Residents unhappy with neighboring rubber waste dump

Joseph Hopkins said he and his wife Dea didn't know sponge rubber waste was buried on two lots next to them when they built their dream home on Independence Drive about three and one-half years ago.

"We found out after the fact," Hopkins told the Inland Wetlands Commission (IWC), after it voted to deny an application to re-bury the waste on the vacant housing lots.

Now Hopkins worries about property values in the neighborhood, with large piles of rubber waste and dirt sitting on the two properties near the road. He said as of now, they essentially "live next to a garbage dump."

"We're not happy with it," Hopkins said.

According to the owner of the lot Roger Spinelli attorney Stephen Bellis, initial tests done by an independent laboratory indicate the waste is not contaminated.

"We have bulky waste," Bellis said, that was in the ground for decades and not causing "anyone any harm." Therefore, he explained when discussing his client's application with the IWC, "let's put it back in the ground."

But the IWC rejected the proposal to re-bury the rubber waste on the two lots at its June 15 meeting, saying it can't consider approving such a plan until a state-issued violation notice is rectified.

Chairman Gary Zahornasky said the action was being taken on the advice of the city corporation counsel — or the city's attorney office. "We don't really have jurisdiction over it — the state does," said Zahornasky, adding that municipal agencies — including land-use boards — would take no action "until the state tells us how to handle it."

The state issued a violation notice because Spinelli, of Ronic Enterprises, has failed to truck it off-site to an approved landfill or similar-type facility. More waste also was excavated than the permit covered.

The city has issued a cease-and desist order to prevent new activity on the site without certain approvals, and also a blight violation notice due to all the debris visible to neighbors and passing motorists.

The developer's application to re-bury the waste on-site was denied without prejudice by the IWC, which means the applicant can resubmit the proposal in the future. The vote was unanimous, with one member abstaining.

Put in trenches

Earlier, Bellis gave a short presentation on the plan to re-bury the sponge rubber waste on the two lots away from the road, behind where Spinelli wants to build two houses.

It would be placed in trenches up to six-feet deep that then would be covered — presumably with soil and possibly liners — and leveled. The trenches would not be in wetlands but in IWC-regulated areas.

Bellis explained that the original idea to dig up the waste and cart it off-site now isn't practical because more waste was found than anticipated, making the plan economically unfeasible. He estimated there is 8,000 cubic yards of rubber debris, and the original state permit was to excavate 4,500 cubic yards.

"Now we're in a difficult position," with a big pile of waste in the middle of a residential neighborhood, Bellis said. "We have obviously upset neighbors," he said.

"We feel pressure — I guess is what you'd call it — from the city and the neighbors to get this resolved," Bellis said.

The debris dates back to the former B.F. Goodrich sponge rubber factory in downtown Shelton. It was apparently buried on the land many decades ago, before such activities were properly regulated.

After Bellis discussed the test results, Zahornasky said the results are hard for lay people on the commission to interpret. "They gave it to us in lab talk," he said.

Darrick F. Jones, an environmental engineer hired by the Hopkins, called the test results "insignificant" because different materials may be in various parts of the debris piles. "You can have variability in the material," he said.

Jones said if state permission should be received to re-bury the material, the site may need to "be treated like a modern landfill, with monitoring."

Hopkins said he and other neighbors had supported Spinelli's original plan to dig up the waste and take it away, presuming it was the best solution. "I feel in a way duped by him," Hopkins said.

"We understand your concerns," responded Zahornasky, emphasizing that Spinelli needs to resolve the situation because it was of his own doing. "The neighbors are stuck in the middle here," he said.

"The only way it's going to go back in the ground is if someone tells us it's safe," Zahornasky said.