Town says it has the ‘real facts’ on GHS contamination

Editor’s note: The above is being printed at the request of the town of Greenwich and the Greenwich Public Schools. Normal word requirements were waived for this online-only posting.

To the Editor

The Greenwich High School site has taught us over the past few years that environmental investigation and restoration can be a complicated process.

The regulations that apply to this process are also complicated, and the reports prepared are long and technical. As with any unexpected and potentially expensive issue in town, many questions have been raised. Further, many mischaracterizations and misunderstandings have been circulated by some in the community.

The Department of Public Works and the Board of Education recognize these complications, and thus have been and will continue to create opportunities to respond to questions, provide details associated with the environmental issues, and most importantly, work with the community to determine the best way for the Town to move forward with the cleanup at the high school.

We know that contaminated soil was identified in the summer of 2011 during the start of the Music Instructional Space and Auditorium (MISA) project. Much investigation (study) of the site has occurred since that time.  According to documents available in Town records, the site was filled in the late 1960s prior to the construction of the school and the associated parking areas and athletic fields. Unfortunately, some of that fill was contaminated. Voluminous documentation has been provided to those who have requested it that demonstrates that soil excavated from the Cos Cob Power Plant in 2005-2006 was transported to an appropriate landfill and not used as fill at the Greenwich High School site.

Regulators from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CTDEEP) and the Department of Public Health (CTDPH) have indicated that the site is safe for use as a school with associated athletic fields. The contaminated fill is located beneath the surface; therefore, the students, athletes, coaches, teachers, and workers are not exposed to these materials.  Focus must now be turned to planning for completion of the site cleanup and to address areas that have been fenced off and isolated and to return total functionality of the campus.

We have now reached the point in the environmental study of the high school site where cleanup alternatives are being considered. Specifically, the environmental study process encourages input from town residents about the options being considered. This input will assist in determining how the site will be remediated, how long it will likely take and whether limitations on site use will remain.

Complete removal of all of the contaminated soil that was brought to the site during the school construction is not necessary and would be prohibitively expensive and undeniably disruptive to the community. As described in the focused feasibility study, prepared in March 2013, the federal and state regulations allow for leaving contaminated soil in place; provided there is an appropriate cover installed. This cover could be soil, asphalt or concrete surfaces or even the synthetic turf fields.  With this option, long term monitoring of the cover(s) and site groundwater would also be required and implemented.

The recommended cleanup alternative, as detailed in the focused feasibility study, includes  the removal of some contaminated soil in areas where it could become directly accessible. The focused feasibility study states that the contaminated soil would be removed and replaced with clean soil and he surface would be restored.  The excavated contaminated soil would be transported to properly permitted disposal facilities. The recommended alternative notes that excavation beneath the existing synthetic turf fields is not proposed.

The town agencies have worked with the community and the regulators to ensure that the site is safe for current use, to identify the extent of contamination and to evaluate an appropriate path forward.  We have met many times with the regulators and town groups. Site visits have been conducted with personnel from the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to respond to questions regarding the placement of the contaminated fill at the site.  The USACE confirmed that the fill was placed prior to enactment of the Clean Water Act and therefore no violations of that Act have occurred.

Town agencies have consistently focused on the safety of the community and the site users.  We have aggressively investigated the site and reported these findings to the community.  We recommend that  the community give  credence to those who have knowledge of the facts and the law involved in this process,  and continue to review the excellent work completed to date by the town’s consultants, as well as federal and state regulators involved in this process.  The community needs to support this process by asking reasonable questions and providing input on the direction of cleanup of the site. The regulators will ultimately sign off on the remedial option proposed by the Town and how it is implemented.  The community can and should be a helpful part of this ongoing process by providing input as we develop the remedial action plan.

We will continue to prepare project updates and encourage those interested to visit the project website at: http://www.greenwichschools.org/page.cfm?p=10019.

Amy Siebert
Commissioner of the Department of Public Works, Town of Greenwich

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