Friday Flashback #164

I’m not sure why a funeral home thought it was a good idea to send out clocks with their name on it. Can you imagine seeing this, every time you checked the time?

(Photo courtesy of Seth Schachter)

On the other hand, if you ever needed to call them — well, their 4-digit number was right there, staring you in the face.

Cribari Bridge Closed — Again

For the second time in a couple of weeks, the Cribari Bridge over the Saugatuck River is closed.

Once again, it’s stuck in the open position.

According to alert “0688o” reader — and nearby resident — Robbie Guimond, the last time it happened, a state Department of Transportation foreman said it “just stopped.”

A crew struggled to close it manually. The foreman told Robbie that the back-up apparatus is very old, and seldom used.

The scene on Riverside Avenue. (Photo/Robbie Guimond)

Seawater On Main Street — Or More?

Like a number of buildings on Main Street, #69 is under construction.

Developers are working hard to resuscitate downtown. In addition to the usual retail challenges — online shopping, the opening of the new Norwalk mall, finding the right “mix” — Main Street stores face frequent flooding.

A web of federal, state and local regulations cover building lots near rivers and wetlands.

So when Chip Stephens and Al Gratrix — both members of the Planning & Zoning Commission — noticed excavation work at #69, and saw water being pumped into storm drains in Parker Harding Plaza, they wanted to know more. When they smelled a strong odor in the water, they grew concerned.

The back of 69 Main Street, on Parker Harding Plaza, in an undated photo.

That night, coincidentally, the P&Z met. The developer sent a representative to ask for approval of work they’d already begun.

Stephens asked about the pump, and smell. The representative replied that it was seawater, brought in by high tides. She said the work involved removing slab, replacing a drainpipe and bathing the project.

The next day, Stephens and Gratrix returned. This time, they noticed soil work. Town engineer Peter Ratkiewich told them there were 7 fuel tanks there. Two still contained fuel. He said the smell from the excavation reached Elm Street — and one store in the area had to be closed at one point, due to the strong oil odor.

A number of old oil tanks are located by the river. They date back decades, to the days when the Saugatuck River lapped up against the back of stores on the west side of Main Street. Parker Harding Plaza was developed on landfill, in the 1950s.

P&Z staff discovered documents that showed the developer knew back in 2018 that the oil tanks and oil contamination would be a problem. However, at the P&Z meeting the representative simply said that the odorous water — being emptied into storm drains — was “seawater.”

Last night, Stephens and Gratrix requested a new meeting to reconsider the decision; for the developer to explain why the P&Z was not informed of contamination at 69 Main Street, and the remedies required; a timeline of knowledge of contamination, and why excavation and demolition occurred without a permit for new construction — and, most important, an outline of steps going forward for remediation of 69 Main Street, so construction can continue properly under Coastal Area Management code.

Pic Of The Day #913

Winds whipped the Ned Dimes Marina today (Photo/Tracy Porosoff)

Make A Difference — And Help For the Holidays

It started out as “Make a Difference Day.” Now, the Westport event spans the entire month of October.

The goal is for volunteers to help local non-profits. They register their projects; willing hands are then matched with needs.

Projects are updated regularly. They include painting, maintenance, helping with compost piles, collecting used eyeglasses and children’s clothes — you name it. Click here for a list.

To register a project — or volunteer for one — click here.

It’s a month-long event — but Saturday, October 26 is special. Volunteers will gather at Christ & Holy Trinity Church at 9 a.m. They’ll assemble toiletry bags for homeless men, comfort bags for abused women, arts and craft kits for children in need, and Hug a Senior bags.

Click here for the full Make a Difference Day Month website. For more information, call Barbara Pearson-Rac: 203-226-1390.

—————————–

Meanwhile, it’s not even Halloween. But Westport’s Department of Human Services is already thinking about the holidays.

They see a side of town most Westporters never do. The Town Hall staff knows our neighbors are coping with layoffs, reduced work hours, even foreclosures.

For years, Human Services has facilitated a Holiday Giving Program. It’s as important today as it ever was.

Residents can donate grocery and gas gift cards of any amount, as well as gift cards to local stores.

Cash donations are always welcome. They allow for the purchase of last-minute gift cards for clients. Residents who wish to shop for a family’s actual gift requests can do so, at whatever level the donor feels comfortable.

Organizations — including non-profits, religious institutions and businesses — can donate too.

The more the “merrier,” for sure.

(To donate online, click here; select “Holiday Giving” in the the “Seasonal Program” dropdown prompt. Checks made payable to “DHS Family Programs” — with “Holiday” on the memo line — may be mailed to Human Services, c/o Town Hall, 110 Myrtle Avenue, Westport, CT 06880, or dropped off there in Room 200. For more information, email familyprograms@westportct.gov, or call 203-341-1183. Families that need support during the holidays should call 203-341-1050.)

