Aquarion Water Towers: P&Z Member Responds

On Monday, Chip Stephens saw an “06880” post announcing that 1st selectman candidates Jim Marpe and Melissa Kane would meet with North Avenue residents concerned about Aquarion’s plan to build 2 water tanks on North Avenue.

As he read it, the Planning & Zoning Commission member saw red.

In an email to “06880,” Stephens responds:

The North Avenue water tanks are not a campaign issue. To say they are shows little respect for the hard work to date addressing needs and concerns, and no attention to facts.

The P&Z spent 4 months reviewing and working on this. We came to our conclusion based on facts from Aquarion, neighbors and public safety officials. For example:

The current steel tank dates back to the 1950s. That was before Staples High School was built on North Avenue, back when we hosted Nike missiles in town, and before many large housing developments — including the the current tank’s neighbors — were built. Homes are now bigger, and there are  more of them. Multifamily housing complexes did not exist then. They do now, and they are increasing.

The current tank is way past its freshness date. Steel rusts, and degrades. The tank needs to be replaced. That is a given.

The Aquarion water tank, during recent pump station construction.

As part of a gravity feed system,, the tank needs to be at its current elevation or higher. Different locations, including Bayberry or Bedford Middle School, were looked at. But that would entail new piping, and other neighbors being offended.

All the numbers calculated in the needed capacity were scrutinized, revised, reviewed and argued over. The fire chief, water experts and all other experts agreed that with Westport’s growth and larger schools, businesses and multi-family complexes, and the safety of Westport, these volumes of water must be served.

Westport’s water come from Fairfield. The needs are ours. Norwalk has its own water authority, not linked to Aquarion. Weston has no public water (which is scary, with failing wells and tainted quality).

Any decision by P&Z could be overturned by the state utility regulators, and most likely would have been if the application was denied. Water utilities are required to work with towns, but ultimately have broad power to locate their resources. Phone, electricity, rail all do what they want, with no requirement to listed to affected neighbors (though sometimes they do).

The neighbors have valid and pressing concerns. They got much attention from Aquarion, with multiple meetings. Many of their issues were heard. Not all were fully addressed — but Aquarion did try to accommodate higher plantings, color of tanks, very slight lowering of height, and promises to consider traffic and noise better than the previous pump project.

Remember, this is a public utility. Relocation, reworking and/or rebuilding the distribution system pipes and pumps — or any other major change — would involve major costs. These would be carried by Westport public water users, resulting in significantly higher water bills. And good luck finding that location with high enough elevation, and where all neighbors welcome the tanks with love and understanding for the greater good.

P&Z and local officials tried to hard to do our best, working with the parties. Regulatory, financial and logistical issues are hard to fight. And when it comes to the water system, there is no way to alter the laws of gravity and physics.

51 responses to “Aquarion Water Towers: P&Z Member Responds

  1. Danielle Dobin

    If you are legitimately concerned about our schools, then please be concerned that we lack the water to fight a large scale fire at those schools. Resident please WATCH THE HEARINGS – links are below. Educate yourself as to the facts – there is a tank in same spot now and all the water mains in town flow from it. An often fractured P&Z vote unanimously to keep you, your loved ones, our schools and your homes safe based on the compelling, clear, expert testimony of our Fire Chief and Fire Marshal. Houses in Westport are MUCH larger and they are made of MORE COMBUSTIBLE materials than when this single tank sufficed to meet our fire needs. This is not a partisan issue. This is a life safety issue – our firefighters testified that they need THIS VOLUME of water and THIS FLOW to fight fires. Our expert fire professionals testified that if the Saugatuck Church fire took place in the Summer their hoses would have run dry. Imagine what would happen if there was a fire at Staples or Coley Elementary or even at more than one house at one time. Watch the tapes – the water isn’t for Fairfield it isn’t for Norwalk and it certainly isn’t for a bottling plant. Why would we vote for that?? You know us – we are your neighbors and friends, the coach at Soccer, the chair for ArtSmart, the cyclist you ride with, the guy you golf with… we are residents and taxpayers and during the construction period I’ll personally have kids at Bedford and Staples. I asked if the tanks could be smaller and I worked as hard as possible to get Aquarion to change the entire design (see my letter posted below) but in the end the facts are clear:

    The difficult truth is that (i) our Fire professionals provided expert testimony in FULL SUPPORT of the volume and size of this replacement of the existing tower and (ii) state law gives P&Z very little discretion with regard to public utilities.

