October 15, 2013 03:09PM
By Andrew Ragali
The city of Meriden has lost its bid to reopen a portion of its landfill in Wallingford.
On Oct. 1, the state Appellate Court upheld a 2011 Superior Court decision that the Wallingford Planning and Zoning Commission was within its rights to deny Meriden’s special permit application to create a “disposal cell” on a six-acre portion of the South Meriden landfill, which was capped in 2006.
The landfill is owned by Meriden, but is partially located in Wallingford. In 2007, Meriden submitted plans to the Wallingford PZC to reopen part of the landfill. Meriden officials had hoped to store waste from street sweeping and catch basin cleaning accumulated by the Public Works Department. Plans called for the facility to receive 80,000 cubic yards of fill over a 15-year period. The project was proposed to save the city money on private disposal contractors. The city used to deposit that type of material at the landfill across from Meriden-Markham Airport until it was capped in 2006. A number of alternate sites were considered, but the landfill was chosen because “it’s basically in a secluded area,” Meriden City Engineer Pierre Blanchet said at the time. “It’s not next to the road. It’s not next to any residences. It’s almost on the Meriden line.”
But in order to move forward with the project, the city needed approval from the Wallingford PZC. In August 2007, the commission voted unanimously to deny Meriden’s application. Zoning officials said the project posed dangers to public health, safety and welfare. Meriden officials said at the time they did not plan on storing hazardous materials at the site. During a public hearing on the issue, Wallingford Town Council Chairman Bob Parisi said the proposal was “just another harassment” for the part of town near the landfill. He urged Meriden to “look within its own borders” to solve the problem.
“The way I was brought up, neighbors don’t ask neighbors to take their dirt,” Parisi said.
Unhappy with the decision, the Meriden City Council soon after unanimously voted to give its legal team the power to appeal the decision. The Superior Court heard arguments in 2011, with the City of Meriden listed as the plaintiff and the Wallingford Planning and Zoning Commission listed as the defendant. The court issued a decision in October of the same year that rejected Meriden’s argument that evidence did not support the Wallingford PZC’s decision. The city then appealed the Superior Court decision. According to the Oct. 1 Appellate Court decision, Meriden’s legal team argued that the defendant “gave only general, nonspecific reasons as the basis of its unanimous denial.” The city also argued that the court’s reliance on the defendant’s claims were improper and not supported by the record.
“We disagree,” said Appellate Judge C.J. DiPentima, who wrote the Oct. 1 decision. The court concluded that “general considerations such as public health, safety and welfare, which are enumerated in zoning regulations, may be the basis for the denial of a special permit,” DiPentima wrote.
Meriden officials were either unavailable for comment on Monday, or could not comment on the specifics of the case.
“I’m sure we will look further into it,” Meriden City Councilor Cathy Battista said. Battista serves as chair of the Public Works subcommittee for the City Council.
When told of the court decision, state Rep. Mary Fritz, D-Wallingford, said “thank God.”
Fritz spoke out against Meriden’s plans in 2007 because the landfill sits atop an aquifer from which Wallingford residents draw drinking water. In 1980, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection began studying the effects of the landfill on the aquifer. In 1987, dangerous levels of trichloroethylene – a human carcinogen – were found in one of the wells fed by the aquifer under the landfill. Fritz said the state spent about $1 million to clean the site in 1989, and that she felt opening up the landfill for further use was not ideal.
“I don’t think we need to go through it again,” she said.
Parisi said Monday that he was pleased with the court’s decision. Residents had complained about Meriden’s proposal at the time, and Parisi said he serves to protect the constituents.
“It’s nice to know I was right this time,” he said.
Wallingford was cited by the DEEP in June for storing street sweeping and catch basin materials above an aquifer at 91 N. Turnpike Road. The town has complied with remediation efforts and likely won’t be fined, DEEP officials have said.