Saying the Derby sewage treatment plant is “poorly operated and in overall disrepair,” state environmental officials have ordered the city to hire an engineering firm to come up with a formal plan to modernize the facility or abandon it and pump sewage elsewhere.
An order signed in August by state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Robert Klee further admonishes the Derby sewage treatment employees for doing work on the sewage treatment plant without proper approvals, improperly reporting data and having a “lack of adequately trained” personnel.
The DEEP order, which has been discussed in several executive sessions of the Derby Water Pollution Control Authority, was issued nine months after Derby voters authorized $31.2 million in repairs and upgrades to the city’s sewer system, including millions in repairs to the troubled sewage treatment plant on Caroline Street near the Housatonic River.
Mayor Anita Dugatto said earlier this month the repairs to the treatment plant itself are still needed and will proceed.
Members of the WPCA submitted a draft written response pointing out voters have already approved millions to modernize the treatment plant.
They’ve asked DEEP to reconsider the order because they’re in the process of making upgrades.
The WPCA, through its chairperson, Carolyn Duhaime, has also asked for a meeting with the Board of Aldermen to discuss the matter.
Dugatto said the city has hired an environmental law firm to help the city with the DEEP order, and has spent about $4,000 on the issue so far.
A copy of the DEEP order is embedded below.
This is not the first time the Derby WPCA has run afoul of state environmental officials.
In 2012 DEEP got on Derby’s case after an estimated 304,000 gallons of sewage flowed into the Housatonic River from an old, crumbling sewage pump station on Roosevelt Drive.
Employees, engineers and past members of the city’s WPCA cited the DEEP orders as reasons as to why Derby voters needed to approve some $30 million in repairs.
The state’s most recent issue with the WPCA started April 28, when a state inspector arrived to look at Derby’s water pollution control facility on Caroline Street.
The inspection revealed a number of violations of state environmental regulations.
The inspector from the state looked at documents that track fecal coliform. It showed that results had been crossed out and rewritten without explanation, according to the inspection report.
In addition, results from a variety of tests had not been properly reported to the state. The inspector said a lab analyst for the WPCA didn’t fully understand how to perform a “BOD” analysis.
The complete inspection report is embedded below:
As a result of DEEP’s history with Derby’s WPCA, the agency in April notified Derby a “pollution abatement” order was coming ordering the city to address the myriad of problems.
That document arrived in August. It came with a timetable giving deadlines of when things had to be done.
“The Department’s inspection conducted on April 28, 2015 shows the facility to be poorly operated and in overall disrepair due to its age and lack of adequately trained facilities inspector,” the DEEP commissioner said in his order.
The state order sets out a series of steps for the city’s WPCA.
It includes compiling a list of all changes and repairs made to the sewage treatment plan since 2010; job descriptions for every WPCA employee and hiring an engineering consultant to write a report outlining whether Derby should modernize, shut down or connect the sewage system to another city (presumably Ansonia).
On Sept. 28, the city’s appointed, volunteer Water Pollution Control Authority submitted a point-by-point response saying “several of the major items” in the order had “already been completed, constructed and/or provided” to the state.
“We are concerned about the term ‘poorly operated’,” the members of the WPCA said in the response. “Therefore, the WPCA is requesting that DEEP clarify the intent of the ‘poorly operated’ term, as this appears to be subjective.”
Members of the WPCA also point out the fact voters just approved $31 million in repairs — repairs that will modernize the sewage treatment plant by 2018.
“Based on the inaccuracies presented in this (DEEP) Order, as well as the additional facts and information provided within this response, the City of Derby WPCA respectfully requests that the Commissioner immediately rescind all of the majority of this Order,” according to the document attributed to the volunteer citizen group that oversees the city’s WPCA.
A copy of the WPCA’s response is embedded below:
On Oct. 13, the City of Derby — under state order — purchased a lengthy legal notice in The New Haven Register requesting qualifications from engineering firms to do a top-to-bottom review of the sewage treatment plant, with an eye toward an engineering report that will advise Derby whether to modernize the facility or abandon it and pump elsewhere.
How much this will cost remains to be seen — the request asks the engineering firms to submit pay rates.
Dugatto said the DEEP order covers a number of years, and that WPCA workers were not filing information in a manner the state wanted.
Now the WPCA staff is working to get all the data in order and the city, with the help of its lawyer, will satisfy DEEP’s order, Dugatto said.