    Links to P&Z Hearings & Testimony
    July 20th Meeting. Fire Chief Testimony @ 2:22
    September 7th Meeting. Fire Marshal Testimony @ 52

  2. Danielle Dobin

    Don’t rely on blogs or petitions for facts – Take the time to watch the hearings:
    Links to P&Z Hearings & Testimony

    July 20th Meeting. Fire Chief Testimony @ 2:22
    September 7th Meeting. Fire Marshal Testimony @ 52
    September 14th.

    • Robert Harrington

      Don’t respond on blogs or petitions ? Is that the advice for voters? Danielle and Chip – just because you sit on an elected board or commission – you are not the ones who get to tell the public how they can respond or what is and what isn’t an election issue. The residents decide. The studetns decide. The parents decide. The voters decide.

      The “public” debate was a farce. At a meeting of Aquarion in June the neighbors were given 2 days notice of a meeting with Aquarion. The P&Z officials and the town had been discussing this for over a year. No one told us or the residents. Half the neighbors that should have been invited were not. Apparently the public utility didn’t have the addresses of their customers or they got “lost”. Then the Commission that both you serve on posted the only notice for the main P&Z “public” meeting in July (the main public discussion) in the NORWALK HOUR newspaper. Nothing on Westport press. Why?

      The public debate never truly happened at the time. I am glad it is now. Almost 700 people have signed the petition in the last few days! You are accountable for your record and your votes.

      • Robert threatening a P&Z member as you just did does nothing to help your cause. It is a constant tactic you use and also post over and over and over again.

        The town needs more water. Hopefully those 700 people learn more about the issue and instead of reading your most bullying post, they attend meetings to learn.

        As more and more 8-30g housing gets built and larger and larger homes, Westport needs more water. And the use of gravity is crucial to getting water to places like Saugatuck.

        I have personally met you and know that you can eventually listen.

        • Robert Harrington

          Bart – No one was threatened. And now you accuse me of bullying ? How did I threaten someobody ?

  3. Danielle Dobin

    The P&Z DID advocate for the neighbors. My letter to Aquarion on July 25th advocating for a different design and the CEO did get involved after I wrote him. Note this was before Westport’s Fire Marshall testified on Sept. 7th that the FLOW of water from tall tanks was as important as the volume especially for putting out large fires and adequately protecting Saugautck Shores.

    July 25, 2017

    Aquarion Water Company of Connecticut
    200 Monroe Turnpike
    Monroe, CT 06468
    Attn: Mr. Charles V. Firlotte, CEO

    RE: 63 – 67 North Avenue, Westport Special Site Plan/Permit

    Dear Mr. Firlotte:

    I serve as one of Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commissioners. We recently heard an application from Aquarion regarding the rebuilding and upgrading of the water storage tanks located at 63-67 North Avenue in Westport.

    The presentation was informative and Messrs. Olson, Foie and Simard did an excellent job detailing the justification for a new, updated storage system for water in Westport. They were respectful in their presentation, despite many questions from the Commission, and I recognize that they worked with our staff to reduce the initial size of the proposed project.

    However, I would ask you – in my role as Commissioner and also as a deeply concerned resident – to have your team revise their design for the size and scale of the new tanks given their location in a truly beautiful and bucolic residential neighborhood. Naturally, the priority of your engineers was creating an efficient, upgraded storage area for exponentially more water and though a talented landscape architect – Kate Throckmorton – was involved in designing some screening for the tanks, their appearance and scale wasn’t a major priority in considering the redesign of this site. I am taking this opportunity to respectfully ask you to reconsider this and to prioritize the design in terms of aesthetics in the same way you have prioritized efficiency.

    North Avenue is a beautiful, tree lined residential street with entrances to Staples High School and Bedford Middle School from long, winding and sweeping driveways. The schools are set back from the street so much that a pedestrian would truly never even know they were there. North Avenue is lined with beautiful homes – some gorgeously preserved antique homes and some new – all with carefully tended landscaping. Driving or biking or walking down North Avenue is a delightful reminder of why people move to a town like Westport – there are beautiful homes, mature trees, blooming flowers and children and adults alike walking to school, cycling , walking their dogs or simply walking to the many nearby playing fields and parks. In Summer, you will see a profusion of hydrangeas, in the Fall, North Avenue’s trees are the equal of any in Vermont, in Winter there are holiday lights galore and in Spring there are flowering shrubs, tulips and daffodils. It is simply wrong install two gigantic 39+ foot water tanks along this street. My guess is that whomever designed the new tanks didn’t spend a lot of time on the actual site and didn’t really think about the context of where the tanks would be located. The tanks will be visible from all directions. Neighbors near and far will see them soaring high above the tree line, pedestrians will be bowled over by the sheer size of them and drivers won’t fail to miss them. They will change the entire feel and streetscape of an entire neighborhood. The good news, is that there is still time for you to take a different approach.

