Search This Blog

Friday, September 28, 2012

Complaint accuses councilors of ties to Holy Trinity School

As published in the Record Journal Friday September 28, 2012

By Laurie Rich Salerno
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2235

WALLINGFORD — The resident leading the opposition to the town’s plans to repair the Simpson Court parking lot has filed an ethics complaint against two town councilors, saying they should not have discussed issues related to a retaining wall on Holy Trinity School property because of their affiliations with the school.

The retaining wall would be fixed as part of the town’s plan to repair and upgrade the Simpson Court parking lot, if it receives a grant the council approved applying for Tuesday night.

On Sept. 17, Robert Gross filed an ethics complaint with the town’s Board of Ethics and town attorney against Republican Town Councilors Tom Laffin and John LeTourneau. Both dispute Gross’ claims. A Board of Ethics meeting on the issue will be held on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in Room 315 at Town Hall.

Gross could not be reached Thursday. LeTourneau said he’d prefer to discuss the matter in detail after the ethics panel meeting, but Laffin spoke freely, saying he felt the complaint was an ill-conceived and poorly researched political play by Gross, a Democrat.

The complaint says Laffin and LeTourneau should not have participated in conversations at two Town Council meetings, one on June 26 and another on Sept. 11, because of their connections to Holy Trinity School.

LeTourneau’s grandchildren attend the school. Though the complaint says that Laffin’s children also do, his 6-year-old son, Jack, only attends first grade Catholic education classes at Holy Trinity School, Laffin said. The classes are provided through Holy Trinity Church, not the school, and take up about an hour a week.

Laffin said he was frustrated that Gross appeared to have made a serious allegation against him without researching it.

“You’re calling into question my ability to serve? You did it based on a misunderstanding? You didn’t confirm (that my son goes to the school)?” Laffin said, adding that that Gross could have called the school or asked around to confirm his son’s involvement. “How am I going to take anything he says in the future seriously?”

The complaint cites the town’s Code of Ethics regarding conflict of interest and disclosure, which says: “No officer or employee shall have any interest, financial or otherwise, direct or indirect, which is in conflict with the proper discharge of his or her official duties or employment. Interest shall be as defined by the Code of Ethics or other ordinances, as may be applicable to an individual case.” The code also requires that officers or employees who believe they have an interest to tell, in writing, “their affiliation to the chairman or agency, commission or board of which he or she is a member.”

In a letter to the Rev. Dean Warburton, chairman of the Board of Ethics, Laffin disputed the charge.“I will in no way, personally and/or exclusively benefit from any decision made by the town on the Holy Trinity wall. I will not receive monetary compensation or elevated status of any sort, should the town be involved in the wall’s repair,” said Laffin’s letter.

“Had I believed even in the slightest that my relationships … have any impact on my decision any more than my decision is impacted by the fact that I am a patron of all of the downtown restaurants and shops, I would have sought the opinion of the Board of Ethics in advance of any discussion or vote involving the wall.

At the June 26 meeting, councilors voted to have the town attorney’s office look into ownership of the wall to see if the town had any liability for it, after building the parking lot above in 1961. Corporation Counsel Janis Small said at the Sept. 11 meeting, that after researching the issue, she had determined the town is not responsible for the wall. The councilors discussed the Simpson Court project, which would include repairs to the wall, at the Sept. 11 meeting for the first time.

LeTourneau and Laffin, along with other councilors, disclosed their relationships with the church and school at the June 26 meeting, with the exception of Laffin’s son’s Catholic education class, because he was not yet enrolled. Laffin said he is a parishioner and had attended Holy Trinity School, LeTourneau said that he is not a parishioner, but his grandchildren attend the school and his daughter is going to be taking a seat on Holy Trinity’s school board.

Republican Councilors Robert Parisi, Rosemary Rascati and Craig Fishbein each declared that they are members of Holy Trinity Church, and others Thursday said that they’ve supported church fundraisers or had connections in the past, including Councilor Nick Economopoulos, a Democrat, whose wife worked as a teacher at the school more than 20 years ago.

Councilors defended their colleagues, many saying that the two have no conflict because they have no direct financial ties to the school, since it’s LeTourneau’s grandchildren, and Laffin’s child’s program is run through the church, not the school. Sister Kathleen Kelly, the school’s principal, confirmed that the Catholic education classes are run by the church, and just the school facility is used.

