DEP settles case against Naugatuck developer

NAUGATUCK — The state Department of Environmental Protection has settled a case against a borough developer who consistently failed to repair a dam and drainage system that for decades has flooded Warren Avenue residents.

Judge Robert Satter of Hartford Superior Court signed the settlement June 2, which stipulates the developer, Vincent D. Celentano of Hillsboro Beach, Fla., must give a $300,000 cash bond to the borough. Celentano will be responsible for making the repairs, but the borough will control the money.

“There’s been water issues up there for the better part of 30 years, so any time you’re able to reach an agreement to fix that without charge to the borough, it’s a good thing for Naugatuck,” Mayor Robert A. Mezzo said.

Neither Celentano nor his attorney, Michael J. Brandi of Cohen and Acampora in East Haven, returned messages Monday seeking comment.

Borough Controller Wayne McAllister has the bond from Celentano, according to borough Attorney Edward G. Fitzpatrick.

“We insisted we want the money up front,” Fitzpatrick said. “We want a cash bond. We don’t want a promise.”

Warren Avenue residents began complaining that their basements were flooding in the early 1980s, while Celentano was building The Ridge subdivision of more than 288 single-family homes up a hill from the affected residents. The subdivision contained a pond built to catch rainwater, but it was too small and did not drain properly, causing runoff to travel down the street into neighbors’ yards and homes.

Celentano built an earthen dam around the pond in 1984, but that dam is now in unsafe condition, said Art Christian, a supervising civil engineer with the DEP.

“The water that comes into there, even for a smaller storm event, starts overtopping the dam and could cause it to fail,” Christian said.

When the flooding did not stop, the state ordered Celentano to fix the dam and the detention pond, but the work never got done.
The state in 1992 won a judgment against Celentano’s company, Ridge Development, only to discover that nobody owned it anymore, Assistant Attorney General Patricia A. Horgan said.

Celentano had transferred ownership of the dam to another company, Cel-Mor Investments, of which he was the president. Cel-Mor investments later lapsed, and the DEP had to wait for the state Supreme Court to rule they were allowed to sue both Celentano and his company, Horgan said.

The DEP finally sued Celentano in 2009, a case that ended in this month’s settlement. Celentano has paid $30,000 in punitive damages for violating the department’s orders, and an additional $15,000 in fines could be forgiven if the work is done correctly, Horgan said. The settlement also places a $60,000 lien on some of Celentano’s property.

To fix the drainage system, Celentano will have to connect a 600-foot storm pipe into the neighborhood lines, enlarge the pond and make the dam taller, Christian said. Work is supposed to begin by June 30 and end no later than Nov. 30.