O’Sullivan’s Island in Derby set to reopen for spring

DERBY >> One of the city’s prime recreational spots, O’Sullivan’s Island, is slated to reopen this spring just in time for fishing, picnics and related warm weather activities.

That’s according to the Board of Aldermen, which unanimously voted at its meeting Thursday to allow the public to once again enjoy the grassy areas widely shut down since January 2014. The paved areas were reopened in February 2014, but the grassy areas remained off-limits to the public.

However, before O’Sullivan’s officially reopens, the city’s Public Works Department will be posting signage in the areas that are still considered “hot spots,” where potentially contaminated soil exists.

While soil tests done over the last few years showed low levels of chemical contaminants present in the surface of some soil, the state Department of Health has said it does not pose a threat to public health.

The city closed the area after questions and concerns surfaced about whether the clean-ups of the site by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1983 and 2008 removed all the contaminants on the site used for recreation. Public access was restricted to determine whether any contaminants remained, and until soil tests could be done.

O’Sullivan’s Island is not an actual island but rather a strip of land at the confluence of the Housatonic and Naugatuck rivers used for fishing, picnics and other passive recreation. It has been the site of brownfield cleanups and removal of PCBs, which were used in the manufacture of plastics and insulating oil in transformers as a coolant, and banned in 1979.

State health officials have said visitors to the island shouldn’t be concerned about suffering any ill effects from normal outings.

The city, according to Corporation Counsel Tom Welch, will post signage, alerting the public “not to dig in the dirt,” and the “hot spots” where some surface soil contains some low levels of contaminants will continue to be roped off.

Welch said in case of major erosion, or any other instances that can cause the soil to turn muddy, Public Works Director Anthony DeFala will be authorized to “shut down” O’Sullivan’s as deemed necessary.

“We will identify the hot spots and let the public know they are not to disrupt the soil,” said Alderman Art Gerckens.

Resident Laura Brezina, chairman of the Cultural Arts Commission, and her daughter Angela Descheen, 8, were happy to hear they can visit O’Sullivan’s once again in the near future.

“I grew up down there and our family likes to go there to fish and have picnics,” Brezina said. “We would also love to hold our annual Eco Fest there (on May 20) instead of in a parking lot nearby. I’m all for reopening it, especially because it’s one of the Valley’s biggest, natural assets with the river.”

Angela, an avid angler, said she’s excited to head back to O’Sullivan’s so she can “catch some stripers and bass there.”

Mayor Anita Dugatto is happy the city can finally reopen one of its gems, calling the aldermen’s decision to allow the public to use O’Sullivan’s just in time for spring “exciting.”