EPA says they are inspecting the Metropolitan District due to flooding and sewage issues in Hartford
The regional administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – New England Region (EPA), David Cash, said the agency knows that north Hartford residents have been calling for solutions to their persistent flooding and sewage issues. Cash said EPA representatives did not attend a Jan. 17 community meeting they were invited to because, "perhaps there was a miscommunication, but that is not the kind of stuff they are expected to do."
However, Cash said on Wednesday, Jan. 25 the EPA met with the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEEP) to ensure that inspections are ongoing. The EPA said they have also been inspecting the Metropolitan District (MDC) and its work in Hartford's North End to identify the most significant flooding and sewage issues.
Cash said EPA inspectors have been mapping the city to understand “the issues on MDC's actions.”
In a statement to Connecticut Public, Mikayla Rumph, with the EPA Office of Public Affairs for the New England Region, said the recent inspections have been focused on complaints from residents in several Hartford neighborhoods including Asylum Hill, Upper Albany, Clay Arsenal and Blue Hills.
“In fact, our inspectors have spent some time in Hartford inspecting the MDC,” Cash said. “One of our biggest concerns is trying to figure out how the MDC is doing the work that they're supposed to be doing, whether they're reporting to the state, the kinds of concerns that community members are raising, so that was part of our inspection as well."
Human and environmental rights activist, Bridgitte Prince, stated that the conversation went well with the civil rights advocates and the residents who were able to express what they consider a “civil rights violation.” Prince argues the issue with MDC and the city of Hartford is political.
“For some reason, people are scared and intimidated to challenge the MDC because of their political connections," Prince said. "You got politicians here who know about the discrimination. Who know that this is environmental racism that affects primarily the Black community.”
Cash said, "It's a priority for us to address these kinds of environmental justice concerns that we see in communities all over the country where overburdened communities have experienced more than their share of pollution, whether it be water pollution or air pollution."
During the public meeting on Jan. 17, residents expressed discontent with MDC and the city of Hartford for a lack of transparency while dealing with, what they say, have been years of flooding and sewage issues. According to residents, the city promised to reimburse them for expenses to fix these recurring problems.
Prince said she hasn’t heard about compensation or reimbursements returned to Hartford residents. “The people who have been suffering through the storm are mostly Black Americans and West Indians; you know, people from Jamaica,” Price said. “If it didn’t affect the people with the diversity that we have now, I believe the problem we are in by white men, probably would have been dealt differently.”
In a statement released Jan. 18, the MDC points to investments it’s been making in water infrastructure. “The MDC Board of Commissioners and its ratepayers have approved $1.6B for wastewater infrastructure upgrades as part of the Clean Water Project (CWP),” the statement said. “Most of these upgrades relate to construction activity within the City of Hartford, projects which include combined sewer separation, treatment plant expansion and construction of an 18-foot diameter underground tunnel designed to mitigate sewage overflows during certain defined storm events.” They added, “To be clear, the CWP is only a part of the solution. Stormwater entering our sewer pipes is the driving force behind overflows to the CT River, city streets, businesses and homes.”
On Saturday, an MDC spokesperson declined to comment on Wednesday's EPA meeting with community members, stating that MDC was not at the meeting.
Prince added that the emotional and mental loss in the community is beyond financial. "As someone who is in the community and cares about the community, I've seen people lose possessions that they have accumulated during a lifetime. I lost all my military memorabilia, my military uniform, in the flooding," Prince said.
Cash said once the inspections are completed, the EPA will share the reports in a public meeting.
"All of us as government agencies, whether it's local or state or federal, it's our responsibility to communicate in the way that's clear; and who has authority for what, so these are really important complicated questions for us to dive into," Cash said. "Whether it's compensation or other kinds of things, that'll be determined in the future.”
This story was updated with response from the MDC.