Car club to help Fitch with cleanup


 

LIME ROCK - It looks like auto racing legend John Fitch could be getting some help in his battle with the state over environmental problems on his Salmon Kill Road property.

The Vintage Sports Car Club of America, which holds many of its events at Lime Rock Park, has stepped forward to help Fitch with his legal bills as he grapples with an order from the state Department of Environmental Protection to remove and dispose of 2,000 tons of contaminated soil that was excavated after two leaking underground oil tanks were taken out last fall.

"We're banding together to help John out, John Schieffelin, the clubs president, said in an interview. "He is a remarkable man."

Fitch told The Lakeville Journal he is not sure how high his legal bills will go. Until recently, he had no attorney. In the last couple of weeks he has hired Thomas M. Armstrong of Reid & Riege in Hartford. Armstrong is an experienced environmental litigator who once served as remediation counsel for General Electric.

Schieffelin said the extent of the help the club will offer Fitch is unclear, as the movement to help defray his legal bills is still in its infancy. But the 900-member club wants to help out Fitch, a noted race car driver, inventor and World War II fighter pilot and prisoner of war.

"It's sad what has happened to him with the DEP," added Schieffelin. "He is a genuine American hero."

"An appeal is being made to the motorsports community in my battle against government tyranny," added Fitch.

Last fall, Fitch became suspicious of the two 1,000-gallon heating oil tanks that had been buried on his property at least since he and his wife Elizabeth bought their home at 433 Salmon Kill Road in 1958. Fitch determined they were leaking and contacted the DEP, which sent him a two-page list of expensive demands.

After the tanks were removed, a contractor followed the DEP's orders and excavated the contaminated soil and deposited it in heaping piles on his front lawn, where it still sits. Estimates for removal and disposal of dirty dirt range from $70,000 to $140,000.

A state fund which has been used in the past to help people like Fitch no longer covers residential remediation. State Sen. Andrew Roraback (R-30) has offered to introduce legislation to change that. Fitch has tested eight wells downstream from his property and seven have come back clean. Test results on the eighth have not yet come back from the lab.

The Vintage Sports Car Club of America counts among its honorary members racing legend Stirling Moss, a teammate of Fitch's in the 1950s on the Mercedes Benz sports car team, thought to be among the most formidable racing teams ever.

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