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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Conservation Hearing Focuses on Y Septic System

By Jennifer Connic

Tonight’s Conservation Commission hearing on the Westport Weston Family Y’s new facility focused on the sewage treatment system, which came the same week the Family Y received a preliminary state approval for the system.

Westport Weston Family Y officials are planning to move their facility from the corner of Main Street and Post Road East in the downtown area to Camp Mahackeno adjacent to the Merritt Parkway. The plans include a septic system—called FAST—that would handle 34,000 gallons of sewage and water per day.

The state Department of Environmental Protection issued a draft approval for the system this week (See WestportNow Today).

Tonight the commission heard from several experts about the septic system, including an engineer who reviewed the state draft approval document.

Gary Dufel, an environmental engineer from Sterns and Wheeler representing the commission, spent about two hours reviewing the DEP’s decision and where he felt there were flaws although he said he believes the system would properly work.

He said, however, the commission should challenge Family Y officials to do more.

“Sometimes when you challenge an applicant to do a little better you get a lot better,” he said.

One issue he had with the state approval, he said, is that they were requiring a small sample taken once every two weeks.

A larger sample should be taken more often—such as two times per week—to ensure the quality of the system, Dufel said.

“You could reduce it in the future,” he said. “Requiring a snapshot once every other week is not acceptable.”

Also, he said, more information is needed about other FAST systems, including the Gunnery School in the Litchfield County town of Washington.

The Gunnery School, Dufel said, is not a good example about a failed system because it was overloaded.

“It’s not a good reflection on the system,” he said. “It would work.”

More needs to be known about each failure, he said, so it can be analyzed if there was a cause for the problems.

The commission will continue its hearing on the Family Y’s application on March 19.


Posted 02/28/07 at 03:14 AM  Permalink


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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 www.YDowntown.com.

Posted by Debbie McGinley on February 28, 2007 at 06:37 PM | #

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 (http://www.smithandloveless.com), a subsidiary of Bio-Microbics, Inc. (http://www.biomicrobics.com), 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 http://www.westporty.org/pdfs/NewsAndAnnouncements.pdf.

Posted by Ronald Wimer on March 01, 2007 at 04:38 PM | #