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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

DEP Approves Y Septic Plans

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By Jennifer Connic

The state Department of Environmental Protection has issued a draft approval for the Westport Weston Family Y’s plan to move its facility to Camp Mahackeno.

The state agency reviewed the plans that included an on-site septic system that would handle up to 34,000 gallons of sewage per day, and it held a public hearing in Westport last fall (See WestportNow Sept. 14).

The Conservation Commission is scheduled to continue its hearing on the application—which includes a review of the septic system—tonight at 7 in Town Hall.

“The proposed wastewater treatment system would treat the wastewater to a level to prevent pollution of groundwater and maintain a high water quality,” the draft decision states. “The requested permit for discharge of wastewaters from the applicant’s facility would not cause pollution to the waters of the state.”

“This is a significant milestone in the permitting process for construction of the new Mahackeno facility,” said Helene Weir, Family Y CEO, in a written statement. “The recommendation not only allows us to proceed with our plans, but also acknowledges that the Family Y has made every effort to meet and even exceed DEP standards for wastewater discharge.”

Y officials said there are conditions in the document that they plan to meet including the requirement for separate DEP permits each for pool and stormwater discharges, identification and DEP approval of the FAST system operator, establishment of a system inspection, operation and maintenance schedule and monitoring of system flow, effluent and groundwater.

Y Downtown officials had intervened in the proceedings and expressed concerns over the DEP decision.

“While the DEP’s decision was not unexpected, what is surprising is that the DEP disregarded its own data that show that the same F.A.S.T. system being proposed by the YMCA has a 67 percent failure rate among its six Connecticut installations,” said Debbie McGinley, director of Y Downtown, in a written statement.

The statement further said, “Fortunately, while the DEP’s purview is very narrow, Westport’s Conservation Commission is charged with taking more into account.”

Posted 02/27/07 at 07:56 PM


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As mentioned in the article, the Department of Environmental Protection Hearing Officer’s decision to grant the Westport YMCA a permit for its 34,000-gallon-per-day wastewater facility located just 600 feet from the Saugatuck River was not unexpected.  What is surprising and disturbing is that the Hearing Officer never mentioned that the DEP’s own data show that the very same system that the Y is proposing in Westport is failing to consistently meet the DEP’s performance standards in every other installation in Connecticut.  Four of the six installations never have been able to earn final DEP permits.

Perhaps we should not be surprised, given what we have learned about the DEP’s oversight of these systems.  According to information submitted to Westport’s Conservation Department, the DEP does not require systems to submit testing data until they receive a final permit, which can allow the systems to operate out of compliance for years.  And the DEP does nothing to shut down even permitted facilities that fail to meet performance standards.  Bill Hogan, a DEP engineer, explained why a few weeks ago: The DEP does not have the resources to inspect facilities and enforce its own permit standards.

Luckily, the Hearing Officer’s decision has no impact on our Conservation Commission, which must consider whether this system will adversely affect the quality of Lee’s Pond and the Saugatuck River.  Stearns & Wheler, the independent expert hired by the town, recently said that the performance record of the proposed system is very relevant to the Commission’s decision.  In its report, Stearns & Wheler calls on the Y to explain this troubling data, and concludes that, if the Commission is not reassured, “it is our opinion that there is enough data in the record, coupled with a lack of response by DEP on these problems, that this commission could reach a conclusion that this treatment plant technology has too many risks, and there is too little enforcement action by DEP such that the local waters will not be protected and a denial is the appropriate course of action.”  (Stearns & Wheler Report, 2/21/07)

Echoing the Stearns & Wheler report, we hope the Conservation Commission will acknowledge that the risks associated with the YMCA’s proposed wastewater treatment system are too high and the danger to Westport’s waterways too great, and deny the Y’s application.  For more information, visit

Posted by Debbie McGinley on March 01, 2007 at 03:44 AM | #

Last week, when the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection gave tentative approval to the Westport Weston Family Y’s proposed wastewater management system, the DEP said the Y’s opponents – who call themselves “Y Downtown” – failed to prove that the proposed system might cause pollution:

“Y Downtown, which has the burden of proof under § 22a-19, did not demonstrate that the applicant’s proposed wastewater management system would create and cause unreasonable pollution or would be even reasonably likely to create or cause unreasonable pollution. Manchester Environmental Coalition v. Stockton, 184 Conn. 51 (1981). Y Downtown did not present any evidence to establish unreasonable impairment “through the lens” of the statutory and regulatory schemes…

“Y Downtown offered no fact or expert testimony to rebut the applicant’s various witnesses concerning any aspects of the testing and characterization of the site, the preparation of the application, the design and operation of the proposed system, or the potential discharge to that system. Y Downtown did not produce any evidence or expert testimony to counter the facts and opinions presented by the applicant and DEP; none of its exhibits or non-expert witnesses established sufficient proof that the proposed project would cause unreasonable pollution or be reasonably likely to cause pollution.” *

Y Downtown failed to prove that the Family Y’s proposed wastewater management system is likely to cause pollution, because the system has been proven to work.

Smith and Loveless (a subsidiary of Bio-Microbics, Inc.) has installed more than 10,000 Modular FAST septic systems in 70 countries and almost all of them are functioning as intended.

This septic technology is not new – it was created decades ago – it is just new in Connecticut. Y Downtown is correct in noting that there are only six other FAST systems in Connecticut and some of them are not operating under permit.

However, it is fallacious to assert that the FAST system is faulty, or poorly designed, because of the status of some other FAST systems in New England. In fact, it is a cum hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy, meaning Y Downtown is claiming causation because of a simple correlation.

That is like saying, “If it rains after I dance, then my rain dance must work.” Scientists eschew such thinking. That is why the DEP said Y Downtown failed to “establish sufficient proof” that the Family Y’s proposed septic system is reasonably likely to cause pollution.

Y Downtown is still saying the FAST system can cause pollution. “Four of the six installations [in Connecticut] never have been able to earn final DEP permits.”

If the State of Connecticut followed this logic with everything it regulated, then none of us would own a car. We wouldn’t be able to get drivers licenses. The state would say it’s too dangerous to let us drive because a few people had broken the law and had accidents.

Thank goodness the state doesn’t do this. Thank goodness it tries to logically analyze every case it regulates, and we are still free to drive – even to a rain dance.

* To read all of the DEP’s Proposed Final Decision, go to

Posted by Ronald Wimer on March 02, 2007 at 09:46 PM | #

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