Jul 26, 2014
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Gas Station Plan Dredges Up a Property's Past

Stop & Shop wants to build a five-bay gas station at 528 Monroe Turnpike, but the property has a history of pollution that raises environmental concerns.

Gas Station Plan Dredges Up a Property's Past

Attorney Stephen Studer wants to talk about the future of the 1.9-acre property at 528 Monroe Turnpike. Stop & Shop envisions a five-bay gas station with a kiosk, where supermarket customers can use their store cards for discounts on fill-ups.

Studer said the proposed gas station would serve an average of 550 to 600 cars per day.

But opponents of the plan keep dredging up the past. The land was used as a home-heating oil terminal from 1962-1988 and — despite clean up efforts — the soil is still polluted from oil spills over the years.

Though Monroe Gas LLC's experts tout state-of-the-art drainage and spill-control systems, many residents are concerned over what will happen when the ground is disturbed. Beardsley Brook runs behind the property and empties into Far Mill River on its way to Shelton Reservoir, which is owned by Aquarion Water Co.

Lois Spence, a member of the Inland Wetlands Commission, said the land's unofficial status as a brown field will be among the considerations when deciding on the wetlands permit application.

"We're waking up a sleeping dog and we have to make sure it doesn't bite," she said, using an anology to express the need to have proper safeguards in place whenever the ground is disturbed for construction.

Meanwhile, some residents living on Cross Hill Road worry that the proposed parking lot will increase the impervious surface and make neighborhood flooding problems worse.

Sheila Sportini of Cross Hill Road showed photos to the Inland Wetlands Commission during a hearing showing flooding on her property during normal rainstorms, as well as the area wildlife such as deer and a Great White Egret, which she said is a threatened species. Sportini asked commissioners to also consider any impacts on the wildlife in the wetlands.

"There's no significant harm to Beardsley Brook," Studer said.

Of the neighboring properties, the attorney also said, "Nothing proposed on our property will impact these wells."

David Sippin currently owns 528 Monroe Turnpike and Studer says Monroe Gas LLC's project will enhance the dormant property. The hearing has been continued to a later date to allow time for the applicant to do soil and wildlife testing and to obtain more information for the commission.

The Cleanup

Jamie Barr of Langan Engineering, who was hired by the applicant, said there were four underground storage tanks on the property and that a number of spills were reported in the '70s, leading to a consent order from the state for a cleanup.

In 1986, Barr said "additional contaminants" were identified and water was pumped. Then in 2004 4,000 tons of "petroleum impacted soil" was removed from the property, according to Barr.

Impacted soil near neighboring properties and close to the wetlands were left alone to avoid polluting the surrounding areas.

"There are still residual impacts," Barr said. "But we're not seeing significant impacts on the water table. It's been completed. They implemented the remedial action plan as drawn out. It is no longer an issue to the DEEP."

"How do you know that?" Commissioner Cathy Kohut asked. "What documentation do you have other than talking to someone at DEEP?"

Barr said he had nothing formal from the Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection, but had a report of what was done for the cleanup by Handex, the company that handled it.

Inland Wetlands Commission Chairman Jeremy Hayden asked if the applicant could get documentation from the DEEP.

"We can ask, but we were told they probably don't have it," Barr replied.

"Why are we being asked this question six times?" Studer asked.

The attorney recommended that the commission "look at what's there" and how his client's project would affect it. "There will be no impact at all on the wetlands and watercourses," Studer said.

The DEEP issue would not go away.

Of the remediation, Commissioner Dan Hunsberger asked, "Shouldn't there be a letter from them saying, 'It's done to our satisfaction?'"

"It is not subject to DEEP action or oversight," Barr said.

"We're still unclear over what was remediated and what was not," Kohut said. "What comfort do we have that you're not disturbing unremediated soils?"

Leon Ambrosey, who owns the Cross Hill Citgo on Monroe Turnpike, said he was able to get documentation on the property from the DEEP without any problems.

"I don't understand how all these people can't get this information when I can," Ambrosey said.

Studer then got up from his seat and said, "For the record, we have the same information as the other gentleman. We just interpret it differently."

Ambrosey expressed his belief that the town should do its own environmental assessment of the property. The commission later voted 6-0 to hire its own expert.

