Yale Daily News

Since its 1992 closing, New Haven’s English Station has sat in a state of disrepair: a concrete bunker in a field of patchy bushes, abandoned machinery and fragmented slabs of pavement. 

The site’s soil toxicity has long drawn the attention of local residents, who fear its toxins could pollute nearby waterways and worsen the surrounding air quality. At its Wednesday meeting, the New Haven Environmental Advisory Council discussed how it could push forward site cleanup plans. 

English Station, a former coal and oil power plant that operated from 1929 to 1992, was a major source of electricity for the city until 1974. The power plant was constructed and operated by United Illuminating, a regional electric distribution company. United Illuminating sold the site in 2000, but the company is still in charge of the power plant’s cleanup efforts, and harmful toxins from decades of operations still exist within the site’s soil. According to New Haven Environmental Advisory Council Chair Laura Cahn, these toxins continue to pose a concern to community health and the quality of the nearby Mill River.

“The Environmental Advisory Council’s issue with this is that because the neighbors are affected, even potentially, by the problems on this site and because it’s taking years for the United Illuminating to clean it up. … We don’t want to wait anymore,” Cahn told the News. “We live in 2021. We need to clean up these 19th-century and 20th-century problems.”

One of the main types of contaminants that can be found at the English Stations site are polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, which are probable human carcinogens. The PCBs at the site are a byproduct of the power plants’ electric-producing equipment. They do not readily break down in the environment and can remain in the water, air and soil for long periods. 

According to a document from the Environmental Protection Agency in 2019, PCB concentrations on the English Station site exceeded the allowable level of less than or equal to one part per million for unrestricted public use. According to United Illuminating’s website, the company is working to reduce the PCB concentration by excavating contaminated soil and disposing off-site at a permitted disposal facility. In March of last year, United Illuminating announced that it planned to remove 3,500 cubic yards of PCB-contaminated soil from the area but is still waiting on approval from the owners of the site.

Cahn said that the council seeks for the site to be cleaned as quickly as possible due to the possible environmental impacts. The council has discussed clean up efforts in past years: shortly before the onset of the pandemic, a group of council members visited the state attorney general’s office to inquire about the clean-up. She added that continued resident concern about the environmental ramifications of the site convinced the council to look into the site again.

English Station is located at the edge of the Fair Haven neighborhood, blocks away from houses and schools. The neighborhood is a majority Latino, low-income community. According to a 2016 profile from Data Haven, 67 percent of Fair Haven’s residents are Latino, with 33 percent of the residents living below the poverty line. 

Cahn expressed concern that toxins from the site could get into the air. Chris Ozyck, associate director for the Urban Resources Initiative, added that dust being omitted from the decades-old building during modifications could also pollute the surrounding environment.

“The neighbors who live there are worried about having a toxic waste dump in their yard,” Cahn said. “And they worry about the health of their children.”

The environmental concerns expressed by the council are not new. In 2012, the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, or DEEP, ordered a cease-and-desist order to stop demolition of the plant after it found oil from the English Station with high concentrations of PCBs being transported from the site. In response, United Illuminating entered a partial consent order with DEEP where it agreed to commit a minimum of $30 million into investigating the site’s environmental conditions and cleaning up the site.

The partial consent order only addresses remediation within the site boundaries but does not include any efforts to clean up the Mill River — the English Station site lies on the Southern end of Ball Island, a man-made island on the river. But according to Cahn, the water can wash up onto the island during high tide, and any contaminants in the soil can be mixed with the river water. 

“I’m not forgetting about the river,” Ozyck said during the meeting. “The river is what we really need cleaned.”

Cahn said that the council has been discussing the issue of the English Station for years now. Most recently, the council received a memo in April from the attorneys representing GMP Property Solutions LLC, who owns the lease to the site. The memo stated that GMP, DEEP and the city were waiting on approval for the cleanup from the current owners, Haven River Properties and Paramount View Millennium.

The memo also stated that GMP’s goal was to have the removal of pollutants allow for “productive reuse” so that the site could be an “asset to the entire community.” The company stated that it was “extremely committed to the development of a mixed use project at the site.” 

Lynne Bonnett, president of the Greater New Haven Green Fund, said she thought the council should ask for further clarification on what a mixed use project entailed and what the site owners’ end plans look like.

“We really don’t know what the owners want to make of it and what the state is willing to require them to do,” Bonnet said during the meeting.

Cahn said the next step of the council is to get Katie Dykes, the commissioner of DEEP, to meet with the council and answer their questions about the environmental regulations of the clean up. She said if that did not seem feasible, they would also try to meet with the state attorney general again.

“The thing is, we need to get it cleaned up as well as we can and as soon as we can,” Cahn said during the meeting. 

The English Station site is an 8.9 acre property located at 510 Grand Avenue. 

Sai Rayala | sai.rayala@yale.edu

Sai Rayala reports on Yale-New Haven relations. She previously covered climate and environmental efforts in New Haven. Originally from Powell, Ohio, she is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College majoring in History.