For awhile, the Monroe Town Council chambers resembled a courtroom. It happened when an attorney for the Prushko family was able to ask questions of the lawyer representing Stop & Shop on the supermarket chain’s application for a gas station on Route 111.
Attorney Keith Ainsworth, acting on behalf of the Prushko family that owns the Shell station next to the proposed Stop & Shop site, had been granted the right to act as an intervenor on environmental issues in the case by the Planning and Zoning Commission.
P&Z members and audience members listened intently to the question-and-answer session, which resembled a mild-mannered cross examination in many ways.
Stephen Studer, attorney for Stop & Shop, would confer with his team of engineers and other experts before carefully answering Ainsworth’s questions. Sometimes some of the experts provided the answers directly. Their answers generally were very brief.
Are petroleum hydrocarbons flowing off-site?
Wouldn’t it make sense, Ainsworth asked at one point, that any petroleum hydrocarbons in the groundwater on the property would flow off-site as part of the natural flow of the groundwater?
“That would be speculation,” Studer responded.
Petroleum hydrocarbons are compounds found in crude oil, including toxic ones.
Both sides acted calmly and there didn’t appear to be any noticeable moments of drama. Ainsworth’s questioning may not have lasted as long as some people had anticipated, but he appeared satisfied once finished.
Following Ainsworth’s questioning and then the closing remarks by Stop & Shop representatives, the P&Z closed the public hearing on the application for 528 Monroe Tpke. but did not take a vote. The P&Z is likely to vote on the matter at its next meeting.
The Stop & Shop proposal
Stop & Shop wants to build a 10-pump gas station on Route 111, slightly north of Cross Hill Road. The 528 Monroe Tpke. site is not adjacent to the Stop & Shop supermarket but is just north of the Rite Aid.
The 1.9-acre property abuts the existing Prushko’s Shell gas station. The Beardsley Brook passes through the property as well as an intermittent waterway.
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Two underground fuel tanks would hold 30,000 gallons and 10,000 gallons, with about one fuel delivery per day.
The station would require two curb cuts on Route 111. The southern one, toward Rite Aid, would be for both entering and exiting. The northern entrance, toward the Goodwill store, would be for exiting to the right only (to head north on Route 111).
Intervenor request is approved
Early in the P&Z meeting, the commission voted unanimously to allow Ainsworth to act as an intervenor. Ainsworth had made the request to be an intervener at the Jan. 3 meeting, which allows an outside party to participate in the proceedings. P&Z members concluded that Ainsworth met the conditions to be an intervenor on the environmental aspects of the application.
The proposed Stop & Shop gas station site was polluted when used as an unstaffed heating oil storage and distribution site from the 1960s to 1990s, and some remediation previously took place on the property. Different entities owned the property at that time. The land is now vacant.
P&Z Chairman Patrick O’Hara advised Ainsworth, before his questioning began, that he expected “proper decorum” to be maintained by the attorneys. He pointed out that a P&Z public hearing isn’t a courtroom, and questions had to be asked through the chairman.
Proper decorum was maintained.
Ainsworth’s line of questioning
Ainsworth’s questions focused on contamination, groundwater flow, the two surface waterways on the property, and the impact of rainwater on gasoline spillage collection capacity.
He asked if all prior remediation was done with government oversight, if cleanup work continued after a consent order was lifted, and if state environmental officials ever indicated the remediation was completed.
Ainsworth asked about the level of petroleum hydrocarbons on the property, and if the groundwater flow was moving the petroleum hydrocarbons off the site. He asked if any measures were being taken to stop petroleum hydrocarbons from going off-site, and if placing underground fuel tanks would change the groundwater flow.
In addition, Ainsworth questioned the impact of rainwater filling the grooves being placed in the concrete surface near the fuel pumps. The grooves are designed to collect any spilled gasoline at the site.
Economic and traffic issues
The P&Z also allowed Ainsworth to speak briefly on economic and traffic issues, acting as a member of the public and not as an intervenor.
Ainsworth wondered if the Stop & Shop gas station was intended for “strategic” reasons to hurt Prushko’s service station and the Big Y supermarket. He suggested the proposed Stop & Shop location could make it harder for customers to get in and out of both these competitors’ retail locations.
Later, Studer said there was “no truth” to the charge that Stop Shop would provide unfair competition to Prushko’s and Big Y. He said if Big Y officials agreed with that claim, they would have provided input at the P&Z hearing. “Competition benefits consumers,” Studer said.
The two attorneys also debated whether the P&Z had to follow the federal flood plain map when interpreting the application. Studer and Stop & Shop representatives have said the map does not reflect the actual situation, and the P&Z has the flexibility to agree with that interpretation. Ainsworth has insisted the P&Z must work from the federal flood plain map unless it has been officially amended.
Why not put the station on the supermarket property?
Some opponents, including Ainsworth, have suggested that Stop & Shop should put the new gas station at the current supermarket site on Route 111.
Timothy Onderko, an engineer with Langan Environmental & Engineering Services representing Stop & Shop, said that the supermarket is zoned DB-1, which doesn’t allow gas stations, while the proposed 528 Monroe Tpke. site is zoned DB-2, which does allow gas stations.
Onderko also pointed out that all DB-2 properties on Route 111 are in watershed protection areas, so “it is not possible” to put a gas station on Route 111 that is not in a watershed protection area.
Stop & Shop’s reputation on the line
During his closing remarks, Studer said Stop & Shop would not put a gas station where it would cause environmental damage. “Its reputation is the one that’s on the line,” he said of the supermarket chain. “Its liability is also on the line.”
Studer attempted to counter concerns by Aquarion Water Co. officials that if a major spill occurred involving a tanker truck during refueling, there could be damage to the public water supply. He said spills involving trucks are few and far between, and most happen when trucks are traveling on roads and not when they are refueling at stations. He said tanker trucks have separate compartments so an entire tanker-full of gasoline could basically never spill.
He highlighted all the state-of-the-art equipment, such as the double-lined underground tanks, emergency shut-off systems, 24/7 monitoring and spill retention capacity, planned for the new gas station.
Studer: Can’t base a decision on speculation
Studer said the P&Z could not — and should not — base its decision on fears that a bad accident might potentially happen at the site. “It’s pure speculation,” he said. He said opponents have the burden to show that Stop & Shop’s proposal would hurt the environment “based on facts, not conjecture.”
The only expert testimony presented to the P&Z was by Stop & Shop representatives, who indicated there wouldn’t be environmental damage, Studer said. He said other experts hired by the town for the Inland Wetlands Commission application agreed with Stop & Shop’s environmental representatives.
Studer also said Stop & Shop had approached the Prushkos about purchasing their property, but were told by the owners they were “reluctant” to sell the property. Stop & Shop then pursued other parcels.
The applicant also has made adjustments to its sign, lighting and landscaping, based on P&Z comments.