“He’s not the legal guardian; he did not direct them to go to the school,” said Councilor Vincent Cervoni, a Republican, of LeTourneau and his grandchildren. “I think the allegations are a real stretch, and that there’s an ulterior motive to me.”

Economopoulos, an opponent of the Simpson Court upgrade plan, says he doesn’t have an opinion on the ethics complaint, but he called the complaint more evidence that the parking lot project will pull the town apart.

Wallingford Trash plant tour and Q&A session with staff, DEEP set for Oct. 4

As published in the Record Journal Wednesday September 26, 2012

By Laurie Rich Salerno
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2235

WALLINGFORDEver wonder what happens to your trash when it leaves the curb? On Thursday, Oct. 4, residents will be able to tour Covanta’s Wallingford trash-to-energy facility and afterward ask questions of representatives from the company and the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

The idea for the event was sparked by a petition filed by resident Robert Gross to contest the DEEP’s approval of Covanta’s application to renew its solid waste permit. Gross cited resident concerns about smells and emissions violations that have since been addressed. The tour will be held at 4 p.m. at Covanta, 530 S. Cherry St., and the informational session will be held at6:30 p.m. at Town Hall.

The Record-Journal was given a preview tour on Tuesday by the plant’s local and regional operators, who answered questions and gave an overview of operations at the Wallingford plant.

The Cherry Street facility began operating in 1989 under the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority. New Jersey based Covanta bought it in 2010. Today the facility, equipped with three furnaces, burns 420 tons of trash each day from Wallingford, Meriden, Cheshire, North Haven and Hamden. The process generates 11 megawatts of energy, which is sold to the Connecticut Light & Power Co. That’s roughly enough to power 9,000 houses, according to Covanta literature.

Officials Tuesday stressed the environmental benefits of a trash-to-energy plant over depositing trash in landfills, and presented their continued efforts to support recycling.

“We’ve been doing green energy before people thought it was sexy,” said Cheryl Thibeault, business manager at the Wallingford site.

The site, staff say, produces energy equivalent to 100 tons of coal or 420 barrels of oil each day, reducing the need for either substance. Ninety percent of the trash it takes in becomes energy. The other 10 percent is ash, which is deposited in landfills. James Regan, communications manager for Covanta, said the company’s operations in some other countries use the ash in paving and other projects, and he’s hoping the U.S. will soon allow the same practices.

Waste company trucks roll in six days a week, stopping at a scale and then dropping off their loads of garbage in a warehouse-like room called the “tipping floor.” On Tuesday, the room, visible from Covanta’s offices through a pane of glass, was filled with about 2,500 tons of all manner of trash.

There was no scent of trash behind the layer of glass, and that’s because the plant both sprays a deodorizing formula and sucks air from the room into its processes so that it is burned with the trash.

Gross has said some residents have said they can smell trash emanating from the facility. Though the plant takes measures, Thibeault acknowledges that on a hot summer day, someone might smell a truck pulling in with contents that have been marinating.

Though it’s only open for deliveries six days a week, the plant processes waste 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. From the tipping floor, the trash is pushed into one of three graded furnaces, with higher temperatures the farther down each one sits; the temperature hits as high as 2,000 degrees.

The ash is collected below, and the hot air generated heats a boiler that sends steam that powers a generator that generates electricity that is transmitted to CL&P through an on-site transformer.

Air and particulates that are byproducts of the process are routed through other mechanisms that filter out unwanted substances before the final emissions are released as air and steam from a stack on the site.

A broken pipe in furnace 2 that was supposed to shoot a substance that leaches dioxins from the escaping emissions is what caused the plant’s 2010 DEEP violations. The company reported the problem after a compliance test showed the issue, and Covanta was fined $400,000.

The furnace was taken immediately offline and remedied, and emissions were not high enough to have had any effect on the health of nearby residents, Regan said.

“What happened in 2010 was unacceptable to us as a company,” Regan said. He said the company worked hard to ensure that the plant is now well under the amount allowed. It is also a site for new technology that is further decreasing dioxin emissions.

Business at the plant will increase in the next year, with the company adding trash from Newington, Madison, Guilford and Southbury.

Covanta staff say they’re looking forward to answering questions and concerns next week.

“‘Not in my backyard’ is real,” Regan said, and he and other staff hope they can help change negative perceptions of the plant.

Those interested in the tour before the hearing should call Thibeault at (203) 294-1649, ext. 3029, well in advance.