Tuesday night, the Waterford Board of Selectmen approved a resolution asking the state to not charge any of the nine municipalities involved in Southeastern Area Transit (SEAT) for clean up of a fuel spill at SEAT’s campus and for the state to bring a “new management model for the provision of transit in southeastern Connecticut.”
The action is a result of a 2010 oil spill at SEAT’s campus in Preston where thousands of gallons of diesel fuel leaked into a brook behind the facility. SEAT has since said it is not responsible for the spill and has sued the Department of Transportation for costs associated with cleaning up the spill.
The resolution passed by the Board of Selectmen Tuesday asks for the DOT to pay the more than $500,000 cost of the cleanup instead of the cost possibly being dumped on the nine municipalities that support SEAT, which includes Waterford. In return, SEAT would drop the lawsuit and the state would develop a “new management model for the provision of transit in southeastern Connecticut,” according to the resolution. The DOT supports the resolution and at least two other SEAT towns have already passed the same resolution.
First Selectman Dan Steward, along with several other town officials, have voiced concerns about SEAT’s management several times recently and in March the Board of Finance briefly cut all funding to the public transit organization. Steward says this agreement will mean no cost to the municipalities for the fuel spill and SEAT's board of directors no longer charged with running public transit in Southeastern Connecticut, which he said is good on both accounts.
“We tend to be very independent down here, and right now it doesn’t appear that independence is working,” Steward said Tuesday, referring to SEAT.
SEAT runs the public transportation system in Southeastern Connecticut. It provides services to nine municipalities, including Waterford, East Lyme, Montville and New London, who help fund the organization.
As mentioned, SEAT has sued the DOT after it argued it was not responsible for thousands of gallons of diesel fuel leaking out of a diesel fuel tank on SEAT property that cost the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection more than $500,000 to clean up. Rather than pay the amount, with the cost potentially going back onto the towns that support SEAT like Waterford, SEAT sued the DOT on who would pay state dollars to a state agency.
DOT agreed to drop the case and pay the entire cost if SEAT agreed to drop the lawsuit and change its management structure, something Waterford and other SEAT towns support. DOT runs public transportation directly in all other areas of the state except for eastern Connecticut, so it would make sense for the DOT to run it here as well, Steward said.
If the DOT did take it over, Waterford would possibly no longer have to pay a bill each year for public transporation, Steward said. Instead, it is possible that public transit would be run with state dollars instead of a hybrid of state and municipal dollars, he said. This year, Waterford is paying $43,924 to SEAT.
Problems with SEAT
Steward also said he would rather have the DOT run the area’s public transportation than SEAT. In recent years, SEAT has had several problems with Waterford, on top of dealing with the fuel spill.
For the past few years, the Waterford Board of Finance and the Representative Town Meeting have asked SEAT to provide them with the ridership of each bus route, so the town could see if the bus routes were being run efficiently. Instead, despite several requests, SEAT just gives the town the total amount of bus routes in Waterford, which Selectman Paul Suprin called “useless.”
“They just tell us how many bus rides they made, so they increase the bus rides and instead of a bus carrying four people two buses carry two people,” Suprin said. “That doesn’t help us.”
Steward also told a story where the mayor of Montville asked SEAT to make a stop on a route a bus already drives by, as there is a demand and SEAT would make extra money off of the extra riders. SEAT voted against doing that, Steward said.
Additionally, during the March budget hearings this year SEAT could not provide the Board of Finance with the audit from the 2010-11 Fiscal Year, which should have been completed by December. SEAT said it was still in the process of completing the audit.