Story and Photographs By John Murray
After a decade of plucking garbage and debris from the Naugatuck River, environmental activist Kevin Zak has begun legal proceedings against F&G for being a serial polluter of the Naugatuck River watershed. “I’m suing because I’m angry,” Zak said. “I’ve been picking up their garbage for years. This has to stop.”
Zak first became aware that the F&G facility at 184 Municipal Road in Waterbury was a problem while he was participating in an Earth Day cleanup in May 2017 with members of the Waterbury Greenway Committee. The F&G facility is on a slope and whenever it rains water flows through mounds of construction debris, down a driveway, across Municipal Road, down a steep embankment and into the Naugatuck River.
The debris members of the Waterbury Greenway Committee discovered at F&G.
“How is this facility allowed to operate with such obvious design flaws?” Zak asked. “You don’t need to be an engineer to realize common sense is missing in their design.”
The group found plastic, construction debris, thousands of chips of paint and a bowling ball that had flowed out of the F&G facility and down an embankment towards the Naugatuck River. The group contacted Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary and he came down on a Saturday morning and ordered a police report about the incident.
The F&G facility at 184 Municipal Road in Waterbury is 40 feet from from the Naugatuck River.
Storm water filters through mounds of debris and carries toxins into the Naugatuck River.
Waterbury detectives filed a report and contacted the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) to follow up. Days later two bales of hay were placed near the exit of the F&G facility to halt further pollutants from flowing into the river, but the bales were temporary, and their placement was ineffective.
After filing the police report Zak, the president of the Naugatuck River Revival Group, waited to see if any structural changes were made at the facility.
“It has been over one year since we discovered the flaws at the F&G facility,” Zak said. “They have taken no corrective action so I had no choice but to step up and try and help the quality of life along the Naugatuck River.”
Zak sent a letter last week to Frank and Gerald Antonacci to formally announce his intent to sue the F&G owners under the Federal Clean Water Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and Connecticut General Statues.
Additionally Zak intends to sue the various companies that the Antonacci brothers do business under; Municipal Road Transfer Center LLC, 260 Railroad Hill LLC, F&G LLC, USA Hauling and Recycling Inc., All American Waste LLC, and Murphy Road Recycling LLC.
The Antonacci brothers are the owners of the waste transfer station at 260 Railroad Hill in the South End of Waterbury that is in the final stages of gaining a DEEP permit to expand their activities from sorting construction debris to hauling all household garbage in Waterbury. Despite a city settlement that allowed the company to proceed, there is fierce opposition in the South End to the proposal. A public hearing is scheduled for June 12th at 6 pm inside Waterbury City Hall.
Zak spent a day inside DEEP headquarters last week investigating the various companies that have done business at 184 Municipal Road and discovered violations at the facility that stretched back two decades.
Kevin Zak spent a day researching F&G violations at DEEP headquarters in Hartford.
Zak discovered that the F&G facility at 184 Municipal Road had two decades of violations.
“The companies owned by Frank and Gerald Antonacci have been polluting the Naugatuck River since 1997 and neither DEEP and the EPA has done much to stop them,” Zak said. “That is why I began legal action.”
Zak was legally required to send a notification letter of his intent to file a citizens suit in federal court, and if the conditions are not remediated within 60 days, he will move forward with a formal lawsuit.
The ten-page letter to the Antonacci brothers stated that their business “practices constitute a present and imminent and substantial endangerment and quality degradation to health and the environment of the Naugatuck River.”
Zak is suing on behalf of the members of the Naugatuck River Revival Group who, “frequently spend time in the Naugatuck River documenting the wildlife” and participating in river cleanups and canoe and kayak races.
“There are 24 DEEP employees in charge of permitting, inspection and enforcement,” Zak said, “and they share one car. It’s not their fault, do the math, DEEP is outnumbered and they know it.”
Zak has attempted to find an environmental lawyer to file suit against the chronic polluters of the Naugatuck River, but there is little money in the endeavor and he could find no lawyer interested.
Zak began his river crusade more than a decade ago with the simple act of picking up litter.
There is poetic symmetry to Kevin Zak’s latest attempt to improve the quality of the Naugatuck River. He began by picking up litter piece by piece, and now a decade later he has discovered a tool to go after pollution at its source.
“I found a way to do it myself through the Clean Water Act,” Zak said. “And there might be more to come.”