“There were issues that were not addressed as formally as DEEP wanted,” Dugatto said. “Derby WPCA Superintendent Lindsay King is now getting all that paperwork. They are creating a file with everything DEEP is requesting and we’ll present it to DEEP.”
Out In The Open?
Meanwhile, Carolyn Duhaime, the chairwoman of the Derby WPCA, criticized Dugatto for trying to micromanage the DEEP/WPCA controversy.
Duhaime said the state sets up the WPCA as an independent entity from the city and the mayor is “muddying the waters” by having meetings with the state without informing the WPCA.
Duhaime said the mayor is overstepping the boundaries between the WPCA and her office.
She pointed out the mayor changed the wording of the WPCA’s September meeting agenda to eliminate the phrase “possible litigation” from the agenda regarding DEEP’s order.
The agenda instead read simply ““DEEP Order,” as an executive session discussion item.
Executive sessions are closed-door meetings, allowed under specific circumstances under state law. Government bodies are supposed to supply some level of information so taxpayers don’t have to guess about discussion topics.
In the lower Valley, many boards and commissions simply list “executive session, if necessary,” or “executive session, pending litigation,” apparently ignorant or apathetic to the public’s right to know.
Duhaime said the public has a right to know what’s happening between DEEP and the WPCA.
“It’s nothing that should be hidden,” Duhaime said.
However, “DEEP Order,” with or without pending litigation added, isn’t an ideal listing under state freedom of information laws.
Adding a date or order number or some other identifying characteristic would have helped the public better understand what members of the authority were talking about.
Mayor: State Says This Is My Problem
Dugatto said she’s been dealing the DEEP because the order came down addressed to her.
“I have been in contact with the WPCA as a group, including Carolyn,” Dugatto said. “They all know. The Aldermen know. They got it in their (meeting agenda) packets.”
Dennis Schain, a DEEP spokesman, said his agency always sends orders to the town or city’s chief elected official.
“Given the formal nature and legal implications of an order, our rules of procedure require that orders be issued to the chief elected official of a municipality and not to the WPCA or the treatment plant,” Schain said in an email.
Duhaime and Weston & Sampson, the WPCA’s engineering firm, are also worried that Dugatto is in favor of merging Derby WPCA operations with Ansonia. Duhaime said Dugatto held a single meeting on the subject without representation from the WPCA.
Schain, the DEEP spokesman, said Dugatto and Ansonia Mayor David Cassetti approached DEEP about the possibility of a regional wastewater facility.
“DEEP believes that regionalization of wastewater treatment facilities can have significant benefits for human health, the environment, energy usage and user costs,” Schain said in an email. “A decision to regionalize, however, is one that can only be made by the communities that would be involved.”
Duhaime is worried Dugatto and DEEP are rushing to jump aboard the regionalization train.
“A lot of things are not being funneled down,” Duhaime said. “I don’t know what track the mayor is taking. I don’t know what happened during these meetings. What is the mayor saying to DEEP? What is the mayor saying the WPCA is going to do? We don’t know.”
Dugatto said she doesn’t know whether Derby sewage should be pumped for processing in Ansonia. It’s an issue that DEEP wants explored, and the city is now under a formal order to do so, Dugatto said.
Confusing the issue — the engineering firm for Derby says connecting to Ansonia would be hugely expensive for Derby residents — and the engineers point to their own Derby-Ansonia study. However, DEEP says the Derby WPCA’s engineers have not “satisfactorily evaluated” the matter.
The Derby WPCA’s report on connecting to Ansonia is embedded below and the article continues after the document:
In the run-up to the 2013 election, then-Mayor James Della Volpe announced the state would be funding a study to determine whether Ansonia and Derby should merge wastewater treatment facilities. He touted the benefits to Ansonia residents. Derby, under then-Mayor Anthony Staffieri, was a bit aloof.
The study never happened because the money did not come through, Dugatto said.
“The state is saying ‘OK, let’s really look at this,’” Dugatto said. “There has been talk of the interconnect before I was involved. There has never been a study done. The only person that says it is too expensive and can’t be done is the WPCA’s engineer. We’ve never received a feasibility study. We can’t make a decision because we don’t have the data.”
Dugatto said an independent review is needed, because Weston & Sampson and DEEP can’t agree on the data.
“I think the issue is that the state hasn’t been involved. The state ordered me to put out a (request) for an engineer. The state has ordered me to find out if this is feasible,” Dugatto said.
Photo courtesy of Valley Aerial Optics.