'Spills are Rare'

Americans consume 1.5 billion gallons of gas a day as 167,000 deliveries are made to gas stations using over 450 tanker trucks, according to a safety expert hired by Monroe Gas LLC. It is a heavily regulated operation throughout the entire country with very few spills, he said.

Most accidents involve a car hitting a tanker truck on the highway, along with the "occasional problem" with a hose or a car hitting one of the trucks at a slow rate of speed in a gas station parking lot, according to the expert.

Tim Onderko of Langan Engineering said that in the unlikely spill of 450 gallons that two catch basins could hold 55 gallons of gas each and that another 350 gallons could be stored in a Vortech stream.

If the entire 8,500 gallons from a tanker truck were to spill, Onderko said, "We have the ability to close that network should it happen."

James Cowan, a soil scientist with Environmental Services, said the catch basin at 528 Monroe Turnpike will be designed to degrade hydrocarbons. He said research shows that 90-97 percent of benzine and other hydrocarbons would be removed.

The catch basin would be monitored for three years to make sure it is functioning and maintenance would be done to ensure sediment is not building up, he said.

Native trees and plantings would be saved and invasive species removed and replaced by new plantings of trees, shrubs and herbs, according to Cowan.

"What we're proposing here will benefit the system," he said.

The Septic System

Onderko said Monroe Gas LLC would work with Aquarion Water Co. to extend a water main from Rite-Aid Pharmacy to its site. It is also proposing to use an existing septic system on the other side of Beardsley Brook.

Piping under the brook had never been used. The system would serve the bathroom in the kiosk, which Onderko said would only be used by the attendant.

"It's a four-to-five-times bigger septic system than we need," Onderko said. "We think we have a fully functional septic tank to use for the project."

Bernard Prushko, who owns the Shell station right next door, expressed concerns that the proposed gas pump operation at 528 Monroe Turnpike is too close to his well and leeching fields. Monroe Gas LLC has also said it would plow snow along the property line, removing it when it is over two inches.

Onderko said the appropriate separation distance between a septic tank and a well is 75 feet and that his client is proposing a distance of 125 feet.

"Ground water moves from right to left, so it will be moving from his property to ours," Onderko said.

Application Has its Supporters

Richard Leger, a town resident of over 20 years, spoke of the importance of encouraging commercial development to ease the tax burden on homeowners, adding it should not be done at the expense of the environment.

After looking at Monroe Gas LLC's plan, Leger said, "I felt confident there is no environmental risk at all with this application."

David D'Ausilio owns the Rite-Aid pharmacy property next door. He too supports the project.

D'Ausilio said he initially opposed it because of the nearby brook, but then thought about the Shell station that is already next to 528 Monroe Turnpike. He told Inland Wetlands commissioners he believes the new gas station being proposed would mitigate risks with a safe operation.

David Sippin bought the property in 2008 after a plan for retail and the associated wetlands permit had already been approved. He said there was support for that proposal, but that it was not financially feasible.

"I never would have purchased the property if I thought there were any risks," Sippin said.

Aquarion in Opposition

Aquarion Water Co. had written a letter to Monroe Conservation Commission Chairman Michael O'Reilly on March 14 to express its opposition of the gas station. Brian T. Roach, supervisor of Environmental Protection, told O'Reilly that Aquarion had met with the applicant on March 8 for an in-depth discussion of the proposal.

"The outcome of that meeting was, that while Aquarion was impressed with the applicant's presentation of modern fuel spill prevention and mitigation technologies in general and with the thorough and careful design of the proposed facility in particular, our opposition to the construction of a fueling station at this site remains unchanged," Roach wrote.

He added, "While the technology proposed may be state-of-the-art, this does not alter the fact that from a watershed protection standpoint, the site is simply not suitable for a gasoline station because of its extremely close proximity to a perennial stream that is a tributary to a public drinking water supply reservoir."

During the hearing, Sippin said, "I feel Aquarion is unfairly trying to deny my right to develop the property."

Karen Burnaska, secretary for the Monroe Conservation Commission, expressed concerns about the property's close proximity to the stream and the public drinking water supply. She added that the commission wants to go on the record suggesting an independent assessment.

Ronald Bunovsky was among the residents speaking in opposition of the application. He called for a study on the number of private wells in the area.

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