OPINION: Wallingford cleanup project is a mistake

OPINION: Wallingford cleanup project is a mistake

By Stephen Knight

There was a very interesting article in the Sunday, Sept. 13 Record-Journal with the headline “Planner concerned about soil cleanup project.” It concerns a soil remediation project at Ametek, Inc., on Toelles Road here in Wallingford. In 1988, Pfizer sold the property to Ametek and was responsible for cleaning up the soil, which had nickel in it. Because there was no deadline for remediation, it is just now getting under way.

The remediation consists of — get this: clear-cutting the forest of trees (those less than 15 inches in diameter), stripping 27,192 square feet of property of most vegetation, taking out two feet of soil from that land and removing six inches of soil from 70,335 square feet of other land. Hand shoveling between the roots of the remaining trees is also called for. Then after tearing it all up, they are to plant 900 new plants and execute an “invasive plant eradication plan” because, of course, the existing environment has been destroyed.

Using the common sense so rare in government these days (and absolutely nonexistent in state government), Town Environmental Planner Erin O’Hare is asking why this should be done at all: “The plants are thriving. The birds are singing. It’s been there for 40 years. It looks great. You expect a barren wasteland when you hear hazardous waste. So why are we doing this?” We also learn that it is a critical habitat for the eastern box turtle, a state species of concern, states the article. Of course, the remediation plan includes hunting for and removing the turtles.

In the 32 years since Pfizer left, the trees and underbrush have grown back, the animals have returned and the nickel left in the soil has apparently stayed put. Nature’s resiliency has overcome the hazardous materials. To demand that the trees be destroyed, that 276 ten-wheel dump trucks of soil be scoured from the property and dumped elsewhere, that wildlife habitat be destroyed, that 900 new plants be installed in the place of the plants that have quietly grown in the area, is environmentalism run amok.

Only in the progressive paradise that is the People’s Republic of Connecticut would such nonsensical and unreasonable demands be made. There are three things driving this environmental overreach: arrogance, spite, and narrow-mindedness.

Arrogance: DEEP bureaucrats are a law unto themselves. If we were to ask officials why they are demanding this unnecessary remediation, they would no doubt say, “Because we can.” If a business were to ask for any deviation from their ironclad rulings, they must kneel at the altar of the DEEP. They must express contrition for their sins, pay enormous indulgences (i.e., fines) and then, and only then, the bureaucrats might — if they’re in the right mood — consider a change.

Spite: Pfizer is a huge company with billions of dollars in revenue. It is also part of evil Big Pharma, one of the left’s most egregious enemies. And, even though they were within the letter of the law to have put off this remediation project for decades, DEEP is adamant that they spend whatever is required to return this land to practically its human prehistory condition. Why? To teach this company a lesson.

Narrow-mindedness: The right hand of State of Connecticut government spends a fortune trying to show businesses that this is a great place to locate. The Department of Economic and Community Development works diligently to retain existing businesses and to convince other businesses to locate here. They spend hundreds of millions of dollars bribing businesses to stay or to locate here.

The left hand of state government, however, works twice as hard bludgeoning businesses into compliance with some of the most smothering regulation in the entire country. No regulation is too onerous. No aspect of a private business’s operation is beyond the bureaucrat’s reach. Right over the entrance to the State Capitol building, there should be a sign describing the State of Connecticut’s attitude toward the private sector. It would read: “It’s Our Way or the Highway!”

Now I will conclude this rant with the required statement that has to accompany any criticism of environmental regulation: We all — every one of us — want a clean environment. In the many years of my lifetime, I have seen a genuine sea change in attitude regarding our stewardship of the planet, and that is as it should be. Most all industries are bending over backwards to reduce their impact on the planet, and yes, we should come down hard on those that don’t.

But let’s not be utterly inflexible. There is proper remediation where the damage is obvious. In this one case, the cure is way, way worse that the disease. In the interest of protecting the environment, the State of Connecticut is demanding that it be destroyed. That just makes no sense whatsoever.

Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford town councilor.

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