Fuel tank discovery raises contamination concerns
WESTPORT — A previously approved application has now drawn concern from the Planning and Zoning Commission after members later learned of potential contamination at the excavation site.
The commission discussed on Thursday the application submitted by Frederick William Hoag Architect for flood proofing and reconstruction of a one-story commercial building on Main Street. The property is owned by Empire State Realty Trust.
On Oct. 3, Commissioners Chip Stephens and Al Gratix noticed the excavation work at 69 Main St. and water being pumped into storm drains in Parker Harding Plaza.
When questioning the applicant later that day before issuing the approval, the commissioners were allegedly told it was seawater resulting from high tides.
But Stephens and Gratix later found out from Department of Public Works Chair Peter Ratkiewich there were seven fuel tanks on the site. According to Stephens, they were also told the smell from the excavation was so bad one store in the area had to close.
“I don’t know who’s telling the truth. ... I believe people at their word, but I do know something was wrong with pumping that stuff out,” Stephens said. “I believe because this is a coastal management situation it makes it that more serious.”
Stephens also said it was discovered the firm knew as far back as 2018 there was a problem and an environmental restriction on the property. The applicant received state approval on Jan. 4 to remediate the ground on, but the commission was never made aware of contaminants on site.
While commissioners were only allowed to discuss the matter, Stephens had hoped to place a cease and desist on the development, as well as potentially rescinding the commission’s approval.
“I want accountability and then I want to know what their game plan is, which we do with all sites where we know there is a problem,” Stephens said. “We make them have a plan, we have them report to us, and it’s followed.”
He added for the future, he wants to ensure no waiver is given for a coastal area management site unless the commission is made aware it’s clear of any contaminants or pollution.
Michael Feldman, environmental consultant for the owner of the property, said tanks previously used to heat the buildings leaked many years ago. After the property was purchased in 1990, environment consultants at the time were allowed to remediate the site by DEEP due to the leaked contaminants.
Feldman said information from DEEP stated the tanks were removed from the property, but it was later learned the tanks were abandoned, filled with concrete and closed.
“Not one tank on that site that I’m aware of was filled with oil,” Feldman said.
However, Stephens said he was told by Ratkiewich two of the tanks on site had substantial fuel in them.
Due to the discussion being solely informational, the commission agreed it would be best to further the conversation at a later date.
Feldman also assured the commission all of the affected soil excavated went only to approved disposal facilities.
“That site is about 80 percent cleaner than it was before we even got involved out there,” he added.
In the meantime, the applicant is allowed to continue work at the site, but the commission plans to either reconsider, revise or rescind its approval at a public meeting in November.