As Costs Add up For Great Island Cleanup and Repairs, Darien Officials Consider Long-Term Goals

Great Island, Darien, CT (Photo by Douglas Elliman)


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DARIEN – The cost of potential repair, environmental cleanup and maintenance on Great Island is adding up as officials plan for public access to Great Island by bus tour, and seek to coordinate the efforts with long-term goals for the town property.

At a Wednesday meeting of the Great Island Advisory Committee, Department of Public Works staff warned the members of the growing costs of repairing and maintaining the town’s $85 million purchase.

Public Works Director Edward Gentile said the town has already removed dead trees, filled potholes and made repairs at a few of the buildings on Great Island. And with plans to launch free weekend bus tours of the 60-acre island as early as September or October, he outlined remaining work to be done on the island.

Gentile said he received quotes for some potential repair and remediation projects, which totaled anywhere from $225,000 to $240,000.

“These are very rough estimates but I erred a little bit on the high side – just to make sure that I wasn’t low-balling it too much – to give you a flavor of what things would cost as we start to do them,” Gentile said.

The quotes include about $100,000 to repair the roof of the stone carriage house, about $40,000 to run a new underground electric line, anywhere from $35,000 to $50,000 to remove four transformers, about $37,000 to replace some oil tanks, about $9,000 to repair the roof of the horse stable, and almost $4,000 to replace the roof of the squash building.

In addition to those projects, Gentile said the town will need to widen the roadway to accommodate two-way access, remove and replant vegetation, and address asbestos issues in a couple of the houses.

In a Thursday email to CT Examiner, First Selectman Monica McNally said any projects that make the island “safe and accessible” to residents will be funded by the $18 million the town saved in the purchase of Great Island.

While the town agreed to and budgeted for a $103 million price tag, the purchase dropped to $85 million in March after discovering environmental, structural and access issues and negotiating with the sellers – the Steinkraus family.

McNally said any maintenance projects would be funded by rental income from Great Island residents, and new projects need to go through the typical town approval process.

But she also said the cost of Great Island projects could change as the town’s Public Works Deptarment surveys the property and structures, and the committee creates a long term plan for Great Island.

“[P]lease recognize that this will be a dynamic list and items will be added, modified and removed as the plans for the property and its structures continue to evolve,” McNally said.

At the meeting, committee members questioned whether the town could potentially waste funds by undertaking projects without an ultimate goal in mind.

In the case of the squash building requiring $4,000 in roof repairs, Jon Zagrodzky – committee chair and Board of Selectmen member – said he’s not sure if the committee plans to keep the building. He asked if the town would be better off deferring the repairs until the committee has a clear plan.

“It’s worth considering because we’re spending money on that, and we might decide later that that particular building might come down,” Zagrodzky said.

Jim Palen, committee member and chair of the finance board, said the same about the dead underground electric line powering the beach house, which could cost $40,000 to replace. 

He said the committee should first figure out where the roadways and walking paths will be before replacing the line.

“We need to start thinking a little bit longer term about those types of things as we deal with short term things like the power,” Palen said.

Zagrodzky asked Gentile for a priority list of outstanding projects.

Gentile agreed, and planned to have the list for the committee meeting next month.

In the meantime, Gentile highlighted two projects he wanted done before late September, when the bus tours are set to begin – disposing of the four old transformers which contain PCBs, and the removal of any asbestos.

“Any type of remediation – I want to get it done as soon as I possibly can,” Gentile said.

While Great Island is still inaccessible to the public, McNally told the committee that bus tours would be a safe way to show residents the island as repair and remediation work on the property continues.

In her email, McNally said the tour would be free to residents. And while the town is still finalizing some details including the bus company and exact dates of the tours, she said the 50-seat buses will stop at two locations for residents to explore – the 13,000 square foot estate house and the beach house.

Earlier this summer, the town announced that arsenic contamination had been found on the property. On Thursday, McNally said that the two bus stops would be outside the “scope of our remediation efforts.”