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Hazardous Protest

The Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice says Hartford has more than its share of unsavory facilities

Daniel D'Ambrosio

October 16, 2008

Heritage-Crystal Clean, an Illinois company, has built 55 transfer stations in 26 states to collect industrial waste like cleaning solvents and motor oil for transportation to disposal sites. But the company hasn't faced a protest until it began planning a new site at 94 Murphy Road in Hartford.

The Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice (CCEJ) planned to stage a "die-in" Tuesday in Constitution Plaza to "demonstrate the effect of a possible accident or fire involving the release of hazardous waste."

Although Heritage has yet to apply for a required permit from the Department of Environmental Protection, the company has begun renovating the space it's leasing. The operation will start small, with just three employees and two UPS-style trucks to collect waste, according to Catherine McCord, Heritage's vice president for environment, health and safety,

There was confusion concerning exactly how Heritage, a $100 million public company, decided to locate its transfer station in Hartford. The Coalition for Environmental Justice claimed the site was recommended by the state Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD).

The DECD at first denied it had played any role in bringing Heritage to Hartford, but later conceded one of its employees, who was on vacation and couldn't be reached for comment, did contact the company about its planned move.

But it was the Connecticut Economic Resource Center (CERC), a nonprofit organization partially funded by the state's utilities, which apparently took the lead in helping Heritage find a suitable site in Hartford for its transfer station.

"We were established 15 years ago to help the state provide services for growing businesses," said Kristi Sullivan, a spokeswoman for the Resource Center.

The reason it matters who helped or didn't help Heritage come to Hartford is the assertion by CCEJ and others that the city is a dumping ground for the unsightly, smelly, and possibly dangerous facilities the suburbs don't want. In a flyer announcing the die-in, CCEF contends the DECD made the recommendation that Heritage locate here without regard for "environmental justice."

"We certainly should take our fair share of regional waste, but we have much more than our fair share," said Mark Mitchell, president of CCEJ. "We believe that any community that produces waste should be subject to hosting regional waste facilities. The issue is, why Hartford? Why not someplace else where commercial and industrial sites are booming?"

A water treatment facility, a sewage sludge incinerator, a recycling center, and a power plant that burns garbage are all nearby the proposed transfer station. McCord said the company had already zeroed in on Hartford before talking to CERC and DECD. Heritage currently services its Connecticut customers from bases in New York and New Hampshire. The waste collected in Hartford would be trucked to Philadelphia for disposal.

"Based on driving distances Hartford was a perfect location," said McCord. "It's also perfect because of the businesses we serve."

McCord said Heritage focuses on servicing small businesses like auto-body shops, car dealers and paint shops.

"We specialize in picking up small quantities (of solvents and oil), not 55-gallon drums," she said.

Heritage is in "preapplication discussions" with the Department of Environmental Protection for a facility permit, according to DEP spokesman Dennis Schain. The process will likely take several months and may include public hearings.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Advocate.
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