An environmental expert told Branford residents that tests indicate no significant contamination on the portion of Tabor Drive where a public works facility could be built. Other concerns at the public hearing Wednesday focused on construction costs, traffic and flooding issues.
About 150 people crowded into the Board of Selectmen meeting,and adjourning rooms, to hear information about the Tabor Drive property, which was the site recommended by the Public Works Building Committee.
The committee’s (some members pictured above) second choice was a property on Northeast Industrial Road. Total construction costs for each project were estimated around $10 million.Contamination concerns are not limited to the Tabor site. The committee’s report on the two sites says the Northeast Industrial Road location has been contaminated from previous industrial uses. The consultant said the town would have to ensure that the owner remediates the problems before any purchase is made.
Some questions centered on possible contamination issues because small portions of the 77-acre Tabor property border on what was once an active town dump. The property was seized by the town through eminent domain in 2003 because of proximity to the contaminated dump. Lengthy lawsuits ensued, which were finally resolved in the town’s favor in 2010.
David Hurley (pictured) of Fuss & O’Neill, the town’s engineering firm during the Tabor Drive litigation years, told the crowd he has conducted tests at various times on the 10-acre site being considered for the public works facility.
“We didn’t find anything significant there,” Hurley said in regard to the proposed site. He said that portion of the 77-acre property is bedrock and is not near the landfill. “This was a relatively low-risk area on the site,” said Hurley, who is vice president and director of Brownfields Programs at Fuss & O’Neill.
First Selectman Anthony “Unk” DaRos addressed safety issues during a discussion of the dump earlier in the meeting. “We’re not going to put anybody at risk down there,” he assured the crowd.
Joy McConnell, the Republican candidate who ran against DaRos for first selectman last year, said she fears that building the facility on Tabor could expose the town to liability if environmental issues are raised in the future. She also asked if it would be possible to tour the site before any decisions are made.
Second Selectman Andy Campbell said he has been planning a “big community walk of Tabor” that could be scheduled before the next public hearing.
McConnell also asked for a formal presentation regarding the second-choice site, similar to the one the consultants gave on Tabor last month. She was assured that will be done at the next hearing.
The alternate location proposed by the building committee is a 5.1 acre site at 20 NE Industrial Road, located behind the Tremonte Auto Group dealership on East Main Street and near the People’s Bank. The industrial site has two existing buildings and is on the market for $1.25 million.
Third Selectman Jamie Cosgrove, the only Republican on the three-member BOS, said regardless of where the facility is built, he is opposed to the pricetag.
“There’s still the issue of $11 million for this facility,” he said, claiming there wouldn’t have been a need for a new public works facility if it hadn’t been torn down to make room for the new fire headquarters. The Department of Public Works (DPW) has been in a rental facility since then.
“This project doesn’t exist in a vacuum,” Cosgrove said, noting the possible need for a new senior center, renovations at the middle school or replacing the aging John Sliney Elementary School. “We have to look at the town as a whole,” he said.
Cosgrove said that a few years ago, the consulting firm for the new fire headquarters estimated lower costs for the DPW building.
DPW Director Art Baker (pictured) told Cosgrove that the 2007 cost estimate included $17 million for both buildings, which would have been about $9.2 million for the fire headquarters and $8.1 million for DPW.
Baker said the committee is proposing a larger building than the one in the previous estimate, and has also included the cost of off-site improvements for Tabor. In addition, he said special equipment was not factored into the earlier estimate.
Jeff Alberti, of Weston & Sampson, the consulting engineer for the Public Works Building Committee, said the costs include $1 million in contingencies, which may not be needed. He also said the town could save $1 million if construction bids in the current economic climate come in lower than estimated.
Alberti said they can use “creative ways to narrow down the costs” in the design phase. “The hope is those numbers are going to be lower.”
“I don’t take any comfort in that,” Cosgrove said, stating he wants the size of the building to be reduced.
DaRos said he opposes drastic cuts to the building’s size, fearing that would have a negative impact on DPW services. He said their $4 million fleet of trucks needs to be housed in a garage instead of outdoors.
Neighbors in the Tabor Drive and Toole Road vicinity said they are concerned about increased traffic from DPW trucks.
“From a neighbor’s standpoint, how could this affect quality of life,” said Kate Hvizdak, who lives nearby. She said adjacent roads have poor sightline visibility and that speeding is commonplace on Pine Orchard Road. “I see that as a real safety issue.”
Other neighbors said that adjacent roads typically flood during storms and high tides.
The estimated project costs include $1.2 million for off-site improvements to upgrade Tabor Drive and add two access roads connecting to Pine Orchard Road.
“Whether we put DPW down there or not, those roads should be fixed,” DaRos said. We can’t abandon that community down there…It seems the tides are higher than they have been and they flood more often.”
Dennis Flanigan, long-time clerk of the Representative Town Meeting, (RTM,) represents residents in the Tabor Drive area. He said flooding and truck traffic are realistic concerns. He was also concerned about the project costs.
“The economy hasn’t fully recovered in this country and Branford particularly,” Flanigan said. “The bottom line is the taxpayers will have to pay for this… I ask the committee to re-look at these figures.”
Frank Twohill Jr., the Republican minority leader of the RTM, asked the search committee to look into additional sites that may be available, or to consider the possibility of continuing to rent instead of build.
Many of the questions came from Republicans familiar with the topic.
The hearing, which DaRos described as a question-and-answer session, ended after about 90 minutes. Since it was a public hearing format, residents were asked to sign in and to limit their comments to three minutes.
DaRos said a full public hearing will be scheduled in about 60 days at the Tabor Lutheran Church. The public works project will also need the approval of the Board of Finance and the RTM.
Earlier in the evening, at another hearing, the Board of Selectmen gave the green light for a new Thimble Island Ferry.
Prior to Wednesday’s hearing, the BOS gave permission to Mario Ricozzi, chair of the Solid Waste Management Commission, to investigate the possibility of putting solar panels on top of the town’s landfill when it is eventually closed.(see map) He said North Haven is undertaking a similar “bright field” project with their landfill.
Ricozzi said the town would continue to own the property but would lease it to a power company that would install the solar panels to produce electricity.
Ricozzi (pictured) said designs for the final capping and closing of the landfill must be approved by the Inland Wetlands Commission and the Planning and Zoning Commission. He anticipates it will be completely closed in 2013, but that monitoring of the area for leachate will continue for many years.
Leachate is liquid from decomposing waste that can ooze from an active landfill. They are also monitoring the area for methane gas from the landfill.
“We’re at the very last stages of the Branford landfill,” Ricozzi said, explaining that only construction materials have been accepted at the dump in recent years. Several areas of the landfill have already been capped, and no additional materials will be accepted after late spring or early summer.