Bethel’s Economic Development Commission, stripped of power, paves the way.
Report and Photography by Paula Antolini
Dec 30, 2014 10:32PM EDT
Interview with First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker:
At Monday night’s Special Town Meeting Bethel’s Economic Development Commission (EDC) was stripped of its responsibility to be the stewards of the Clarke Business Park after a 30 year tenure. This was clearly another step in allowing a crematorium in the Clarke Business Park despite the objections of many Bethel residents, business owners and the EDC over the past 8 months and more.
On December 29, 2014 a Special Town Meeting was held in the Clifford J. Hurgin Municipal Center in Bethel at 7:00 p.m. to specifically decide whether or not the power of Bethel’s Economic Development Commission (EDC) would be extended for another 10 years. At the meeting First Selectman Knickerbocker clarified that the vote would be specifically on the extension of the power of the EDC for another 10 years, and NOT a vote on the rules of the park.
A vote was taken and the motion was defeated 28 (no) to 26 (yes). This outcome not only means that the EDC no longer has the power to make rules under which the Clarke Business Park operates, but that all of the present rules will expire on January 15, 2015, and there will be no rules, and there is no one to oversee the business park, according to First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker. He said that it will now fall back to the Planning and Zoning Commission, but not in the capacity that the EDC had been handling matters.
I am not convinced that many people at the meeting were voting specifically on the 10 year extension because there was so much anger from many park business owners about the park rules and how they were handled by the EDC that I believe the vote needlessly took all power away from the EDC by a number of the business owners present who voted no, and will now likely make matters worse for that park. This is because the majority of business owners also did not want the crematorium in the park either, and the EDC was trying to prevent that, in the best interest of the park.
Monday night there was an injustice done to the people of Bethel. Most Bethel voters never got a chance to know what was happening with this meeting, or even know about this meeting, much less vote. Although First Selectman Knickerbocker did his best to visually count the votes, I am not sure the vote count was done accurately, and with a two-vote difference, shouldn’t the count have been done exactly? He counted the NO’s twice but the YES’s once, from his chair. Why? People did not sit down after they were counted (the people who chose to stand the entire meeting) and there were many people standing in the room, doorway, and hallway so how did they know who was counted and who was not, for the yes and no votes when people were asked to stand to place their vote?
I believe this topic called for a town referendum and not a vote where some people were notified of the meeting and others were not. The town may have posted the notice legally on the town website, but it was likely missed by the majority of residents. Also, the date chosen for this meeting, on the Monday after a Christmas holiday, in between Christmas and New Years, could have been chosen better. What’s the rush, since this topic has been ongoing since early last year?
The importance of the vote was not clear in the notice or at the meeting. It certainly was not clear that all park rules and the power of the EDC would be completely eliminated on a successful NO vote. We’ve been had.
During this entire procedure of several public meetings of the P&Z and the EDC in the last 8 months I witnessed controversy between the P&Z and the EDC regarding who was in power to make or change the rules and regulations despite the EDC having capably handled park rules for the last 30 years. This topic was hotly debated by three representatives of the P&Z, Pat Rist, Kitty Grant and Bob Legnard, and the EDC, at the last two EDC meetings. The results were that the EDC set the revised park rules in place and that is where it stood. A subsequent meeting was held by the EDC where public comment was taken again, rules were heavily discussed, and the meeting was then adjourned.
At Monday night’s Special Town Meeting the Chairman of the EDC Mike Boyle stated there would be an additional meeting to discuss the rules on January 15, 2015. During this meeting some of the business owners of the park simply voted to take all power away from the EDC even though they also did not want the crematorium in the park either. This is an interesting predicament, since the EDC was protecting the park from the crematorium allowance.
The controversy began when crematorium applicant Shawn McLoughlin, present owner of Mono-Crete Step Co. of CT LLC, a pre-cast concrete products company at 12 Trowbridge Drive in Clarke Business Park, applied for a text amendment (change of park rules) for his proposed crematorium to be allowed at this same location, also employing his attorney Peter Olsen to help argue the case for him at all meetings, along with himself, his son and daughter. They were a constant presence at meetings, raising there voices many times and attorney Olsen constantly monopolized the meetings with long winded rhetoric. This usually left little time for others to speak. At one EDC meeting I give a lot of credit to Chairman Boyle for insisting that Olsen stick to the topic at hand and not speak about anything other than that, in an attempt to give others equal time to speak.
The EDC firmly took a stand that a crematorium was not in the best interest of the park. I also witnessed the majority of residents and business owners make statements at past meetings to the same effect, that they did not want the crematorium in Bethel. For example, they specifically stated they did not want to see many hearses driving into the park daily, and other issues of concern. Numerous letters from the public and businesses were also read aloud at P&Z meetings and the majority of correspondence was opposed to the crematorium.
