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Peter Henner

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From 1998 through 2004, Peter worked with a team of lawyers to fight for the cleanup of Wethersfield Cove, a community which was badly affected by pollution from combined sewage overflows from the Hartford, Connecticut Wastewater Treatment Facility.

The city of Hartford, like many older urban communities, has a sewage treatment system that utilizes combined wastewater and storm sewers.  As a result, during heavy rain storms, the sewers cannot handle the overflow, and must discharge it into surrounding water bodies.  In Hartford, the Franklin Avenue Interceptor Sewer routinely discharges its overflows into a small brook that feeds into Wethersfield Cove, a 70 acre body of water immediately adjacent to the Connecticut River.

On three occasions, in 1993, 1994 and 1997, operational mistakes by the wastewater treatment facility resulted in overflows of raw sewage into Wethersfield Cove.  The last overflow, which lasted for more than eight days, resulted in 21,000,000 gallons of sewage being deposited in the Cove.
From the early 1990s, a local Wethersfield resident, Leigh Standish (a direct descendent of Miles) led a strong community movement to remedy the problems of sewage overflow to the Cove.  In the early 1990s, the problem was severe.  In addition to the 1997 spill, it was common for waste from the sewer system to wash up onto the shores of Wethersfield Cove, including a public beach.  Waste that washed up onto the beach included used hypodermic needles, and on at least one occasion, a local resident was stabbed by a used needle.
In early 1998 the residents contacted Mark Mitchell, the former Director of Public Health for the City of Hartford, and the President of Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice.  Through Dr. Mitchell, the Wethersfield residents contacted a local community organizer, Joe Wasserman, who is a college friend of Peter.
Peter assembled a team of lawyers, consisting of himself, Richard Lippes (who was the lead attorney for the residents of Love Canal), and the law firm of Lynch, Traub, Keefe & Errante, based in New Haven.  In 1998, Peter filed a citizen suit under the provisions of the Federal Clean Water Act in United States District Court for the District of Connecticut.  Later that year, the law firm of Lynch, Traub filed an action in Connecticut Superior Court, seeking monetary damages on behalf of all of the affected residents.
The federal lawsuit was concluded three years later, in 2001.  Under the terms of the stipulation, the citizens were granted significant opportunities to intervene in the process of determining options for Wethersfield Cove, and received payment for their engineering and consultant fees and for their attorneys’ fees incurred in the litigation.
The Superior Court action, seeking monetary damages, was finally resolved on the eve of trial, in 2004.  The firm of Lynch, Traub, led by its partner Timothy Pothin, defended the depositions of all of the residents, and coordinated the responses to discovery from the Metropolitan District Commission, and also handled extensive motion practice, including the successful defense of a Motion for Summary Judgment.  Peter handled the discovery demands directed to the Metropolitan District Commission, and the discovery pertaining to the technical issues involving the operation of the wastewater treatment facility.
The $750,000 settlement, on the eve of trial, represented an important victory for the residents.  Not only was the money significant, but it also represented an important acknowledgment by the Metropolitan District; that the problems of the sewage treatment plant, and particularly of combined sewage overflows to Wethersfield Cove, would need to be addressed.
In 2004, the remediation of the Cove was a critical factor in the Wethersfield Town election, and the newly elected Mayor and Councilman were actively supported by Leigh Standish and the organization that he helped create.  Faced with a Town government committed to cleaning up the Cove, and the threat of an additional lawsuit, the Metropolitan District has now committed itself to achieve a permanent solution for the Cove. 

© 2010 Law office of Peter Henner