New London City Council Supports State Takeover Of SEAT

City Council approves resolution on future of Southeastern Area Transit

The City Council unanimously adopted a resolution Monday calling for the Connecticut Department of Transportation to take over Southeast Area Transit, joining several member towns who have made a similar request.

The resolution supports a request by the chief elected officials of the nine municipalities served by SEAT to have the DOT “assume responsibility for the operation and management of transit service in the southeastern Connecticut region.” The request also asks that the SEAT board of directors be replaced by an advisory panel of the chief elected officials or their designees, saying they will act through the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments to provide administrative and technical support as needed.

The proposal seeks to resolve a grievance between SEAT and the state regarding liability for an August 2010 diesel fuel spill at SEAT’s facility in Preston. The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection spent over $500,000 to clean up the spill, which included fuel leaking into a nearby brook. SEAT filed a lawsuit to have the DOT assume the cleanup costs rather than the member municipalities, saying it was not responsible for the cost.

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The resolution states that the chief elected officials of SEAT did not learn about the spill until April of 2011 and that questions on the liability or SEAT’s ability to pay for the cleanup costs remain unanswered. It says the DOT offered the revised model as a potential solution to the issue in exchange for SEAT withdrawing the lawsuit.

SEAT provides bus service to New London, East Lyme, Griswold, Groton, Ledyard, Montville, Norwich, Stonington, and Waterford.

Council President Michael Passero said the change in management should result in a major improvement in SEAT’s relationship with the state. He said he understands that SEAT is the only transit service in the state not run by the DOT.

Passero also said he thinks the new arrangement will help improve transit service in the region. He said some of the region’s biggest employers are open seven days a week but bus service is not always available to reach them.

“I’m not sure how we can leave people in the lurch like that, when it’s important to the economy and the people in the region,” he said.

Peg Curtin, a member of the SEAT Board of Directors, said a state takeover won’t negatively impact service. She also questioned whether New London is being adequately served.

“We have a district which is mostly rural, and I’m just concerned that we’re not serving our constituents as we should,” she said.

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