Hamden is expanding a decades-old plan to ‘clean up’ the Newhall neighborhood – a reminder that the city’s long road to environmental justice is still in need of new paving.
This is the result of information discussed Monday evening by the Economic and Development Committee of the Legislative Council.
The committee unanimously approved two agreements allowing the Connecticut State Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) to store equipment in the old abandoned college at 560 Newhall St. and to rehabilitate ten properties built on contaminated soils.
DEEP environmental analyst Ray Frigon called the new initiative – due to be voted on by the entire Legislative Council on August 15 – “a continuation of a neighborhood-wide floor cleaning effort. “
Between 1800 and 1950, the wetland around Newhall Street in the Highwood neighborhood of south Hamden was used to dump trash, mostly from the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. The dumping of contaminated soil under many residential blocks in the neighborhood, as well as the former Michael J. Whalen Middle School, the nearby community center and open spaces like Rochford Field and Villano Park.
The Connecticut Department of Public Health examined Newhall soil samples collected by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2004, finding elevated levels of lead, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and arsenic. Such findings led to the closure and abandonment of Newhall Middle School, where the redevelopment was postponed largely due to a lengthy remediation process. (Read more about this here.)
The Regional Water Authority, DEEP, the Olin Corporation and the Town of Hamden have shared responsibility for investigating and funding land clearing projects on the Middle School plot, 300 residential properties and Rockford Field and Villano Park.
In 2013, The New Haven Register reported that “The Newhall remediation project is largely complete,After contaminants were removed from the soil of 240 residential properties. While Olin and DEEP repaired 300 properties, Hamden took care of public parks, and the water authority completed the remediation of the school site in 2019, the original plan is still “technically unfinished.” , according to Frigon.
Contaminants are a health hazard when they can be inadvertently ingested or inhaled. The common solution of the organizations was therefore to ensure that four feet of soil was between the soil surface and the polluted soil. In the college’s case, Frigon said more work might be needed, for example, if future developers install utility lines like water, electricity and gas, as deeper waste could put in danger to the health of construction workers.
In the case of residential properties, he said, DEEP met in 2005 to “define the perimeter” of their project area. He estimated that “99.9% of the infill activity” was addressed by extracting contaminants and adding additional soil to the 300 selected homes, and that the ten properties they plan to decontaminate over the next six months are part of the 0.1% of contaminants left under residences. tasks.
“In the boundary area of the original consent order,” he said, the contaminants “have essentially stretched from edge to edge across the entire block.
Out of bounds, ”he continued,“ the contaminants appear very isolated, possibly contained under the driveway or the corner of the property. DEEP decided to dig properties outside of the original boundaries, he said, because the owners of those properties had asked them to do so. “It’s still a rubbish backfill, and it’s still contaminated,” he said, “but what appeared there was very light, sporadic and somewhat benign.”
“We are moving very quickly for a project of this magnitude,” he said.
Fifth District Legislative Council representative Justin Farmer, who represents the area, called Monday’s vote “a good step.” But he said important work remains to be done to deal with centuries of contamination at Newhall and to promote environmental and racial justice within Hamden.
The remediation efforts, he said, “will never be nearly over… because you had an entire area that was built literally entirely on the city’s dump.”
“It will eternally devalue this neighborhood,” he said, affecting the value of hundreds of homes. He said there were “about 100 houses” that he knew of that still needed to be restored, houses that “are slowly sinking into the ground.”
“There isn’t enough money to really do the work on the houses” that is deserved after two centuries of environmental exploitation, he said.
Farmer said one of his goals is to “educate and empower current and potentially future homeowners” to opt for the cleanup process, which is free for all, and know their rights as residents. from Newhall.
Farmer also lobbied for Olin to repair and open a private 102.5-acre forest and wetland site called Powder Farm so residents can finally take advantage of the closed lands. Powder Farm, which also stretches across southern Hamden, has suffered from the same history and contamination as the other sites in Newhall.
“In a black and brown community that has been disenfranchised… which has very high asthma rates and is overdeveloped compared to the rest of Hamden,” Farmer said. “There should be a public space. Especially after Covid.