Monday, January 5, 2009
Common Council expresses alarm at composting operation
(Ellie Kelsey offers evidence of leachate contamination before the Common Council Monday night.)
An unexpected brouhaha erupted in Council chambers Monday evening during the regular monthly Council meeting when Council members voted to suspend rules to discuss the public comments provided by resident Eleanor "Ellie" Kelsey.
Kelsey, who lives on Higby Road and is a longtime attendee of Council and Zoning board meetings provided extensive evidence that the leaf composting operation on the Kolman Farm on Higby Road was in violation with its original agreement with the city. Her presentation was similar to one she presented to before the Planning and Zoning commission in December.
Kelsey claims that Kolman has turned the onetime leaf composting operation, for which Middletown pays $20,000 annually, into an extensive solid waste operation which has included road sweepings from the town of Berlin, road debris trucked to the site by state DOT contractor Empire Paving during the rebuilding of route 66, wood chips, tree stumps and other debris. These operations, Kelsey claims, have caused deterioration of the property, and possible contamination of groundwater, and other nearby bodies of water.
Kelsey brandished a bottle of what she claimed was leachate from the operation which had been collected by another Higby Road neighbor, Donna White. And she came armed with detailed reports for each Council member, and enlarged maps and photos of the site.
Kelsey, who occasionally undercut her own argument by admitting, "I may not be right, but I think I am," seemed quite convinced of the claims she was making before the Council.
Council members who spoke were uniformally aghast at the deterioration at the Kolman Farms, and various Council members including Thomas Serra, David Bauer, Gerry Daley, Ron Klattenberg and Phil Pessina wanted to know how the operation got so out of hand, and who in the city was responsible for testing, oversight, and ultimately halting what appeared to them to be an illegal operation adjacent to a city reservoir.
Councilors fired their questions at city staff, including environmental resource specialist James Sipperly, health department enforcement officer Sal Nesci, water and sewer department head Guy Russo, city planner Bill Warner, and manager of the public works department Bill Russo.
Nesci, Sipperly and Guy Russo declared the resevervoir and nearby wells, free of contamination from the leachate, though admitted to Councilman Klattenberg that groundwater and surface water near the operation had not been tested, and that testing at the "worst possible location" might reveal contamination. Warner indicated that John Kolman had been cited by the state DEP for an illegal composting operation, and that he had been served two cease and desist orders from the city.
The most explosive admission of the evening came, when under withering questioning from Councilman Vincent Loffredo, Public Works Director William Russo admitted that the City of Middletown Public Works Department itself had dumped potentially contaminated road sweepings on the Kolman property. That dumping is a clear violation of the original city agreement with Kolman to only compost discarded leaves on the property. What's more, under the original agreement, it appears the Public Works department was given the responsibility of monitoring the composting operation. The admission also diluted the Council's shock that the town of Berlin had been dumping road sweepings on the property.
Kolman's neighbor Donna White also testified to seeing Middletown city trucks dumping wood chips and road kill at the Kolman property.
Councilman Daley recommended that the city use the leverage of the contract to force Kolman to clean up his farm
Councilman Streeto recommended a workshop on the topic with an invitation to Kolman, and his attorney, to attend and explain his side of the story. That workshop is scheduled for March.
Planning and Zoning Board member Ron Borelli testified that annual testing, in surface wells, which was to have been done by the city for the past fifteen years, had apparently never taken place.
"This has been going on for 15 years," Borelli declared. "If the soil, and the water is contaminated at the site, we're too late. We haven't been doing our job."
Councilors urged the mayor to ensure that all responsible city departments immediately begin water tests on the site, and take all measures necessary to get the operation back within the original guidelines. The mayor readily agreed.
In the end, the Council voted to end the suspension of rules and return to the regular meeting