[OPINION] Good News — And Not So Good — At Baron’s South

Alert “06880” reader, historian and preservation advocate Morley Boyd writes:

In April, I raised environmental and safety concerns about the appearance of a large pile of fill at Baron’s South. The mysterious mound, estimated at roughly 5,500 yards, was discovered in what had once been a meadow dotted with mature trees.

Upon closer inspection I noticed that material in the mound included asphalt, jagged shards of metal, tires, pieces of what appeared to be asbestos cement pipe, plastic containers and the shattered remains of a toilet.

Earlier this spring, Morley Boyd photographed debris in the fill behind the Senior Center.

While erosion prevention netting had been placed across one side of the mound, gullies had formed anyway, and the entire top was exposed. Runoff was visibly headed to drains connected to nearby Deadman’s Brook, a tributary of the Saugatuck River.

Runoff from the fill heads toward Deadman’s Brook.

After learning that the fill had been excavated from a nearby construction site associated with the now completed Senior Center expansion project, I wondered what else might be in the fill. Had it been tested? And why was it there in the first place?

First, I reached out to those whose homes abut the park to see what they knew. After learning the homeowners had been told by the Senior Center project manager that the giant mound was permanent, I made private inquiries about the fill with town officials.

The site of the fill (just south of the Senior Center) is shown by a red arrow (bottom) in this Google aerial image.

When that inquiry went unanswered, the story appeared on “06880.” Shortly thereafter, in reaction to public outcry, the town retained the services of Steve Edwards, recently retired director of public works. He was charged with having the fill professionally tested for the presence of toxic substances.

My concerns proved valid. The recently released toxicology report indicates that the material contains DDT, traces of petroleum byproducts, and a level of arsenic that exceeds state standards for human exposure.

Because of the toxicology report and public pressure, the town has now agreed to remove all of contaminated fill (ideally within the next few months, according to the current director of public works), and restore the meadow to its previous condition.

Morley Boyd says that 6 feet of fill was dumped into the meadow near the Senior Center. (Photo/Morley Boyd)

At Tuesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, town officials said the tree warden has prepared a replanting plan for the site, including new trees.

In the meantime, residents hope that the toxic pile, which remains fully exposed in the midst of a public park, will be cordoned off to safeguard the health and safety of visitors.

On the whole, this is good news. The town deserves credit for taking responsibility. Still, a number of unanswered questions remain — notably, why did this happen?

The approved site plan for the construction project did not permit the area in question to be disturbed, and the project’s contract included a specific line item for hauling away any excess fill.

Further, many question the wisdom of the town’s proposed plan for reusing the contaminated fill: a parking lot project at the Greens Farms railroad station.

Although the toxicology report — consistent with state guidelines — recommends that the contaminated fill be buried beneath several feet of clean fill if it is to be moved and reused, there is an apparent regulatory conflict.

While state standards for the use of fill are more relaxed, Westport’s are quite stringent. They specifically do not allow the use of fill containing “petroleum based products or materials.”

Since the Baron’s South fill has been shown to contain — in addition to other toxins — chunks of asphalt, it remains unclear how the town can use the fill at the Greens Farms train station and also comply with its own regulations.

If there is any doubt as to whether or not this contaminated fill can be safely remediated for reuse in a public space, wouldn’t the wisest solution be to just dispose of it at a proper facility?

Whatever ultimately happens to the toxic fill, the good news is that a quiet corner of Westport’s “Central Park” will soon return to its natural state. And that’s in large part due to the vigilance and concern of the “06880” community.

28 responses to “[OPINION] Good News — And Not So Good — At Baron’s South

  1. Jonathan McClure

    Is the contractor responsible for the dumping of the contaminated fill being held responsible in any way?

    • Joshua Stein

      I have the same question… Did the contractor try to save $$$ and dump it there instead of haul it away? If so, name and shame, and they should not be allowed to bid on future projects.