I also made a large presentation to the P&Z about many studies pointing out the hazards of the toxic crematorium emissions, namely the poisonous mercury, which turns into a deadly methyl mercury when landing on our water sources and soil, and also studies proving that a crematorium in a town lowers real estate values significantly. But despite all this, the text amendment was passed by a vote of 4 to 3 by the P&Z. The vote was as follows: YES VOTES, P. Rist, B. Legnard, J. Lennon, K. Grant. NO VOTES, E. Finch, D. Brown, L. Valenti.
A crematorium poses numerous health hazards, including toxic vapors, which can get into the water and earth and cause extreme illness and even death. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has stated that exposure to mercury/metallic vapor on the human body, even in chronic low doses, can cause all sorts of negative effects in adults, children and animals, such as birth defects in babies, neurological defects, damage or destruction of nerve tissue, effects to the the visual cortex and the cerebellum (brain section that controls movement and balance) and it can permanently damage or fatally injure the brain and kidneys, or cause death.
I have to wonder why the voices of Bethel residents are not being heard. This seems to be a repeat of the marijuana dispensary issue of last summer where the majority of voices against it were not heard, or simply ignored during a Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) meeting AFTER the fact, where again the ZBA approved the marijuana dispensary against popular opinion. So how can the P&Z allow a business into Bethel that is clearly not wanted by the majority of Bethel residents who presented themselves at the meetings, and those who wrote letters opposing the crematorium, a business that causes a hazard to the health and well-being of Bethel residents? Why did the P&Z approve this amendment in the first place, when the present laws of the park clearly would not allow a crematorium?
Why did the P&Z have an issue with the EDC revising park rules, when it was in keeping with what the EDC decided was in the best interest of the park? This controversy occurred after this particular crematorium issue was not agreed upon between the EDC and the P&Z. To my knowledge the P&Z never had an issue in 30 years previous, to this extreme, with the EDC rule making, so why now? Is this fair? Why is the P&Z pushing so hard to get the crematorium into the park and ignoring not only the majority of individuals that opposed it but also the EDC’s recommendations, who are the stewards of the park?
Four individuals are controlling the fate of the health of Bethel residents and the welfare of our major business park? And now the EDC has been stripped of their power after doing an excellent job for 30 years?
I believe the importance of this meeting was not realized by the majority Bethel residents. The notice to residents did not state that if the 10 year extension was not approved for the EDC, they would be STRIPPED OF ALL POWER to make decisions to keep our business park running smoothly.
I would personally like to thank the EDC members for all their hundreds, perhaps thousands, of hours of work they have given our community, and for a job well done. Members of the EDC are Michael Boyle (chairman), Bonnie Brown, Noel Gill, Kevin McMahon, Roy Steiner, Sharon Straiton and Jay Streaman. It is very sad to see a process occur that simply unceremoniously ousted these hard working individuals from power and left our business park unattended, in a meeting hardly anyone knew the scope of beforehand.
I urge residents to get involved and prevent this crematorium from coming to Bethel, otherwise it could have a devastating effect to you and your family and pets. The equipment used in crematorium does not prevent mercury vapors from escaping 100%, so at what percent are you willing to risk your life and the life of those you love? Once the methel-mercury enters our water or soil (and there are aquifers all around Clark Business Park) and builds up over time, the effects do not make themselves known until it is too late. Symptoms occur such as neurological diseases, birth defects, to name a few.
Please know I am not against a crematorium business itself but it certainly does not belong where people live or businesses reside, with children and Moms attending a trampoline park or a cheerleading school for instance, or where a bakery makes our food, if the air from a crematorium is producing toxic chemicals at the same time. These types of businesses are presently in Clarke Business Park. I don’t care what other towns do, this is our town and our air/water/soil and we do not want toxins making us sick or killing us. We should not have to fight for clean air! But this seems to be the case.
The law states a crematorium has to be 500 feet from residences, but air does not know to stop at 500 feet and can travel miles, also landing on any and everything in its path, including people working in businesses in the park and customers going to those businesses. In one of the studies I gave the P&Z it showed that the toxic mercury was even in the hair of crematorium workers. See section 7 here: http://no2crematory.wordpress.com/the-toxic-truth-data/
Also with the expansion planned for Clarke Business Park, the EDC was hoping to attract businesses that would provide restaurants with outdoor seating etc. and an entire community where residents and business owners could enjoy an excellent quality of life and improve our town immensely in many ways. But it seems as if the crematorium business is just being pushed into our community, and for some odd reason the P&Z thinks this is okay.
