Federal contractors have removed hundreds of drums of toxic waste from the former Ansonia Copper & Brass property as part of a cleanup effort they hope to wrap up by summer.
State environmental officials asked the federal Environmental Protection Agency to investigate the sprawling 40-acre property last May.
The existence of the EPA cleanup was first made public during a Board of Aldermen meeting last month by Sheila O’Malley, the city’s grants writer and economic development director, after a question from First Ward Alderman Charles Stowe.
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“The EPA emergency response team was called out because apparently some chemicals were dumped onto the property,” O’Malley said. “They came in to to do an emergency response so that it doesn’t spread, so that it doesn’t contaminate the groundwater.”
Spokespeople for the state DEEP and federal EPA confirmed the ongoing cleanup effort.
Feds Called In
Chris Collibee, a DEEP spokesman, said that state environmental officials called the EPA after an inspection of the property last year of “salvage operations” at the property.
“We went down to inspect the facility and clearly had concerns with some of the materials that had been left there,” he said.
During an interview last week O’Malley said someone “had emptied metal bins with contaminants in them onto the ground. They just dumped them.”
It’s unclear who dumped the waste, she said.
The Valley Indy left a message with the property’s current owner, Ray McGee, Tuesday (March 6).
Officials said the contaminants did not get into the Naugatuck River, which runs by the property.
Dave Deegan, a spokesman for the EPA’s New England office, said that EPA officials have been working at the property since last July.
The property is fenced off with locked gates, he said, so there’s no “immediate concerns about people’s exposure to site contamination.”
So far, hazardous substances they’ve identified there “include, but are not limited to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), heavy metals, corrosive wastes, friable asbestos and friable asbestos containing materials.”
The actual cleanup has been going on since September, Deegan said.
He said work done by EPA officials and contractors has so far included:
- removing several hundred containers of hazardous chemicals from a metallurgical lab on the site
- transporting and disposing of asbestos
- sampling and categorizing hazardous materials in drums, pits, and tanks
- removing “nonhazardous liquids” and demolishing a wastewater treatment plant on the property
- transporting and disposing of drums of waste
The work will continue for several more months.
“Upcoming removal activities will include identifying, sampling, and disposing of asbestos and drums/containers; and identifying, sampling, and disposing of liquids in the trenches/pits, and disposal of PCB transformer fluids, if deemed feasible,” Deegan said. “We anticipate that EPA’s efforts on this site will be completed by early summer 2018.”
Deegan said the EPA has spent $960,000 on the cleanup so far.
The federal agency filed liens on the property last July to eventually recoup cleanup costs.
What Happens Then?
The property had been in use as a bustling metal manufacturing facility since 1893 but has been inactive since 2013.
In 2014, months after he was elected to his first term in office, Mayor David Cassetti announced a deal with the company in August 2014 whereby they’d be allowed to deduct costs of demolition and environmental remediation from their debts to the city.
The company owes the city at least $800,000 in back taxes and sewer fees.
But then more than two years passed without anything happening there.
City officials declared the tax-demo deal dead last April.
The city then tried to collect on the back taxes through an auction last summer but only received one bid.
The tax auction process has been on hold since, said John Marini, the city’s corporation counsel.
The city could obtain the property in exchange for the back taxes owed, he said.
“The city at any time could come in and put a bid in for the full amount, essentially waiving the taxes and taking the property,” he said.
But first officials are waiting for the cleanup to end — and negotiating with state and federal officials to ensure the city won’t be held liable for any future costs.
They are also investigating the property’s history and past ownership as well.
“There’s some protections we need to avail ourselves before we take it, but we certainly can take it,” Marini said.
O’Malley said cleaning up and clearing the site will end up costing at least $8 million to $10 million.
She said she’s looking to identify state and federal funding to pay for the cost.
Longterm the city would want the property to return to retail or industrial use.
But how specifically that will happen is still up in the air.
“It’s going to take a lot of partners to put something together,” O’Malley said.
Cassetti has prioritized redevelopment of the highly visible property since he was first elected.
He said the delays have been disappointing but hoped to see the site ready for redevelopment within two to four years.
“It has been frustrating but it’s going to get worked out,” Cassetti said.
There’s simply no other large pieces of developable property so close to downtown.
“That’s a gem of a piece of property,” Cassetti said. “We have no land. This is a gem. We need this property right in the heart of our downtown.”