The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and Department of Public Health have begun the process of decontaminating and removing equipment from English Station, a non-operational power plant in the nearby Mill River.
Dennis Schain, a spokesman for the DEEP, said the state recently moved to contain the potential risks of keeping equipment in the plant that has tested for asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls and heavy metals. These efforts entail first sterilizing the equipment — which includes a bulldozer, a backhoe and several trailers — and then returning each item to its respective owner due to concerns of theft.
According to a 2011 report by Janet Kwiatkowski, a DEEP environmental analyst, roughly $3 million in scrap metal has been stolen by trespassers since the plant closed down, despite security measures including a locked gate, razor wire and a surveillance camera.
This week, officials from both departments visited the plant to appraise equipment and chart a course of action.
“The risk is from contact with on-site contamination,” Schain said. “The danger is that people trespass on the property or steal equipment.”
William Gerrish, spokesman for the DPH, said that while the two departments will share duties in the project, the DPH will primarily be responsible for properly performing the asbestos abatement. Schain added that, currently, the hazard remains contained within the grounds of the power plant.
Before shutting down in 1992, English Station was owned by the United Illuminating Company, which paid Quinnipiac Energy $4.25 million in 2000 to assume ownership of the property. By selling the plant, United Illuminating shed itself of the responsibility to decontaminate equipment and dismantle English Station.
Quinnipiac Energy originally hoped to fix and reopen the plant for additional support during peak periods of energy demand in the area. But following resistance from then-Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73, now a U.S. senator, the energy company failed to secure the environmental permits it needed to do so and sold English Station in December 2006 to Asnat Realty and Evergreen Power LLC. Their plans — to salvage scrap metal from the plant before demolishing it — also stalled in December 2012, when state Attorney General George Jepsen and DEEP filed a cease-and-desist and then an administrative order holding that Asnat and Evergreen were obligated to decontaminate the site before beginning to salvage material.
“Any demolition and scrapping activities conducted at the site without proper characterization and disposal of [polychlorinated biphenyls] and other hazardous substances are likely to result in imminent and substantial damage to the environment or to public health,” read a letter that DEEP Emergency Response and Spill Prevention Director Mark DeCaprio sent to Asnat and Evergreen in December 2012.
Asnat and Evergreen eventually appealed the administrative order, claiming that United Illuminating should take financial responsibility for the decontamination process, despite the 2000 sale to Quinnipiac Energy.
Asnat, Evergreen and United Illuminating could not be reached for comment. However, Ann Catino, an attorney representing Evergreen Power and Asnat, was quoted in the New Haven Register last week saying that the “deteriorating environmental condition of the property rests squarely with the United Illuminating.”
City Hall spokesman Laurence Grotheer said the city has no direct contact with the parties involved and that responsibility for the regulation of the clean-up process resides purely at the state level. He also added that the property’s owners, not the city government, should handle English Station’s security.
“It is prime waterfront property, and certainly the city looks forward to a time when that property can be restored to a productive state,” Grotheer said. “However, the city is a step removed from this process.”