Are we going to stand by and repeatedly let our voices not be heard? Please get involved, attend meetings, and/or write to your officials. The welfare of our town and lives are at stake.
I intend on fighting this issue fully, getting our state representatives involved etc.
Please consider signing a petition I have online (started on April 23, 2014) and get the word out to protect our community:
See some of the comments below from individuals who have already signed (some are business owners in the park):
Neil Callaghan BETHEL, CT
This is another example of the Bethel process being done in the dead of night, without the knowledge of residents – – secret agendas for the people in charge.
Charles Noe BETHEL, CT
I agree this would be wrong to bring into town . I say have a revote on the EDC
Henry Choi / BETHEL, CT
Allowing a crematorium would be a detriment to the town as a whole, not only will it decrease the property value of homes and businesses, many investors will think twice before moving to a business park that has an establishment of such kind. it’s a deterrent for investors and new businesses who want to do business and bring jobs here in the town. Also, health wise, i would not want to live anywhere nearby a crematorium. I don’t think anyone especially with childrens wants to live nearby. In addition, i would not want to see hearses pass by everyday. The proposed establishment cannot guarantee that the bodies will be transport in unmarked vehicles. This can bring negative emotions and adversely affect psychological beings to many people who works and live near by from the constant flows of hearses.
Dianna Medwid / BETHEL, CT
Bethel is always trying to harm the taxpayer on all issues and this is no different, we need to get more signatures on Grassy Plain and alert the entire area. Thanks,
Pat Markstaller / BETHEL, CT
Protect our children’s enviornment
Meghan S. / BETHEL, CT
Why this is even up for debate. Releasing TOXINS into the air which can KILL and Permanently damage our loved ones both current and future, is just plain disgusting. Do you want to be eating dinner with your family knowing that you’re all breathing in death?! Yeah, I don’t think so. DO NOT BUILD THIS. DO NOT RE ZONE. DONT KNOWINGLY KILL US OR CAUSE US HARM!!!
Margaret Waage / SOUTHINGTON, CT
I lived near a crematorium growing up. I don’t remember smoke being an issue per say, but emissions are an issue as we have learned over the years. If there is evidence of harm I’d wouldn’t want to live near one by choice.
Sondra Covino / BETHEL, CT
For the health of my child and the rest of the people in our town. I know for me and my family we are trying our best to get chemicals/pesticides out of our food, cleaning supplies, eating organically, etc. The effects of this do not show up right away but over time it does and by then it’s to late…I cannot agree with this. Thank you- Sondra
Chris LoGiudice / BETHEL, CT
No, this is not the place for this type of business
Manda Hashemi / GREENWICH, CT
I have 2 small kids and I do not want this to effect their health. We live in a nice community and this is NOT the type of business that should be in our community.
Vince Antolini / BETHEL, CT
The health risks, both long and short term, far outweigh any tax benefit to the town.
Here is another interesting story about the effects of mercury poisoning:
In a story from 2002 about the Tri-State Crematory in Noble, Georgia, a crematorium owner, Tommy Ray Brent Marsh, failed to cremate over 300 bodies over the course of years, and was giving his customers cement dust in urns, until his scam was discovered when non-cremated but decomposing bodies were discovered all over his property and in coffins and ovens. In the end his lawyer said that his client’s brain was damaged by mercury poisoning. The recovery and processing of all the bodies cost the state of Georgia millions of dollars. “Police charged Tommy Ray Brent Marsh, who ran the family crematory business, with hundreds of felonies. He later pleaded guilty and remains in prison. More than $100 million was paid out in federal class-action lawsuits against Marsh and the funeral homes that had sent bodies to the crematory. State and local government spent nearly $10 million on cleanup and recovery. No one knows the exact number of families affected, but attorneys in the lawsuits estimated the count at nearly 2,000,” according to the timesfreepress.com.
Marsh’s attorney, McCracken “Ken” Poston, stated, “He had developed mercury poisoning from being exposed to fumes from the silver fillings in teeth as bodies burned, said his attorney. It was as if his mind was in a fog, and he isn’t even able to explain what happened, Poston said.
Read full story here: http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/news/story/2012/feb/12/horror-in-noble/70497/
In a scientific explanation for the Tri-State Crematory incident, the theory is “an external, environmental cause claimed not only the literal sanity and judgment of Ray-Brent Marsch, but also the health and ultimately the life itself of his father, Tommy Ray Marsch. Suspect element is mercury.” See section number 7, a through g, here: http://no2crematory.wordpress.com/the-toxic-truth-data/