Mayor wants to tie U-I sale to power plant cleanup

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) – Some U-I customers might not even know it, but a Spanish company is trying to buy United Illuminating. New Haven officials want to make that sale contingent upon cleaning up the polluted former English Station power plant. They’re calling on state regulators to make that happen, but the power company and the regulators both seem to be fighting them.

New Haven’s English Station made electricity in the middle of the Mill River for 60 years. United Illuminating shut it down in 1991, and New Haven would like to turn it into something else. New Haven Mayor Toni Harp says there is one big problem.

“The property remains tainted with PCBs, asbestos, and other toxic chemicals,” according to Harp.

Just last year, the Coast Guard was called in to clean up oil leaking from English Station into the river. So who is responsible for cleaning it up? Several agencies have weighed in on that.

“And determined that UI is responsible for contributing to the property’s cleanup,” said Mayor Harp.

Right now U-I is in the process of getting bought out by a Spanish energy company called Iberdrola. For that sale to happen, the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, or PURA has to sign off. Mayor Harp wants PURA to make cleaning up English Station part of that deal.

The biggest obstacle in getting U-I or Iberdrola to clean up English Station is the fact that U-I sold the plant 15 years ago. A company spokesman says U-I has no knowledge of the conditions inside anymore. The other problem is, PURA is not letting New Haven take part in the current hearings on the sale.

“We tried to work within PURA’s process to discuss English Station,” Mayor Harp said, “but PURA shut us out.”

New Haven Economic Development Director Matthew Nemerson wants to make it clear to Iberdrola that if it completes the $3 billion takeover of the U-I empire, English Station will become its problem.

“That this particular site in this particular neighborhood is treated exactly with the fairness and with the same consideration that every other part of that empire is being treated,” said Nemerson.

U-I expects PURA to approve the deal by the end of the year. No one knows how much it would cost to clean up English Station. The best estimate seems to be tens of millions of dollars.

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