Testing shows fill at Baron's South in Westport not hazardous

The soil stockpile at 21 Imperial Avenue is now covered with grass. Taken June 12, 2019 in Westport.

The soil stockpile at 21 Imperial Avenue is now covered with grass. Taken June 12, 2019 in Westport.

Lynandro Simmons/Hearst Connecticut Media

WESTPORT — Further testing on the soil stockpile at Baron’s South has concluded the soil is not hazardous, according to a report presented to the Board of Selectmen on Wednesday.

“The important overall determination of this study is that this is not hazardous waste,” Public Works Director Pete Ratkiewich said. “It is contaminated soil, but it is a natural contamination that’s native to that property.”

Concerns about the safety of the pile grew after one sample from the excavated earth near the Westport Center for Senior Activities tested for arsenic at 13 milligrams per kilogram — 3 milligrams above the Residential and Industrial/Commercial Direct Exposure criteria.

The property was formerly the location of a greenhouse and swimming pool owned by the Austrian Baron Walter Langer von Langendorff. The town purchase the property after Langer died.

In January, environmental consultant Darby Hittle of Thunderbird Environmental presented a report that showed the fill pile on the property might include naturally occurring traces of arsenic.

“What we found is what you probably all know, is that the Baron’s South property had extensive horticulture use,” Hittle said. “There were flower gardens pretty much everywhere throughout this property.”

Further investigation in April found there was a hot spot for arsenic in a small area on the property not near the pile, Hittle said. That spot was then remediated.

“When we dug out the soil, we got rid of it,” Hittle said. “Our confirmatory samples show that everything within that excavation area, within that release area, is now below the (significant environmental hazard) reporting requirement.”

But Selectwoman Melissa Kane questioned why the information about the initial contamination had not been brought before the board.

“I’m not sure I understand why the Board of Selectmen wasn’t notified of this,” she said, adding she was surprised the testing and remediation happened without the board being informed.

Ratkiewich said when his department was verbally notified of the hot spot, they were told they only had 90 days to decontaminate the area.

“The action of actually abating the location, and this is a very small location, was our priority at that point,” he said, adding the report documented all the actions the DPW and contractor made.

Some residents said they were concerned the hot spot the group tested might not be the only one on the property.

RTM member Sal Liccione said he wanted an oversight committee to be formed of town officials and students to handle what to do with the Baron’s South property.

Liccione said he was disappointed in the town leadership’s handling of everything to do with the fill pile, from the initial discovery to final testing. He said he also felt the RTM was not being properly informed on what was going on at the site.

“I’m very disappointed as someone who represents Baron’s South,” he said.

First Selectman Jim Marpe said if anything was created on the property, the space used should be tested out of an abundance of caution.

“If we’re going to dig something up and do something with it, if we’re even able to do that, we want to make sure we’re not encountering the kind of thing we found,” he said.

Ratkiewich proposed three options for the fill pile — leave the fill pile where it is, flatten the pile out, or take it and spread it over low lying areas that are less susceptible to erosion.

“If we take it anywhere else we have to make sure that the area we’re bringing it to is worse than where it is right now,” Ratkiewich said. “That’s not only problematic, but it’s going to be more costly. The most cost effective solution is to use it on site.”

Ratkieiwch said he plans to come back to the Selectmen in September after developing plans for the three alternatives.