Wastewater treatment staff to be reorganized

By Brian Lockhart
Staff Writer

November 11, 2003

NORWALK -- A significant reshuffling of personnel overseeing the city's wastewater treatment plant was announced last night by Operations Management International.

In what was described to members of the city's Water Pollution Control Authority as a "lateral move," OMI is reassigning plant manager Fred Treffeisen to a regional position. OMI is the private company that runs the plant.

Treffeisen helped run the plant prior to privatization in 2000, and was then hired by OMI. He was not present at last night's meeting.

Also, James Howey, OMI's regional vice president for the past five years, announced he will return to one of OMI's sister companies, an environmental engineering firm.

None of the OMI officials attributed the changes to the well-publicized operational problems the plant has suffered this year, but Mayor Alex Knopp welcomed Treffeisen's departure.

"Despite Mr. Treffeisen' contributions . . . for everyone involved we need to move on and get new leadership at the plant," Knopp said. "Everybody involved needs a fresh start."

A list of candidates for Treffeisen's position will be provided to the city for review.

Last fall, the plant was raided by the Environmental Protection Agency as part of an ongoing criminal probe.

In the spring, the plant suffered several wet-weather related spills into the Norwalk River of nonhazardous sewage and sewage-treatment material. Raw sewage was dumped into Wilson Cove during the August blackout from one of the plant's pumping stations.

Most recently, four reports by the city's direct liaison with OMI, Assistant Public Works Director Martin Overton, surfaced that were critical of the operation. The reports suggested that the city and OMI needed to make changes to the 20-year contract governing the plant, and that Norwalk possibly invest $2.5 million in the facility to run it properly.

Overton denied OMI's initial request one year ago to remove Treffeisen. Last night, Overton called the current move a loss for the city.

"We insisted they hire him (in 2000)," Overton said. "Fred was present before, during and after construction and the (plant) upgrade . . . His heart and soul are for the environment."

Knopp, while not mentioning Overton by name, said his decision not to allow Treffeisen to be moved was "unauthorized." Overton afterward said he believed it was his job as liaison.

In other business, the WPCA agreed to discuss Overton's reports next month.

"These are all critically important issues that have been raised," WPCA member Adam Farstrup, a Democrat and chairman of the city's tax board, said.

Chairman John Atkin afterward said Overton is "providing valuable information" and planned to assign a subcommittee to thoroughly address the reports.

Overton had intended to submit the draft reports at the authority's Oct. 14 meeting, which was canceled. Sensing a pre-election cover-up -- something Knopp has steadfastly denied -- Republicans obtained the materials through a Freedom of Information request. Republicans say the reports show a need to raise the sewer use fees that pay to run the plant.

Knopp left the WPCA meeting for a meeting in South Norwalk just before the reports were discussed.