180-unit apartment plan approved by wetlands agency

With a vote of approval from the Inland-Wetlands Agency (IWA), the application for a contested 180-unit apartment building on Wheelers Farms Road moves to the Planning and Zoning Board (P&Z) for a final public hearing on July 21 at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.
The IWA voted unanimously at its July 15 meeting to approve the wetlands aspect of the application from Milford Developers LLC of Chatham, N.J. The IWA attached 15 conditions to the approval, all of which Milford Developers agreed to meet.
Area residents have been steadily attending both the IWA and the P&Z public hearings, expressing concerns about how the project might affect their neighborhood. Most hearings had about 50 people in attendance with about 12 speaking in opposition. The July 15 public hearing, which lasted 2.5 hours, had 15 people in attendance, seven of whom spoke.
Neighbor concerns have included increased stormwater run-off and additional traffic. Neighbors also expressed worries that the site's past uses as both a farm and an auto salvage facility might result in harmful contaminants left in the soil that will migrate to their properties when disturbed by construction.
The 15 conditions included the following items, some of which are combined here for clarity: the developer has to submit a construction plan, including a soil erosion and sediment control plan.
The developer has to post two bonds, one for construction, and one for three years to monitor the wetlands following construction. It has to file a baseline conditions report, submit an invasive plant species control plan for the residential area, file the conservation easement on the city land records, remove debris from the site, and delineate the edge of the mature forest.
Other provisions include needing to test stormwater during site work and providing results to the IWA, and developing a remediation plan if contaminants are found.
For the complex itself, the property owner will have to prohibit on-site car washing, limit pesticide and herbicide use, and install signs indicating that snow piles may not be placed near the stormwater detention area.
Soil Testing Discussed
Prior to the vote, the agency had an extensive discussion with Marc Casslar, president and owner of the GeoQuest environmental management firm, to discuss how best to test for possible soil contamination.
Casslar said his recommendation was to test the stormwater runoff during a storm that would be sufficient to generate flow. Stormwater would be collected from the outflow of the storm water retention basin.
The water would be tested for the presence of total petroleum hydrocarbons, which he said is the best indicator of the type of activities once conducted on the site. Casslar recommended testing no more frequently than a quarterly basis for one year and suggested that if three sample results showed no contaminants, that testing be discontinued.
“Total petroleum hydrocarbons is the most common constituent of oil and grease associated with cars and trucks,” said Casslar. This is a state-approved method to test for hydrocarbons: in Connecticut testing is typically done once or twice a year, he said.
In response, Dr. Michael W. Klemens, a biologist and conservationist hired by the board at Milford Developers expense, asked what the construction time-line would be.
Matthew Ranelli, attorney for the developer, said excavation would take about 18 months with work completion within 24 to 30 months. Ranelli said the testing schedule could be extended to 18 months, but suggested that testing stop if no problems are found.
Klemens said if testing were done for 18 months, “it would give comfort to the neighbors.”
In response, Ranelli said, “That's fine.”
Klemens asked if the hydrocarbon testing would pick up samples of transmission fluid and brake fluid. He also asked how long motor vehicle fluids would linger in the soil.
Casslar said the testing would detect both transmission and brake fluids. He said the environmental half-life of fluids is “extraordinarily variable” depending on the type of soil. Fluids remain longer in dense, organic soil, he said.
“I could potentially argue that it's all gone. You could argue that it's still there,” said Casslar. “To avoid arguments, the applicant acknowledges the concern and agrees to testing.”
Klemens recommended that testing continue as long as there is earth moving on the site. He said that is when any potential contaminants would move.
“I don't believe [testing is] necessary when site work is done,” said Klemens.
Residents and board member Stephen V. Munson questioned how GeoQuest could have effectively surveyed the property if the board had to delay its site walk due to snow concerns.
In response, Inland Wetlands Officer MaryRose Palumbo said the initial site walk was canceled due to a 10-foot high snow pile left by a plow that blocked access to the site. Palumbo said the agency was concerned that people might slip and fall on the snow. Past the snow pile, she said the site was free of snow.
Casslar said when one of his staff members did the April 7 survey “there was no snow on the majority of the property.” He said he was not there, but provided a photo to the board to support his statement.
Soil samples for pesticides were taken at seven sites on the 26-acre parcel, said Casslar. The top six inches of soil was removed for testing, which he said could be done, even if frozen. He said pesticides are “extremely persistent” in the soil. Since the pesticides in question have not been used in decades, the testing provides a historical look at the property, he said.
In response to the question of whether GeoQuest tested for asbestos, Casslar said, “There was no reason to do that.” He said that while asbestos was used on brake linings in older cars, the asbestos is tightly bonded to the linings. He said the asbestos only becomes a problem when the brakes are used and particles are generated.
With regard to the question of whether there would be asbestos due to onsite repairs, Casslar said, “To the best of our knowledge, there never have been any buildings on the site that would present that as an issue.”
When asked if asbestos could be transported by water and thereby negatively affect the wetlands, Casslar said, asbestos is “extraordinarily inert and 100% natural. I see zero potential for impact to the wetlands.”
Casslar was asked if GeoQuest should test for PCBs. He said there are some PCBs in “automotive fluff”, which are the fibers created from the vinyl and seat fibers when cars are crushed.
He said the PCBs were used in dialectric fluids, which were used in electrical transformers, and extremely high temperature hydraulic systems, such as would be used in a factory. He said he is “not aware” that PCBs were used in automotive fluids, and said that they would be detected by the petroleum hydrocarbon testing.
When asked if deep soil testing would be beneficial, as compared to topsoil testing, Casslar said, “I would not see a benefit.” He explained that the primary concern for the property was surface activity. He said if automotive fluids migrated to the subsoils, they would only become active when brought to the surface and exposed to rain and run off.
“The way to measure the impact to the wetlands is by sampling the run off,” said Casslar. “I could do potentially many test sites in the site, shallow and deep, and not find anything. Stormwater testing would identify any exposure to contaminants in wetlands and watercourses.”
In response to questions about lead testing, Casslar said GeoQuest did not test for lead, saying he was not aware of any reason to test for lead.
“Lead is naturally occurring. I can test for lead anywhere in Connecticut and find it,” said Casslar, adding that the tests would not show the source of the lead.
Commenting on neighbors’ concerns about flooding, John Gilmore, project engineer for Milford Developers, said he has an obligation to address the runoff that the property might generate, but not to address offsite issues.
“Our obligation is not to fix any problems they [neighbors] have. Our obligation is not to exacerbate flooding,” said Gilmore.
Commenting on the area flooding concerns, Gilmore said, “There are some very old and inadequate drainage systems in the area.” He said that whatever flooding occurs now will continue to occur.
Neighbor Concerns
During the public comment portion, which took place prior to the discussion with Casslar, June O'Connell of 102 East Rutland Road said, “I urge the board to require deep soil testing because it is absolutely necessary.” O'Connell criticized the GeoQuest report as being incomplete, not mentioning certain debris in the wetlands, and having no documentation regarding the site's history.
“We have wells and septic systems. With the amount of blasting they want to do, it would cause huge problems,” said O'Connell.
Michael O'Connell of 102 East Rutland Road asked that the developer address contamination before it builds and asked the board to deny the application.
Pat Kelly of 329 Wheelers Farms Road said flooding is such a problem in the area that she had to install a drainage system just to be able to use her yard.
Ruth Telep of 41 East Rutland Road said she wanted a statement from the engineer that her property would not be flooded or affected by contaminants from the proposed construction.
Todd Nichols of 25 Chevelle Place said he wanted phase two testing done on the property. “We don't know the history of this property,” said Nichols.