      • Morley Boyd

        Owing to the code of silence which is now in effect, all town officials have gone silent. The Director of Parks and Rec. literally won’t say a word. The Director of Planning and Zoning will only read from a pre-prepared script. Not one single member of the RTM has yet called for a public hearing. And the Green Task Force – or whatever it is called now – has gone into hiding after penning the equivalent of a hostage video.

        Thus, we will never learn the truth about what happened to our property, Josh. But it’s most likely that the contractor is the innocent (ish) party. Rather, it was more probably the Senior Center Building Committee which redirected the line item for hauling away the excess fill in order to make the project appear on or under budget. My understanding is that the contractor then offered to find a buyer for the dirty fill. When that deal fell through, the trees in the meadow were summarily executed and the contractor was directed to just dump all the contaminated crud there. It appears the plan – to the extent there was one – was to just level off the landfill and hope nobody noticed.

  2. John F. Suggs

    Thank you Morley for your vigilance in keeping our park safe and preserved.

    Of course, it is not going to end up being dumped at the Greens Farms Train Station – as you state, that is against P&Z regulations. Why the Director of Public Works would openly recommend disobeying our own towns regulations is beyond me.

    But it goes to the heart of the issue of what I still have not gotten an answer from the administration. Namely: Who authorized this illegal dumping of toxic materials in the middle of our park?

    As you noted, the contract required, and the BOF/RMT had already authorized payment for the removal of excess fill. What happened to that budget line item? Was it used to cover overspending in the project elsewhere? Clearly only an audit of the project will tell us.

    I have heard stories that Public Works early on sought to sale the fill but the buyer turned it down. Why? Did the buyer first test it and thus discover the toxic nature of the fill like all of us routinely do before buying our houses? If so, if it was known to be toxic before the 06880 communities outcry forced soil testing why did the Director of Public Works still allow it to be dumped and sit above ground for the past 12 months in the middle of a town park where children play?

    What was the Director of Park and Recs role in this fiasco? She is supposed to be the towns first line of defense in protecting and preserving our precious parks. Was she AWOL or was she co-opted? Clearly she has looked the other way for the past year.

    This whole thing smells like Public Works mismanagement. I hope the administration will take the lead in auditing the project’s books and determining where the original money to remove the fill went and, most importantly determine who made this horrible decision and hold them accountable.

  3. Jan van Arsdale

    Great investigative work Dan, thanks for all the follow up!

  4. Roberta Tager

    That is good! What, however happens to the children using the river for water sports?

    Sent from my iPhone


    • Morley Boyd

      I was kindly informed yesterday by the Westport/Weston Health District’s Director that, after receiving a copy of the Barons South soil toxicology report, he reached out to state health officials for guidance. Hopefully, the exposed toxic dump can be somehow stabilized and fenced off until it is removed.

      • John F. Suggs

        It was repeatedly asked of the three Board of Selectmen at their hearing this past Wednesday what emergency response would they implement to make sure children did not continue to play on the toxic mound. Their response was to close the hearing.

  5. Werner Liepolt

    Why the vigilance of private citizens was needed to notice this problem is puzzling.

    Why our employees appear to be working against Westport’s stated policies and allowing unhealthy conditions to threaten our community’s deserves investigation and fixing.

  6. Carolanne Curry

    “…nevertheless…he persisted”
    And we’re sure grateful he did.
    Well done Morley.

  7. The fill should be disposed of in accordance with the Town’s existing regulations on toxic fill.

  8. Many thanks to Dan Woog and Morley Boyd who have been so on top of this!

  9. Jann Colabella

    Thank you Dan!

    • Jack Whittle

      Morely –
      A very sincere “thank you” for pursuing this matter with vigilance and determination. Your efforts are appreciated by many, certainly including me.

