Phoenix Soil is currently applying for the renewal of permits it requires to continue operation. Phoenix Soil has been operating without a waste license for six years, and without an air permit which expired last summer. Recent media reports have quoted a Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) employee saying that a renewal of the permits is “likely”.
Neighborhood organizations and activists in Waterbury have steadfastly countered the legal actions of Phoenix and opposed its operation in the heart of the city. Following is a chronological summary of events, reflecting twelve years of their unrelenting struggle.
Phoenix Soil is located at 130 Freight Street, on a site owned by Environmental Waste Resources (EWR), which processed hazardous waste materials. EWR declared bankruptcy in July 1997. The site is a contaminated brownfield. It is located at the bottom of a valley, which hampers dissipation of any pollutants from the stack. Furthermore, it is situated in an area scheduled for remediation and critical to the economic development of Waterbury.
Phoenix operates a “Low temperature thermal desorption unit”, which heats soil contaminated with petroleum products, allegedly destroying the contaminants and releasing only harmless emissions through its smokestack. The plant began its operation in 1992, after initially failing two smokestack tests. To overcome DEP stipulations for air quality the stack had to be increased in height and lime injected into the process.
Phoenix started its operation under an agreement of March 2, 1993, signed by Mayor Edward D. Bergin for the City and David J. Green for Phoenix, disregarding a petition signed by many residents. Stipulations of the agreement can be summarized as follows:
The plant shall operate at the site for no longer than three years; both parties shall seek a mutually satisfactory alternate site. Phoenix will allow the City to conduct “random ‘grab type’ ” samples from the smokestack and/or any stock piles and will reimburse the City’s agent hired to perform the sampling to an amount not exceeding $12,000 per year. Phoenix shall not seek any extension of the DEP permit without express permission of the Board of Aldermen.
In December 1996 DEP granted Phoenix an extension of the temporary permit and, in February 1997 announced that it was getting ready to grant it a final permit. By then Mayor Philip Giordano was in power and the administration went through posturing of righteous indignation, objecting to Phoenix’s apparent intent to stay in disregard to the signed agreement with former mayor Bergin. A petition by some 60 city residents was submitted to DEP, requesting a hearing.
The Environmental Committee of the Board of Aldermen, in June 1997, asked the consulting firm of Fuss and O’Neill Ic. to review the situation. Meanwhile test samples were investigated by the City’s Dept. of Health, with negative results. The Committee requested that the Naugatuck Development Corporation (NVDC) should assist Phoenix in locating an alternate site. Public feelings against Phoenix were expressed in July 1997, when some 1200 residents gathered for a hearing before DEP at Kennedy High School.
In October 1997 Mr. Green suddenly declared that Phoenix was leaving Waterbury for an undisclosed location. Almost immediately thereafter Mr. Green stated that , while he had two sites in mind, he lacked the needed state and local permits. In December 1997 DEP declared its readiness to issue a final permit for the current site, but a day later announced the issuance of a 90 day temporary permit.
In February 1998 Arthur J. Rocque Jr. took over as the DEP boss and another public hearing was set for March 2nd. Internally , the name of Vito Santarsiero, a former DEP employee and a confidant of Governor Rowland, surfaced in the press in conjunction with Phoenix. Mr. Santarsiero was called a “fixer” for polluting companies and had resigned from DEP under a cloud. The Hartford Courant of February 18th 1998 accused him of bullying DEP workers attempting to enforce regulations.
The Phoenix case received added attention in March 1998 when Vincent Viggiano, the City’s zoning enforcement officer, was advised that the plant stack exceeded the structure height limit by 20 feet. As for the interpretation of the Phoenix contract, Mayor Giordano drew ire of the residents by throwing doubt on its interpretation. As quoted in the March 26th 1998 isssue of Rep-Am, he stated, “We live in a city, unfortunately (where) there are a lot of people that will lie and cheat for (their) own personal, political gain…” Prophetic words!
The permit issue heated up again after the smokestack revelation; some other discrepancies were found and Phoenix closed its operation in April 1998. Congressman James Maloney, D-5th District urged DEP to deny the license. The Board of Aldermen passed resolutions to seek an outside counsel to enforce the 1993 agreement and force Phoenix to lower the stack. In June 1998 the City retained attorney Alan Kosloff to handle the contract issue.
In July of same year, Phoenix requested a hearing with DEP to secure a 5 year permit to remain at the present site. Following that, the City filed a motion to resolve the questions caused by the 1993 contract. An added wrinkle was another soil processor, United Retek of Connecticut, which located at the Phoenix site, as a partnership between Mr. Green and attorney Kosloff, who had allegedly been retained by the City! Mr. Kosloff promptly denied having anything to do with representing the City.