    I believe your team can do better. I believe that Aquarion’s goal isn’t to install tanks that are appropriate for an industrial zone in a bucolic, suburban setting full of families. I respectfully ask that your engineers revise the design to reflect the location in which the tanks will be located. Your representatives at our hearing stated multiple times that Aquarion wishes to be “a good neighbor” – here is your chance.

    I would welcome the opportunity to take you – and any members of your team – for a tour of the area so that you can see and understand for yourself why two 39+ foot tanks are incompatible for this neighborhood. I think you would immediately see our point. This is a sweet, lovely neighborhood and the proposed tanks would be monstrously out of place there.

    I firmly believe Aquarion is capable of a better design that meets the water storage of the town while creating a design that compatible with a residential neighborhood. I would welcome discussing this further with you or your team.

    Yours truly,

    Danielle Dobin
    Planning & Zoning Commissioner, Westport

    cc Mary Young, Director, Westport P&Z (via email)
    Peter Olson, Land Use & Conservation Counsel

  4. Danielle Dobin

    Mike he responded and got involved (the letter is in the public file at town hall if you want to see it) and agreed to change the shape and size (minimally in my opinion) but promised to install landscaping that would grow to shield the tanks entirely from public view within a few short years. We were able to include this exact language from his letter as a condition for approval securing for the neighbors and town evergreen landscaping to hide the tanks. The photo being circulated of a large black tank with no landscaping is completely inaccurate and being used I assume for shock value.

  5. So the water comes from Fairfield, is stored in the tank, and all the water mains feed from it. That is helpful information. Seems then this is already treated water that is actively used (so its not sitting stagnant) but do the tanks ever need to be cleaned? Is there a reason there even needs to be a tank versus water flowing directly from Fairfield for normal use and then perhaps the tanks are just used for emergency/backup water supply? If flow is a concern, can the heights be lowered and pumps used to increase flow?

    • Danielle Dobin

      Joshua please watch the extensive testimony online (see my links above) from our town fire professionals and from the Aquarion team. We asked a lot of questions and their are hours of answers. There is also a complete file at town hall that you can review.

  6. Michael Cammeyer

    The links Danielle posted are important for everyone to see. What struck home was the testimony by Fire Marshall Gibbons and Fire Chief Yost. On September 7th at 57:15 (on the video) Gibbons asked the P&Z Commissioners “are you prepared to write off saving property?” he continued on to speak and then said “my job isn’t to take that risk YOUR JOB is to take that risk”. I would not write off saving your home, our schools, or our children from a fire. I voted not to take that risk and to protect everything that matters. My guess is that anyone reading this would have voted the same way. Do not get your information from a petition watch the hearings yourself.
    Thank you Chip for your open comment about this life safety issue.

    July 20th Meeting. Fire Chief Testimony @ 2:22
    September 7th Meeting. Fire Marshal Testimony @ 57:15

  7. How come no one here from the P&Z states any facts, like “the current capacity and flow is X” and the projected capacity and flow is Y”? It’s very simple to start with facts instead of vague stories of “bigger house” and Nike missile sites. If the numbers were so scrutinized, why not just publish them? – Chris Woods

    • The facts are at Town Hall in the file. Makes for an interesting day long activity. Make sure you bring enough popcorn for the P&Z staff to enjoy also.

    • Michelle Mechanic

      Please read my comment below.

    • The job of P&Z is to determine whether the property is zoned for the project. It is not a broadly discretionary appointment. The Fire Chief, Aquarion are for to answer those questions.

      • But Michelle, the P&Z has to determine, if the size of the project is necessary to require such an expansion. So it must have some simple numbers to base their decision on:

        Forecast Capacity and Use / Current Capacity and Use

        So far, it’s all narrative about safety and bigger houses, but no numbers, which is suspicious. Data should be the bedrock of the P&Z decision reasoning, but instead, no one can say anything but “go dig it up yourself”.

