Illegally pumped raw sewage winds up in Norwalk River
Matt Criscoulo, landlord at 991 Danbury Road, has been cited for discharging sewage into catch basins on Sugar Hollow Road, which ultimately drain into the Norwalk River. Wilton police are also considering charges.
“This is a very irresponsible action and there will be consequences,” said Steven Schole, Wilton’s health director.
The illegal discharge was discovered by Wilton police on patrol at 12:33 a.m., Tuesday, June 4. In an email sent to The Bulletin, Capt. John Lynch said, “I can confirm that we located a hose and pump that was actively pumping septic waste across the parking area and into an area adjacent to the river/wetlands area.” Police are investigating “and may seek charges against the person (s) responsible,” he added.
At the scene, police called the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) and Wilton Department of Environmental Affairs. John Aceto, emergency response coordinator at DEEP, responded for the state. Pat Sesto, Wilton’s director of environmental affairs, arrived around 1:30 a.m.
A company was called to clean the catch basin and remove what contamination it could, Ms. Sesto said. “The Georgetown Fire Department hosed down the road” and a remediation company sent a truck to suck up the contaminated water.
“The Wetlands Commission has issued a cease and desist order,” she said of the activity. “This was an illegal discharge. He now has to pump twice a week and show evidence each Friday.” Because it is a first offense, town regulations do not stipulate a fine to be assessed.
Ms. Sesto said this is the only time anyone from the town was aware of an illegal discharge.
The septic system at 991 Danbury Road — the site of Toozy Patza Pizza and several other businesses — has been an issue since April when Mr. Schole issued several health code violations in response to sewage bubbling up from a manhole cover in the parking lot. Mr. Criscoulo was to submit a plan to permanently remedy the situation.
From that time, “he was told he had to keep pumping the tank” so effluent would not keep coming up to the ground, Mr. Schole said.
In a letter to Mr. Criscuolo dated April 5, Mr. Schole said “Pumping of the septic system is required until a permanent repair is in place. Elimination of this sewage overflow by reduction in water use or other approved methods is mandatory.
“The retail and food service establishments may be subject to closure if the sewage overflow continues.”
Mr. Schole said Mr. Criscoulo hired a professional engineer and they met at the site on April 26 to review alternatives. The leaching area needs repair, Mr. Schole said. It may need to be expanded.
Mr. Schole said, weather permitting, the situation must be remedied by the end of July.
“In the meantime, pumping is required. If that is followed, it’s not a problem. You need a licensed pumper to take the material to a sewage treatment plant,” he said.
“What matters is don’t let it become a public health problem by having sewage come out onto the ground. Sewage cannot be disposed of improperly or come out on the ground or in any watercourse.”
Mr. Schole added that “this situation of a failed septic system and remedies has been discussed with the town attorney.”
In speaking with The Bulletin on Monday, Ms Sesto said this incident brings up the general issue of pollution and where it comes from.
“Catch basins drain to streams and wetlands,” she said. “They are storm sewers, not sanitary sewers.” Material in a storm sewer does not go to a treatment plant, she said. “Any time you put anything into a catch basin it goes to a wetland or watercourse.
“If you have spills in a driveway, even if you can’t see a river, a catch basin will connect you far and wide. That’s non-point pollution.”
Jeff Yates, a Wilton resident and president of the conservation group Trout Unlimited, said beyond a single incident such as this — which is indeed harmful — are the many “small impacts that build up” to the detriment of the Norwalk River watershed.
“It’s all the added things folks don’t think about,” he said, “lawn fertilizers, grass clippings and leaves, road sand, washing cars in the driveway. When you have a suburban area, when things get into storm drains the further you go downstream the more they build up.”
Spring rains carry lawn fertilizers into the river where the nitrogen and phosphorus build up creating an algae bloom, he said. When that algae starts to die it reduces oxygen in the water.
“What people don’t realize is the Norwalk River is a diverse ecosystem with mink, beaver, heron and egrets, trout and insects — all depend on cold, clean water, and they add to the quality of our life,” he said.
“You can walk through the heart of our community and still see a great blue heron. It’s hard to put a value on that.”