By October of 1998, the issue of the DEP permit surfaced anew, facing alleged opposition from Mayor Giordano. In March 1999 David Leff of DEP, overruled any prevailing community concerns. It is interesting that one of the factors in granting the air permit was the retention of the disputed stack height; DEP considered this zoning stipulation irrelevant. Thereupon, Vincent Viggiano issued a “cease and desist” order to Phoenix. Attorney Mark Shipman, representing Phoenix, objected on the basis of communication towers being allowed a 160 foot height in industrial zones. Phoenix resumed operation in mid-April 1999.
Meanwhile the legal arguments against Phoenix continued and in May 1999 Waterbury Superior Court judge Robert Holzberg ruled in favor of Phoenix. Thereupon the Board of Aldermen requested the replacement of the City’s assistant Corporation Counsel, Justin Donnelly, for non compliance with the Board’s request to retain experts in environmental law. Phoenix countered by filing a federal suit against the City and the zoning enforcement officer. DEP conducted a surprise inspection of Phoenix, found everything “in compliance” and confirmed its approval of Phoenix.
As per legal notice of May 19, 1999, the Zoning Board of Appeals denied Phoenix the right to the excessive stack height. The following month, Waterbury Superior Court judge Christine Vertefeuille denied the City’s request to have Phoenix shut down until the resolution of the stack issue, and judge Charles Gill dismissed the City’s suit. Since then, Phoenix continued their business and the residents have watched helplessly while the white plume of allegedly harmless emissions rises from the stack.
With the Jarjura administration in place, an effort has been made to get Phoenix to pay $400,000 in overdue taxes and to attach the rent Phoenix pays to D’Addario Industries of Bridgeport, owners of the bankrupt EWR. In a Rep-Am article of March 4, 2002, Mayor Jarjura is quoted as having said, “Phoenix has a permit to operate and is potentially good for 20 years”. May 20, 2002 aldermanic agenda indicates that United Retek Corp. was involved in the processing of soil from the MATTACO site. Mr. Kosloff of Retek would eventually bid to purchase the site for development (for the MATTACO story see OBSERVER of March 2005).
The New Haven Advocate of April 3, 2003 carried an article about the intent by the the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority (CRRA) in 1999, to buy Phoenix Soil for $10.5 million. CRRA is the organization which later loaned $220 million to ENRON. The article hinted strongly at Governor John Rowland’s behind the scenes involvement and leaning on DEP.
In April 2003, the then Tax Collector, Karen Mulcahy, sued D’Addario Industries for more than $500,000 in property, water and sewer taxes. The suit was apparently settled with D’Addario agreeing to pay $16,000 a month out of $20,000 they collect from Phoenix and other tenants. In January 2004 Phoenix again applied for DEP air and waste permits. Meanwhile the City retained the law firm of Cicchetti & Tansley to handle the legal angle. In 1999 attorneys Malaspina of Carmody & Torrance and Michael Cicchetti of Cicchetti & Tansley formed the Freight Street Reclamation Inc., drawing on the $2 million state grant for the planning of revitalization of the Freight Street / Jackson Street area. Phoenix Soil is smack in the center of it. Incidentally, the name of attorney Malaspina has recently surfaced in conjunction with the proposed sale of Waterbury’s water resources.
A Rep-Am article of May 19, 2004 revealed that Phoenix’s Mr. Green was investigated by the FBI in conjunction with poker games he shared with Governor Rowland. If one connects all the fine threads, one need not wonder why the residents have had no chance of getting rid of Phoenix Soil. They have been no match for the players involved.
In November 2004 Governor Rell appointed Gina McCarthy as the new chief of DEP. Ms. McCarthy has promised a “squeaky clean” DEP, apparently suggesting the previous reputation was less than pure. No surprise to most Waterburians.
Phoenix is currently applying to the DEP for the renewal of licenses. In conjunction with that, Mr. Green held an “Environmental Justice Informational Meeting” on March 31st, apparently required as part of the process. DEP was represented by staffers from the public affairs section. Although Mr. Green’s presentation of the process and its effect on environment dealt only in positives, the subsequent Q & A period revealed some wrinkles.
It is my understanding that a hearing is to follow. I asked Mr. Green about how long Phoenix intends to remain at its present location, given that the area is scheduled for remediation and revitalization. His tongue in cheek reply was to the effect that the cost of the cleanup of EWR brownfield would be of such magnitude that it would take years before Phoenix would have to move. In other words, he is not feeling threatened. To a question from the audience regarding his position on the 1993 contract, he refused to respond on the grounds that the matter is under litigation. My guess is it will remain there for quite a while.