Lyme-Old Lyme School Officials Bar Press, Neighbors from Meeting on Oil Spill

Deborah Wade, who lives close to the school, said she is concerned about the quality of her drinking water. (CT Examiner)


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OLD LYME — The public and the press were barred from a meeting of Lyme-Old Lyme School officials and staff from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection concerning an oil spill at Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School, after Superintendent Ian Neviaser declared the meeting “private” on Friday morning. 

The meeting included Neviaser, Board of Education Chair Steve Wilson, and Ron Turner, the district’s director of facilities. as well as state environmental officials.

Deb Wade, whose Lyme Street property abuts school grounds, said she had been invited to the meeting by Rick Swan, assistant division director for emergency response at DEEP.  She said she has been buying bottled water since she first became aware of the spill, months after the incident.

“I said, ‘I understand there’s a DEEP meeting tomorrow, but I don’t know anything about it.’ And he said, ‘Oh, come meet me there at 11 o’clock. We’re going to check the sites.’ So I said, ‘Sure,’ and he gave me his cell phone number and everything. And then today, I got to the meeting, and they wouldn’t let me in.” 

Wade told CT Examiner that when she arrived at the back of the elementary school where DEEP officials had gathered on Friday, she was told to walk around the building to the front office. 

“I went in and Ian was coming out of the office, and he said he wanted to know who I was – as if he didn’t know, I was there [at the meeting on] Wednesday. So he said he’d have to speak to Rick [Swan] about asking us to come. And then he came back and said it’s not a public meeting, that we couldn’t attend it today and that I could meet with him later on if I wanted, later on today,” she said. 

CT Examiner also tried to attend the meeting, and after receiving a picture ID from the front office, were barred from the meeting, and ordered to leave the campus by Neviaser when we requested an opportunity to ask follow up questions after the meeting.

Calls to Wilson shortly before the meeting went to voicemail.

Well Water testing not required by DEEP

In an email to CT Examiner on Thursday, Will Healey, director of communications at DEEP, said that the department’s emergency response unit responded to the oil leak on Aug 1 and that the town contracted with Kropp Environmental to handle remediation work, which included ongoing testing and data gathering.

Healey said that the monitoring wells initially showed “a minor amount of petroleum product close to the building and nothing further out.” 

“Based upon the information available at that time, it was believed by the town and its contractor that the spill was contained to the immediate area and not a threat to nearby wells.” 

He said that Kropp’s continued monitoring the site and later determined that significant levels of petroleum products had entered the groundwater, triggering a state statute requiring Kropp to notify their client – Lyme-Old Lyme Schools – and DEEP. 

In documents provided to CT Examiner, water tested on Dec. 1 showed levels of pollution above state environmental thresholds.

Healey said that his department learned of Kropp’s finding on Jan. 11. He said Kropp issued a letter to residents on Jan. 17 notifying residents to conduct well water testing because of the oil leak and the distance of their properties from the school. 

Healey said that well water sampling was not required by his department, despite a claim made by Kropp in a January letter to local residents.

“Kropp’s letter to residents incorrectly states that well water sampling is required by DEEP. The sampling recommendation was made by the contractor based on its findings over the course of the investigation. The contractor recommended that sampling be taken out of an abundance of caution,” Healey wrote. 

“It is DEEP’s understanding that further sampling will be conducted in the coming days to determine the extent and limits of pollution in the groundwater. Further questions about Kropp Environmental’s ongoing work should be directed to the town or Kropp Environmental.”

Wade said she had received a registered letter from Kropp on Jan. 19 about the oil spill.

She told CT Examiner that she thought the response by school officials lacked transparency, and was unfair to the taxpayers who fund the schools.

“I don’t like how secretive they’re being about the whole thing. I wish they were up front at that Aug. 3 meeting they had and wrote us all letters – then this wouldn’t be a problem,” she told CT Examiner. “We know they’re doing their job, they’ve tested. We haven’t gotten our results yet. We should get them today. They said a week. But all the secretive stuff is just not fair to any of us homeowners on Lyme street.”

Wilson declined to talk to CT Examiner on the record.