Tesei on Armstrong Court Soil Re-Tests: Issue is Infiltrated with Emotion, Misinformation

Dawn Fortunato, call before you dig

Dawn Fortunato standing at corner of Booth Court and Armstrong Court, adjacent to the area P&Z is having HATG re-test for contamination. Credit: Leslie Yager

On Tuesday, crews painted “Call Before You Dig” markers on the bottom of Booth Place by Armstrong Court.

Last week HATG presented their preliminary site plan for renovations and construction at Armstrong Court. The application already won approval from Inland Watercourses and Wetlands, ARC and ZBA.

And yet, P&Z voted to require the Housing Authority to re-test for contamination using a new company and dig two test holes in the area already deemed clean by Melick-Tully.

At the March 12 Board of Selectmen meeting, Peter Tesei expressed his disappointment with the P&Z’s failure to heed the advice of the DPW commissioner, Amy Siebert, who had concluded that additional testing was not called for. He described Ms. Siebert’ credentials as impeccable. He also described as despicable residents’ questioning the integrity of public officials.

“What I haven’t seen reported on… one form of remediation is capping,” the First Selectman said at Thursdays Board of Selectmen meeting. “And, so what I took away from the meeting, and didn’t get a strong sense from news coverage….if something is down 30 or 40 ft, why would you disrupt it?”

“This issue has been infiltrated with emotion and misinformation,” Tesei said the next morning on his Ask the Selectman radio show on WGCH 1490AM, adding that Armstrong Court is categorized by the State as an “at-risk” facility, and not up to standards for modern living.

The facility, which Mr. Tesei noted is under the auspices of HUD, and eligible for financing for its renovation and new construction, will be in jeopardy of delays caused by P&Z’s requirement for additional testing. He pointed out that the financing is subject to a tight timetable.

“What the P&Z has done is respond to what is, at best, recollection,” Mr. Tesei said on Friday, March 13 radio program, citing two aerial photos of Armstrong Court and the the adjacent dump — one in 1934 and the other 1951 — neither of which reveal a pond on Armstrong Court property. Residents, in particular Dawn Fortunato of Booth Ct and Mike Finkbeiner who represents Fortunato and other neighbors in the Booth Place cul-de-sac, have claimed that a pond had existed on Armstrong Court property that has since been filled in. Mr. Lauersdorf, for former incinerator worker who described digging pits to dump poison from Electrolux and the incinerator, admitted he didn’t think the pits were on Armstrong Court property.

Mr. Tesei pointed out that Muskrat Pond was, and remains clearly located within the Town’s Holly Hill Resource Recovery and Recycling facility, the site of the former dump.

Residents have cited a third aerial photo provided by the Assessor’s office, taken in 1958, which they said reveals a pond which has since been filled in, possibly with contaminated fill.

Mr. Tesei said P&Z had exceeded its responsibility in requiring the re-tests where the HATG had previously considered locating a parking lot for senior housing. That proposal that has since been withdrawn, due to challenges inherent in the steep topography and narrow access road, Booth Place.

“What is the charge of the Planning and Zoning Commission? It is to review a site redevelopment. Why they’re mixing apples and oranges and potentially delaying the process moving forward based on anecdotal, specious arguments is beyond me,” he said during his March 13 radio show.

“We’re dealing with a serious subject matter here, in terms of the living conditions for 144 families. I’d hate to see this jeopardized because people are not delineating fact from fiction…” Mr. Tesei said on the radio.

“They made assertions that there are pollutants in that area at the foot of the hill,” Mr. Tesei said of the neighbors. He pointed out that the Melick-Tully tests indicated the site is clean, adding that Mr. D’Andrea, a respected engineering consultant, described what came up as gravel and rock. He said that conclusion was corroborated by the DPW commissioner.

Mr. Tesei said Mr. Lauersdorf, the former incinerator worker, had clearly worked on dump property, not Armstrong Court property.

“Now there’s the emotional aspects of the Booth Place area, which are separate and distinct,” he said, referring to Ms. Fortunato’s contention that her son’s lead poisoning was caused by contamination from the former dump and not lead that was discovered in her home and has since been remediated with oversight from the Town’s Health Dept. On March 10, Ms. Fortunato testified that she was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 36 and is unable to have more children.

Mr. Tesei has consistently differentiated between issues brought up by Ms. Fortunato. Back on Jan. 31, when Senator Blumenthal came to Booth Court to meet with neighbors, Mr. Tesei said the case of Ms. Fortunato’s son’s lead poisoning was unrelated to her demands for soil re-tests. That same cold morning, Mr. Tesei said his family had lived in the neighborhood back when garbage was legally burned and had their own tales of bedsheets full of soot.

“Our position is to do what is in conformity with all of the federal and state regulations, working with data that is substantiated and valid,” he said on that sub-zero morning, adding that he would consult with the Public Works Department on whether additional testing would be necessary, which he subsequently did.

On his March 13 radio show Mr. Tesei reminded Ms. Fortunato that he had met with her and about 35 other neighbors and even walked the Armstrong Court property with her. He told her that he thought her accusation that he “snubbed” her was unfair.

Furthermore, Mr. Tesei decried Fortunato’s characterization of Melick-Tully’s reports as “flim-flam.” As for the missing chain of custody form that was not provided to Ms. Fortunato despite her FOI requests to HATG, Mr. Tesei said that was an issue to take up with HATG. (Melick-Tully’s completed chain of custody form was in the hands of P&Z commissioners on March 10).

“I don’t think a firm like Melick-Tully is going to issue findings that are skewed. Why would they take a little job in Greenwich and risk their reputation? Why would Mrs Seibert and Mr. Long do the same?” Mr. Tesei asked, referring to the heads of Town’s DPW and Health Department’s Div. of Environmental Services respectively.

Reached by phone on Tuesday, Ms Fortunato said, “I want to thank Planning & Zoning for seeing through the misrepresentation of the facts and ordering the re-testing,” Ms. Fortunato said.

A call to the toll free Call Before You Dig (CBYD) toll free number confirmed that permission to dig had been granted and could be scheduled as soon as Thursday, March 19.


 

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