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State Of Connecticut Is Punishing A 90 Year Old WWll Veteran For Doing The Right Thing
John Fitch, WWII aviator and road safety pioneer works to resolve contamination issue and state throws the book at him

John Fitch
LIME ROCK, CT - March 29, 2008 -- “I suppose if I’d kept my mouth shut, none of this would have happened,” says John Fitch, referring to the oil contamination nightmare that has plagued him since advising the state of Connecticut’s DEP five months ago that he suspected an old storage tank under his Litchfield County lawn might be leaking. But keeping mum when he suspects something is wrong simply isn’t this man’s style: John Fitch has devoted his life to “the greater good” for over half a century.

Forget that he is a decorated combat pilot who shot down one of Hitler’s dreaded Messerschmidt ME 262 jets. Forget that he was taken POW and received a Purple Heart. Forget that he was the inventor of the Fitch Inertial Barrier, those ubiquitous yellow sand-filled plastic barrels whose strategic placement on highways across America have saved countless thousands of lives. Forget that Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell herself declared April 21, 2006 “John Fitch Day” in honor of his contributions to highway safety. And forget that as a legendary racing car driver he is the very embodiment of a true hero, as his election to numerous Halls of Fame will testify. Forget all that, and just consider the facts of this case:

Last October, Fitch told the DEP that he suspected an oil leak. He also (at his own expense) hired a local environmental services company to test his well water. The results indicated a petroleum concentration of 1.5 milligrams per liter, but no-one told him if that constituted a problem. Instead, the DEP ordered him to test all the wells within 500 feet of the tanks, again at his own expense. In November, the DEP advised him that although none of the wells was contaminated, he would have to remove the tanks and excavate the surrounding soil … again at his own expense. After excavating more than 3,000 tons of dirt (some of which was, in fact, contaminated), work had to be suspended because the resultant pit had filled with rainwater. Meanwhile, the contaminated soil, which was deposited in 15-foot high piles around Fitch’s property, was subjected to the effects of run-off because of rain and snow, a hazard that the state - not Fitch - created. “And there’s no end in sight,” laments the 90 year old. “In theory they can make me drain the pit and continue excavating. What’s worse, they can force me to cart the soil off and pay for it to be treated.”

To put that into perspective, Fitch has received estimates of $70 per ton to have this done, and that doesn’t include the cost of the excavation itself, nor the cost of filling in the pit with clean soil. One expert has estimated that the total bill could easily top $350,000. In the meanwhile, The Town of Salisbury mailed the Fitches a notice advising them of an $80,000 reduction in the assessed value of their home, with the words “Oil Contamination” overwritten across the page. “I’m completely bewildered by this,” says Fitch. “In effect, they have condemned our family home, making it worthless.”

But perhaps the most ironic –and frustrating fact about the situation is that the Connecticut DEP itself has no firm protocol for cases such as this. According to Fitch, Patrick F. Bowe, Director of the DEP’s Remedial Division, has advised the Fitches that it is up to them to work with a consultant to select the best alternatives, taking into consideration costs, permit requirements and potential risks to human health. “He is saying that either our consultant, whoever that may be, will know more about oil contamination remediation than the DEP does or, if the DEP knows more, it is not telling us!” says Fitch. And while all of this is going on, Fitch’s wife, Elizabeth, requires nursing home care at a cost of $10,000 a month.

Outraged by the State’s actions, John Fitch’s friends have banded together to provide some financial relief for the couple. Notably, the Vintage Sports Car Club of America has graciously offered to help with legal expenses, and this week a fund was established to help pay for the excavation and soil cleaning costs. Checks payable to “The Friends of Fitch Homestead Fund” may be sent to the Salisbury Bank and Trust Company, P.O. Box 1868, Lakeville, CT 06039.

More additional information and documentation, please see the contact information at the top of this release.

John Fitch
(860) 435-2006
433 Salmon Kill RD
Lime Rock, CT 06039
Carl Goodwin
221 W.5th St. Box D
Palisade, CO 81526

Donn Gurney
(608) 237-1922
Race Legends, Inc.
5410 Highway 73
Marshall, WI 53559-9679

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