August 18, 2006
By KATIE MELONE, Courant Staff Writer
WEST HARTFORD -- A handful of the Elmwood residents whose basements were filled with sewage-tainted wastewater during heavy storms last October say they will refuse settlement offers the region's sewer authority sent them in letters this week.
"They don't seem to care," said Don Harris, an Elmfield Street resident who received an offer of nearly $3,000 but estimates he lost about $10,000 in possessions when raw sewage flooded his basement during the sewer backup. "When human waste goes in your house, it's not a joke."
The 13 offers, which the commission's assistant district council would not disclose, vary among the homeowners, some of whom reported that wastewater shot up from sink drains and toilets in such volume that it crept up basement steps leading to their living rooms.
Three residents who disclosed settlement offers said they ranged from $450 to nearly $3,000. Each offer gave residents the choice between a cash payout or services, including soil testing, air sampling and landscape work. Two of the offers included additional work, such as the sealing or painting of basements.
One resident, Janet Moran, who did not disclose her offer, questioned why the settlement letters made no mention of MDC's plans if results showed that their properties were unsafe or contaminated because of the taint of sewage. "It was a bunch of crap," Moran said. "It's like a slap in the face."
Chris Stone, the MDC's assistant district counsel, said the offers were made in good faith, and said he would not negotiate through the press. "If they'd like to make specifics about the offer, they can contact me directly," said Stone, who is also a Democratic state legislator representing the 9th House District, which includes East Hartford and Glastonbury.
In a July 6 letter from Stone to the residents, the agency pledged to visit the affected properties to assess whether additional cleanup or repairs were necessary. The letter followed a June 27 town council resolution calling for the corporation counsel to research legal action and directed Town Manager James Francis to ask the West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District to assess the residents' health concerns. The resolution also sought the release of MDC documents on the flooding in each home. The night the resolution passed, Mayor Scott Slifka likened the sewer backup to "a chamber of horrors" for the residents.
Following the resolution, the residents obtained copies of certain MDC documents and met individually with Stone and Kimberly Boneham, the assistant corporation counsel, in July to discuss their claims against the agency.
It was determined that the testing MDC planned to do at each house would address the health concerns, Boneham and Francis said. By that time, the West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District had already adequately dealt with the residents' health concerns and closed their cases, said Karen Reid, a district health program coordinator.
Still, the residents say they feel duped by the agency, which they say has failed to make good on promises made starting on the night they realized their homes were taking on water.
Several of the residents have separately recalled CEO Chuck Sheehan standing on their street or in their basements pledging that they would be "made whole." Sheehan could not be reached for comment.
When asked about MDC's response since Stone met with the residents in July, MDC spokesman Matt Nozzolio referred comment to Stone. Nozzolio has in the past defended MDC's response, saying the agency has worked with residents to address their concerns. He has said MDC spent $150,000 on the Elmwood cleanup.
MDC, which plans to undertake a $1.6 billion 15-year sewer upgrade, agreed in March to pay the state and federal environmental protection agencies $850,000 in civil penalties for leaking sewage into local waterways, including the Connecticut River and the Trout Brook.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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