There is a brownfield now in Massachusetts where state Sen. Len Suzio once ran a log cabin company, and the state Democratic Party took the opportunity Friday to call him hypocritical for letting taxpayers foot the bill for it.
Beginning in the 1980s, Suzio, now an outspoken first-term Republican senator, was president of New England Log Homes Inc. The company, which folded in 1994, treated logs for log cabins at a factory in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.
At a Friday press conference at a Meriden brownfield, Jonathan Harris, executive director of the state Democratic Party, said Suzio shouldn’t be faulted for having run a business that ultimately failed. But he did take the Meriden Republican to task for leaving an environmental mess that cost taxpayers “at least $1 million” as well as failing to pay $263,000 in property taxes.
“When Mr. Suzio’s company failed the government, believe it or not, had to bail him out,” Harris said. “… We have Mr. Suzio, who constantly rails on government, who constantly says that government is the problem, who says that only the private sector gets the job done. It’s ironic … that Mr. Suzio had to be rescued by government.”
The abandoned factory burned down in 2001 and the property was purchased in 2007 by the Community Development Corporation of South Berkshire for redevelopment.
Reached by phone, Tim Geller, executive director of the CDCSB, said the site was contaminated by the chemicals the company used to treat wood logs.
Geller said restoration estimates are actually closer to $3 million. But that’s just to make the property usable again. He said it’s financially unfeasible to remove all the contaminates from the soil when the highest concentration of contaminants are 12 feet down in the soil.
“They’re going to be there forever,” he said Friday.
Geller wouldn’t speculate whether the company behaved irresponsibly when the property became contaminated. There’s no way to know whether they were aware of the environmental impact of the chemicals they were using, he said.
“What is irresponsible is once the contaminants were known, to not take any responsibility for them,” Geller said. “Clearly they knew there was an environmental issue there and they walked away from it.”
Geller said Great Barrington taxpayers forgave approximately $300,000 in back taxes so the property could be sold for restoration.
“It’s been an eyesore,” Great Barrington Town Manager Kevin O’Donnell said. “That’s why it was turned over to the [Community Development Corporation].”
In a response circulated by his campaign at the Meriden press conference, Suzio said the event was a poorly researched campaign stunt by his senate seat challenger, Dante Bartolomeo. He suggested it was motivated by the fact that the League of Conservation Voters gave him a perfect scorecard for his environmental voting record.
“Ms. Bartolomeo’s poorly researched accusations reflect her lack of experience and willingness to say and do anything to win election. This is the kind of negative, mudslinging that voters reject,” Suzio said, adding that the accusations border on slander.
The press release said that the property been used for industrial purposes for over 130 years and the contamination can be traced back to the 1880s. The site was also contaminated by chemicals released into the Housatonic River from the General Electric plant upstream, the statement said.
“During [Suzio’s] tenure as president of NELHI no additional contamination of the property beyond what had existed prior to his arrival at NELHI occurred,” the statement said.
Bartolomeo said the contaminants in the soil at the site point to the company Suzio co-owned.
“The chemicals that were found are chemicals that are used for treating wood logs. So that will show that it was done from his log treating business,” she said.
Harris and Bartolomeo were joined by Olga May Milligan, a Great Barrington resident who said she heard about the press conference and invited herself. Milligan, who said she was an unaffiliated voter, said residents of her town were “most disgusted” such a mess was left for taxpayers to clean up.
“I’m really shocked to think he is a senator representing American people, hard working people,” she said with a British accent.