Pics Of The Day #912

Compo Beach this afternoon. The weather has deteriorated since then. (Photo/Pat Auber)

Earlier, storm clouds gathered over South Beach. (Photo/Tammy Barry)

Water, Water Everywhere …

As Westport prepares for heavy rain and possible thunderstorms tonight — with  coastal flooding and shoreline impacts from midnight through 4 a.m. — alert “06880” reader JP Vellotti forwarded this text:

His only comment: “Kinda ironic.”

Unsung Heroes #119

The other day, I posted a story about a long, important RTM meeting. After 3 hours, our town’s legislative body voted narrowly — 18-16 — against a motion to ban recreational marijuana sales in Westport. (Such sales are not yet legal in Connecticut.)

That was typical of our Representative Town Meeting. Once a month they meet to debate and approve town and education budgets, and all town appropriations over $20,000; enact ordinances; review bonds, leases, sales and purhcases of town property; review zoning, recreation and other regulations, and oversee labor agreements with town and Board of Education employees.

They meet much more frequently in committees. Each member serves on several.

It’s time-consuming, arduous and thankless work. And every 2 years, RTM members must run for re-election.

Fortunately, serving on the body is not all work and no play. Last week, 23 members — along with the town clerk and RTM secretary — gathered for lunch at Tavern on Main.

Member Matthew Mandell — whose day job is executive director of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce — organized the event. It was a way for everyone to spend time together outside of Town Hall. (And yes, for the Chamber to promote Restaurant Week.)

The RTM lunch at Tavern on Main.

It was the middle of election season. But, Mandell says, “people enjoyed that we could all sit together. Political party means nothing to us” — the RTM is non-partisan.

“It was nice to just BS, and not discuss any issue coming before us, or even around town. The RTM has had some late nights recently. This was a good break.”

(Even though there was a quorum, no official notice was required. “Social gatherings do not constitute an illegal meeting — just fun,” explains town clerk Patty Strauss.)

“The RTM is a collegial bunch who volunteer a lot of time to the town,” Mandell notes.

So, to all 36 members — and all the others, running for a seat — thank you for all you do for Westport. You are our Unsung Heroes of the Week.

We hope you enjoyed your lunch. Now get back to work!

(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

 

Jake Sussman Fights For “The Forgotten Child”

Imagine yourself as the child that always smiled
You were wild, you were beguiled —
Until the day you were profiled.
This is the story of the forgotten child.

Jake Sussman delivers those words clearly, directly and powerfully. Like many guys in their early 20s, he’s got scruff and exudes confidence.

But he is “The Forgotten Child.”

Now, he’s making sure that educators around the world do not forget any other Jake Sussmans out there.

There are many.

Growing up in Westport — and diagnosed with a learning difference — Jake had a “great experience” at Coleytown Elementary School.

Middle school was different, though.

“It wasn’t working for me,” Jake says. He transferred to The Southport School, then the Forman School in Litchfield for high school. After graduating in 2014, he headed to Roger Williams University.

It was the only college he applied to with no academic support system.

Jake Sussman

“That was fine,” Jake says. “In life, there’s no special corner for employees with learning differences.”

He directed his energy and charisma toward creating a Hillel on the Rhode Island campus. By the time he left for his senior year at the University of Hartford — for its program in communications and business — there were 30 attendees at Shabbat dinners.

As a junior, he took part in a campus poetry slam. “The Forgotten Child” was all about overcoming adversity, and being true to oneself.

Negative labels are destructive
Counter-productive and obstructive
This forgotten child refused to acknowledge
“You will never go to college.”

Speaking those words out loud, Jake felt empowered. He told his story — but he was not alone.

“Everyone learns differently,” he notes. “I may be 3 grades behind in reading, but I’m the best artist in the class. Teachers have to be able to tap into that.”

He realized his poem spoke for “anyone not seen or heard.” Learning differences, sexualities, physical disabilities — whatever adversity students have to overcome, Jake included them. They too are “forgotten children.”

At boarding school, Jake had met Harvey Hubbell V. The Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker — who himself was diagnosed with dyslexia in the 1960s, and in 2013 produced “Dislecksia: The Movie” — was intrigued by Jake’s passion. And his poetry.

Beginning last May, they collaborated on a video. Last Thursday — in the middle of Dyslexia Awareness Month — they launched “The Forgotten Child” on Facebook. In it, Jake implores:

Don’t ever give up your shot
Our minds are all we’ve got!

Within 2 days, it had 25,000 views worldwide. And dozens of very favorable comments.

He hopes it reaches the right audiences: people with learning differences, and those who work with them.

“I’m not a teacher, a psychologist, a researcher or a parent,” he says. “I am a student. I represent all those who are not seen or heard, just for the way they learn.”

“The Forgotten Child” is just one of the ways Jake is speaking out about his own educational life, and those of so many others.

On Monday night, he was at a Decoding Dyslexia meeting in Salt Lake City.

I’m not sure whether he presented a talk or a poem.

Either way, I have no fear.

His message was heard loud and clear.

(For more information, email bookings@jakesussmanlive.com)

Jacob Sussman, filming his video.

 

Pic Of The Day #911

Finally! A candidate we can all agree on. (Photo/Luke Garvey)