained about potential impacts to wetlands by proposed dynamiting to prepare the site, and construction of such a large building on a site known to be contaminated by its owner, Post Road Iron Works, which was opened back in 1927, by William Gasparrini Sr.
Valerie Stauffer, who recently spoke before the Wetlands agency against development at 47 Valley Drive, characterized the wetlands of District 7 as “under assault.”
“We’re no longer naive about possible chemical contaminants,” Stauffer said, adding that she had spent over 5 years as a member of the RTM dealing with budgetary and environmental impacts of the Music Instructional Space and Auditorium (MISA) at Greenwich High School.
“Since PCBs, Arsenic and other contaminants were discovered several years ago, approximately $12 million has been spent to clean up the soil. Another $14 million is yet to be approved,” Stauffer said. “We have all learned a lot about financial costs and environmental dangers from the history of chemical contamination at MISA, Love Canal and recently in Flint, Michigan.”
Stauffer pointed out that the Post Road Iron Works has been constructing metal products since 1927, beginning long before regulatory agencies such as EPA and OSHA mandated environmental safeguards. “We’re no longer naive about possible chemical contaminants,” she said. “When chemical fluids are used, disposal is always a problem.”
Resident after resident spoke in superlatives, using words like violation, regulation, remediation.
Ted Fowler referred to the proposed facility as “a monstrously scaled project,” and said that because of the presence of toxic contaminants, dynamiting and developing the site could have an adverse impact on wetlands, vernal pools and watersheds.
Jayne Isford compared the size of the proposed building to four Town Halls.
Chris von Keyserling from RTM District 8 said the square footage of the proposed building would be one-and-a-half times the that of Greenwich Hospital, and suggested that due to its sheer size, the Agency give the proposal that much more consideration.
He also urged the Agency to deny the application based on its incomplete nature. “I recall a time this board would not accept an application if it was not complete and timely,” he said.
Peter Quigley, a member of the Harbor Management Commission said he’d been following this issue for about 10 years.
“These watersheds flood seriously,” Quigley said, adding that when it rains contaminants flow into Greenwich Harbor. “Any disturbance, any negative impact, any excavation going on here will affect what comes into the harbor – sedimentation, erosion – and the filling in of the harbor.”
Quigley asked the Agency why they are not testing the site with their own Licensed Environmental Professional. “The applicant said he intends to address it. Why isn’t the Town and its boards dealing rigorously with proper soil testing and water testing at this site? …You keep digging until you stop finding the contaminants in either the soil or the water. Why isn’t the Town hiring consultants to go in and do the proper testing?”
Another highlight of the hearing was when Post Road Iron Works neighbor Michael Covney played a tape recording of sounds from the vernal pool with a variety of species including wood frogs.
“For the 30 years that the Post Road Iron Works had been in business they had not been handling their waste products, which meant all of those chemicals were disposed of in one of three ways: They went into those catch basins and down that pipe, went into the soils back there, or they were simply thrown away and are in your land fills,” said Ted O’Hanlon, an attorney hired by GNPA.
After all residents’ testimony, and after Mr. O’Hanlon spoke at length, Wetlands Director Pat Sesto had a chance to respond.
Mrs. Sesto said the Agency had indeed hired AECOM to do environmental testing. She pointed out that AECOM was the firm that did the soil testing for the town on the MISA project at Greenwich High School.
Sesto also mentioned that the Wetlands Agency benefits from the expertise of DPW Commissioner Amy Siebert, and that the Wetlands Agency has been in touch with an attorney with environmental expertise.
Sesto disputed the charge of Mr. O’Hanlon that the agency is letting the applicant “skate through.” She said that the contrary is true.
“At this time I recommend the Agency move forward with the application and resolutely pursue establishing the extent and nature of the contamination and the means to remedy it. This is the most expeditious way to address the contamination and protect the wetlands. If the applicant does not provide a detailed remediation plan, this may be reason for denial.” – Pat Sesto, IWWA Director
As for Mr. O’Hanlon’s charge that there is a pipe on site in violation, Sesto said there is no dispute that the pipe (an outlet for catch basins on Post Road Iron Works site) predates Wetlands regulations and is not a violation. However, she said that if the pipe is determined to be a source of pollution with impacts to the wetlands, then, “There is ample reason to pursue this pipe inquiry.”
Sesto said DEEP CT found Post Road Iron Works in violation for daily practices, which have since been rectified. She said the owner is not required to remediate the site unless it is sold or changes use.
Mrs. Sesto vehemently refuted Mr. O’Hanlon’s complaint that recent work done by the applicant on the site – some excavation and soil borings – was a violation and his suggestion that the Agency had “continually given the applicant a pass.”
She said that senior Wetland Analyst Bob Clausi spent his day off checking out the work on site and verifying there was nothing that required a permit.
“I have spoken to Town Counsel and we are in no way shy of using that resource,” Sesto said. “I must question why Mr. O’Hanlon and his client imply this agency is letting the applicant ‘skate.'”
At the end of the discussion, the applicant’s attorney Mr. Studer said he could submit missing environmental information to the Wetlands agency in a matter of weeks. The intervenors (GNPA) requested at least three weeks to review that information. Mr. Studer requested and received a 65 day extension. Watch this space for dates of subsequent hearings and meetings on the application to develop the Post Road Iron Works site.