Norfolk meeting airs residents’ concerns about spill aftermath

NORFOLK — An informational meeting was held Tuesday, Nov. 15, at Botelle Elementary School to address residents’ questions regarding the Nov. 5 rollover of a tanker truck that spilled more than 8,000 gallons of gasoline into the town’s drainage system.

Prior to the meeting, residents were sent an online form for submitting questions about the cleanup process. According to First Selectman Matt Riiska, more than 60 questions and comments were received from the public, which were then used to form the direction of the discussion.

More than 100 people attended the meeting. Agencies  represented included the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP); Verdantas LLC; Aquarion Water Company; Environmental Services Inc.; Torrington Area Health District; and the town’s sewer district, fire department, ambulance service and public works department.

Riiska referred to the cleanup effort as a “Herculean task” and noted that information will be spread to the public via a page linked on the town’s website, an email address specifically set up to field concerns about the spill, and monthly informational meetings.

Tom Stansfield, deputy director of health at the Torrington Area Health District, acknowledged concerns about fumes and exposure to other chemicals. Lori Saliby, DEEP director of emergency response and spill prevention, promised to provide a “contact person” who will answer questions about the health effects of possible chemical exposure.

A number of concerns were raised about the amount of time being taken to disseminate information. Said one resident, “Day 11 is too late to have a town meeting.” Others were frustrated that the bulk of the spilled gasoline had not yet been recovered.

Responding to questions about why the amount of gasoline recovered hadn’t yet been determined as well as questions about the recovery process itself, DEEP Regional Supervisor Ken LeClerc said, “This is the biggest single release we’ve ever had.”

He told the crowd that the diversity of the terrain, the amount of gasoline and the speed at which it was expelled from the truck all contribute to the length and intricacy of the cleanup. “[It] came out in a gush. This is equivalent to a swimming pool letting go in the yard,” LeClerc  said.

On Thursday, Nov. 17, the Norfolk Hub hosted Norfolk Sewer District Superintendent Bill Hester, who discussed the sewer district’s history and the relining project, and took questions about how the spill affected the sewer and drainage system.

Hester discussed the testing of the system’s influent and effluent and reiterated that, due to the fact that crews were able to completely block the storm drain at the five-way intersection of Emerson Street, Mills Way, Shepard Road and John Curtiss Road, no gasoline had reached the nearby Blackberry River.

“Probably one of the largest gas spills in the state of Connecticut happened right here,” he said. He advised residents that Verdantas will have a presence in the town for at least a year and that those who have wells should test them yearly regardless of a precipitating event.

Said Hester, “The new lining will be fine.”

At the Tuesday, Nov. 15, meeting, Jeff King, senior hydrogeologist at the Verdantas environmental consulting firm’s Middletown office, discussed his company’s commitment to sampling and monitoring soil and water in the area, and gave a summary of present and future cleanup plans. Referring to the 27 monitoring wells that have been set up and sampled from, King said, “We’re going to let the data drive our decisions … We’ll get data, we’ll form a plan.” He expects to have a preliminary plan for addressing the impacts within three to six months.

Jeff Ulrich, vice president of operations at Aquarion Water Company, which services Norfolk, told residents that, because of the location of the reservoir and water treatment plant, the town’s drinking water will not be affected by the spill.

Residents who were concerned that speed may have been a factor in the truck’s rollover were assured by Riiska that he is in contact with state officials to lower the speed limit on Route 44 south of the village Green.

Added Saliby: “[DEEP] has not ended the emergency phase yet. Once we’re finished with that emergency phase, it will transition to a longer-term investigation and cleanup.… Even after the emergency phase, we will still be reviewing and approving all of the plans and reports.”

The meeting was audio recorded and will be included on the town’s website along with other information related to the aftermath of the event. Residents with questions or concerns about the spill may email spill@norfolkct.org.

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