Though the city of Milford may have been unable to stop the expansion of a local solid waste facility in court, a bill being fast-tracked through the legislature could give the town the tools to block it.
Last year, the New Haven Register reported Milford’s attempt to stop the expansion of a facility owned by Recycling Inc. Those efforts included hiring lawyer David Slossberg, husband of Milford Sen. Gayle Slossberg. But a judge ultimately sided with the facility’s owners.
Gayle Slossberg said the reason the town was unable to stop the expansion through litigation was because of a mistake the General Assembly made back in 2006. A bill that was emergency certified straight to the floor of the House for a vote Thursday aims to correct that mistake, she said.
Slossberg said lawmakers inadvertently dropped language from state statute in 2006, which had previously required solid waste facility owners to get the approval of local officials before building or expanding in their town.
She said the mistake went unnoticed for some time. The Department of Environmental Protection continued to issue building permits which said projects were subject to local regulation, she said.
But when the Milford case landed in court, a judge found that because of the statutory change, the city actually had no legal grounds to stop the expansion.
Slossberg said the legislature never intended to eliminate a town’s ability to zone or regulate itself. Currently any developer for a solid waste facility can put a facility anywhere they want in a town without the input of the town, she said.
“Your fire department doesn’t get to say that this is not safe, your police department doesn’t get to say you can’t run trucks next the local daycare center, they can hook up to septic and they don’t have to get your sewer commission’s approval,” she said. “There is a black hole and we didn’t notice it.”
Because the bill has been emergency certified, or “e-certed,” it will bypass the traditional committee process and will not receive a public hearing. Slossberg said it’s necessary to rush the bill through the process because right now no town can enforce local regulations.
She said Milford and other towns have facilities with permits pending and it’s not clear who the applicants have to answer to. The permits issued say local fire marshals must sign off on projects but statute only requires DEEP approval, she said.
“I realize some people are focusing on Milford but they’re having a fight in Danbury as well,” she said, adding that there are hundreds of similar facilities across the state.
“This needs to be cleared up right away because applicants need to know what their responsibilities are,” she said.
House Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey said the rare step of fast-tracking the bill through the legislature must be taken because there is a conditional permit pending and the 30-day comment period is about to come to an end.
“Milford is concerned that once the permit is issued it won’t be able to apply local zoning regulations,” he said.
The speed at which this issue came up though has left lawmakers scrambling to figure out their position on it.
At the moment none have expressed opposition, but they are still studying the legislation. If the bill passes the House, the Senate is expected to take it up Wednesday Feb. 29.