  10. Mary Cookman Schmerker

    Thank you Morley for your persistence and Dan for the update. This is really very serious. In my experience, unfortunately, Developers often act in ways that are most expedient for their own goals and the least expensive ways to proceed. In other words what matters most is lining their own pockets. The actions of the various town departments need to be monitored as well. Sadly, the whole culture of our country has changed. I am old enough to remember Lucy Bedford (Cunningham Warren) and Betty and Elliott Roberts ( Elliott was a first Selectman in the 50’s). People of influence and means who cared more bout the welfare of others and the town as a whole than they did their own personal goals. We have just one environment to protect and the children who visit the Park are our future. Keep up the good work.I applaud your efforts.….

  11. Lisa Podurgiel

    We owe a debt of gratitude to Morley Boyd for devoting so much time, effort, and sheer persistence in ensuring a serious wrong will be rectified, and to Dan Woog for providing his invaluable ‘06880’ platform to raise awareness.

    While this latest update is certainly GREAT news, I agree with Morley and others that the story does not end here: this environmental debacle needs to be investigated and town officials must be held accountable.

  12. Jeff Klomberg

    Bravo, Morley. Well done. Without the truth there can be no justice. Nature needs our protection, for Nature is our common home.

  13. Pam Klomberg

    The Taxpayers of Westport have a right to
    know how our Town’s employees are allowed
    to make decisions which adversely impact
    both our natural resouces and the health of our community. Thank you Morley for your tenacity
    and well-documented oversight on our behalf.

    • Jay Walshon MD FACEP

      They are “allowed” to make such decisions because often they are made behind closed doors and there is no effective accountability to the taxpayers.

  14. Jamie Walsh

    Thanks Morley for your diligence. While it is a relief that the samples taken did not expose overall dangerous levels of chemicals it seems officials failed to really mention the immediate concern of metal pipes protruding from the ground. The problem is simple….town agency’s seem not to want to communicate effectively with each other…because well…it might just get in the way of “progress.” Putting down the erosion mat prior to screening the fill for loose and sharp debris was just irresponsible and needs to be adequately remedied. After all, I understand there is plenty of money available to rectify it before somebody’s grandchild cuts their foot open running around the “hardly pristine meadow!”
    Thanks Morley for your continued public advocacy and passion about the process.

  15. Wendy Crowther

    The town has lots of explaining to do and needs to take action quickly to remove this dirty fill and restore this meadow. I know what it took for Morley to pressure Town Hall into addressing this issue. Luckily he had the passion and endurance to keep digging for answers despite the town’s attempts to throw him off the scent.

  16. I would hope emergency steps are being taken to protect the public. I would urge an audit to get to the bottom of this . I further oppose any further PPW’s plan to illegally dump the these type of materials in any district, especially when the P&Z Regs prohibit it. Laws without enforcement are like having no laws at all.

    • Werner Liepolt

      The urgency that this situation requires is well known and well stated by numerous commentators. Why is there no action? No public announcement? No response or responsibility?

  17. Carol Buffinton

    Thank you Morley and Dan for keeping after the officials until the outcry was too great for them to ignore. Whatever happened to campaign promises saying Westporters come first. Really? It seems the new norm in this administration is “hide it under the rug” and excoriate Westporters trying to be heard. Is this the new Westport political normal? If so, shame on the officials. Ignoring the public is not at all acceptable.

  18. Mark Yurkiw

    Thanks Morley for your undivided attention to this problem. Hopefully the tow will compel the contractor to pay for the clean up and restoration…instead of the taxpayers. Your work is appreciated.

  19. Arthur C Schoeller

    As usual exceptionally well written Morley, covering all your work and that of others to expose this. I really hope the town administration comes clean on this, including remediating the damage in a full and thorough manner in accordance with our regulations.

  20. Martha Constable

    It’s disappointing that we don’t have more consistent governmental protocol for oversight and prevention of this type of environmental hazard. Also, that it took the efforts of a private citizen, who would not back down, to raise awareness of this violation of our town’s guidelines and force the remediation of a health hazard. I would have expected better from our town officials.

    Thank you, Morley.