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Guest Column: Limiting Access To O’Sullivan’s Island Was Not An Easy Decision

by Art Gerckens | Jan 16, 2014 8:41 pm

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Posted to: Derby

The decision to close off a portion of O’Sullivan Island did not come easy.

In order to make an informed decision we listened to the history of the site, the status of projects that were started, then left unfinished, then started again, and then given a stamp of approval from one agency but not from the regulating agency.

We heard of a possible pending lawsuit from the EPA against the City of Derby to the tune of $4 million dollars for their clean-up work at the site.

A representative of the Valley Council of Governments who was familiar with the project spoke. An environmental attorney and our own Corporation Counsel talked legal strategy with regards to how to manage this tangled mess we inherited.

The end result was a unanimous decision by the Board of Aldermen.

Below is the statement I read at last evenings’ Board of Aldermen Special Meeting that dealt with pending litigation at O’Sullivan’s Island.

Statement made at 1/15/2014 BOA Special Meeting

I would like to state that I am extremely angered and disgusted with the previous administration. I asked for information on O’Sullivan Island at public meetings on June 27, 2013, July 25, 2013, October 24, 2013, and November 21, 2013. For my efforts, I have received one report that basically says that the EPA turned the site over to the City in 2009.

To get a true picture of the stonewalling I received when I asked questions concerning O’Sullivan Island, don’t just read the minutes of the meetings. Listen to the tapes. You will hear the insulting tone used in their responses to my questions.

At the June meeting, I stated that determining whether or not the O’Sullivan Island project was completed and done correctly was not a Republican or Democrat issue. We would be monsters if we encouraged our citizens to go there without knowing the site had a clean bill of health. The former Mayor’s response, “if there’s a problem, it’s on them” (meaning the EPA).

It has become apparent to me that the previous administration knew of a potential lawsuit against the City of Derby. Their answer was to ignore the letters that started arriving from the EPA in 2008. As it became apparent the EPA was not going away, the former administration apparently engaged a legal team to address O’Sullivan Island.

At no time were the Board of Aldermen consulted or advised on any of these matters.

When the former Mayor cut the ribbon opening O’Sullivan Island he said, “…the greatest thing of being a Mayor is to have a dream and with that very hard work seeing that dream become a reality….” Yes, but at what cost? Was his dream to hoodwink the citizens of Derby, keep the aldermen in the dark, and close his eyes real tight and hope this all went away? Is that his definition of leadership?

Why did the City opt for the EPA standard which is a lower standard than the DEEP standard?

Why has there been no sampling of soil since the City took over in 2009? Especially when that area is prone to floods.

Why did they claim they had secured a 325k grant when they knew the grant was dependent on the site being DEEP certified?

Where are the annual reports that the former Mayor said were conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers that state there has been no erosion?

The EPA used a removal action that addressed short term risk, not long term risk. What is the difference and how did the former administration decide that fixing the site short term was in the best interest of the city?

I am glad to learn Mayor Dugatto has taken steps to proactively look at O’Sullivan Island to make sure all of our citizens are safe.

It is reassuring to see that this Board of Aldermen called a special meeting as soon as they heard there may be an issue at O’Sullivan’s.

Finally, Derby has the right leader and the right team behind her. The fact that I am speaking after an Executive Session meeting demonstrates for the first time in a long time, that Derby has an open and transparent government.

The writer is a Derby Alderman.

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posted by: Stan Muzyk on January 17, 2014  1:51pm

I thank you, and the City of Derby should thank you, Alderman Gerckens, for creating a stop to a prior city administration bid to build a Derby-Ansonia Dog Park—at O’Sullivan Island—because of your concern about flooding problems there. Compounded by the currently exposed environmental problems, you made a wise decision.

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