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Finally, A New Day For O’Sullivan’s Island

by Eugene Driscoll | Jul 30, 2009 11:59 am

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Posted to: Derby

First there were drums filled with toxic waste and a pond that looked more like a oil slick. Then there were crumbling, cruddy buildings.

Most recently, perhaps just to add insult to injury — Japanese knotweed.

O’Sullivan Island never had the luck of the Irish. Heck, technically it’s a peninsula, not an island.

But, as a multi-million dollar federal clean-up ends, things are finally looking up for the 20-acre parcel which sits where the Naugatuck meets the Housatonic along the Derby river walk.

Mayor Anthony Staffieri said Wednesday the Environmental Protection Agency crews have left the site, after trucking away hundreds of dump truck loads of contaminated soil.

How bad was it? Click here for a description from the EPA.

“Their office is gone, the trucks are gone and it’s been turned over to the city,” Staffieri said. “I never thought I would see this place cleaned up. Never.”

The area once overgrown is now a burgeoning field, with newly planted grass is spouting from the dirt.

The city’s Public Works Department has been in there for two weeks clearing decades of trash, fallen trees and stumps. They’ve also been tearing out Japanese knotweed, an invasive plant that is spreading through the area like wildfire.

Photo: Josh KelloggThe “no trespassing” signs — even the one that stands more than six feet tall warning river walkers about toxic waste — will be coming down.

When will the public be able to enter?

“I’m hoping mid-to-end of August,” Staffieri said. “High hopes, but I believe we can do it.”

The city is still deciding precisely how to use the property — playing fields are an option, but Jack Walsh, chairman of the Derby Parks and Recreation Commission, pointed out the area in prone to floods.

However, some plans for O’Sullivan’s Island have been finalized.

The Valley Council of Governments is receiving $325,000 for “peninsula fishing and habitat enhancement,” according to a press release issued Tuesday by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The money comes from the Housatonic Restoration Fund, set up in 1999 after General Electric paid $7.5 million to pay for damages done to the Housatonic River due to PCB releases from a GE plant in Pittsfield, MA.

The money will be used at O’Sullivan’s Island to build a handicap-accessible fishing pier along the Housatonic River bank.

“It’s known as a good fishing spot. The quality of the water has increased significantly,” said Arthur Bogen, an environmental planner with the Valley Council of Governments.

In addition, there will be “river bank restoration,” Bogen said. Parts of the banks will be reconstructed on O’Sullivan’s Island so that the public can walk to the water. Other areas will be restored to its natural habitat to protect the banks from erosion, Bogen said.

Also, the boat ramp under the Route 8 bridge near O’Sullivan’s Island will be redone to allow better access.

Finally, Bogen said the money will be used to build devices that will catch pollutants from Route 8 before they flow into the Housatonic.

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