        Now it seems undisputed that the company did not follow the procedures that are designed to make sure we have a fair hearing, which also should be at the top of the P&Z list of decision criteria.

        From causal reading here the red flags are:

        = Improper procedure (from a company that is being investigated for scamming their customers by $3.6 BILLION dollars)
        = Unknown requirements (population stable + bigger houses + greater water conservation = ? need)
        = Non-local use of the system

        Clearly, some one is hiding something. Otherwise they would lead with the data and be forthright in the process, and the decision would be easy to understand. – Chris Woods

  8. Lauren MacNeill

    Danielle and other P&Z members, thank you so much for all of the work that you do on behalf of your neighbors. I find it frustrating to read this and see that people continue to complain (?), criticize and question but don’t take the time to go to the meetings or watch the videos.

  9. Excellent response, Chip.

  10. Sharon Miller

    Thank you Chip Stephens for your excellent information. Danielle thank you for your input and giving the links so that folks can get their questions answered. It is important to understand that sometimes things have to be done for the greater good. Grateful for all that work so hard on behalf of our wonderful town.

  11. Well written and spot on.

  12. Michael Calise

    Thanks Chip for being the tireless watchdog you are.
    Few realize the work and dedication required of our P & Z commissioners and staff. When the only complaint the detractors have is comments on decorum you know the system is working at its highest level

  13. Chip – Thank you for your well written summary of the issue. I would also like to acknowledge the testimony of Fire Marshall Gibbons (which you can see online) to explain the dire situation that we are in today.

    At its core, this is an issue of public safety and the fact that we didn’t have any other reasonable alternatives. I strongly encourage everyone to watch the testimony and really listen to the information presented by all sides. Look at how Aquarion’s plans evolved over time in response to feedback from the P&Z and local residents.For example, tank heights were lowered, additional trees and vegetation will be planted, flatter roof design and darker color paint. Despite our different backgrounds, approaches and political leanings, the Commissioners voted unanimously in favor of this project because we listened to the testimony and felt that this was the only reasonable path forward.

    With respect to the traffic and safety issues, the Westport Police and the traffic authority will determine the project working hours and everything else related to safety. Before any major project can begin an extensive traffic plan is established by all parties and monitors are regularly on duty.

    I have three young daughters that will be in Bedford and Staples over the course of this construction. While my family will be affected by construction on North Avenue, that’s a small price to pay compared to the tragedies that could occur if we don’t have enough water volume or flow to put out a fire. I am not willing to subject my children or yours’ to such an unthinkable risk.

  14. Bart Shuldman

    Thanks Chip! The facts always help to end the lies and the constant politicizing by one candidate in Westport regarding this very important issues. Excellent post without the drama the noise.

    Chip thank you. Just manybe this will help all Westporters to understand the water tower issue better.

    • Dick Lowenstein

      Can’t you be little less intolerant in your comments? But then again, a Republican’t. 🙂

      • Dick-huh?? Need to comment don’t you? Did you add anything to the conversation or just want to throw party politics in just for the sake of doing it.

      • Ellen Lautenberg

        That comment is totally disgusting. Something a 5 year old would say and completely uncalled for. 06880 is supposed to allow for civil political discourse, not that. Dan???

        • Robert Harrington

          I 100% agree Ellen. He should withdraw the comment. The debate for and against the Water Towers on this post has been largely civilized and factual. Its fine to disagree. It’s also right to focus on the processes the town follows. There are strong opinions on both sides which is great. There aren’t even really both sides – I’m sure was can all largely agree this is about working together to get a better deal for all of Westport when sitting opposite Aquarion and discussing this: getting the infrastructure and water that we all agree we need – balanced against ensuring an appropriate scale of an industrial project in a resident & school neighborhood , using water more carefully and ensuring North Avenue isn’t Gridlocked over the next 5 years.

          However the comment that Ellen referred to is wrong and I’m sure we can all agree on that.

        • Ellen, when did political civil discourse enter your candidates campaign? Is it when younissues
          Emails to only certain residents in town that could only be determined “ugly”. Was it the last video that out right lied about Jim Marpe and you eventually had to retract? Is it in some of you statements about Jim that either bend the truth so far the story is not the same or an outright lie. It is the platitudes the campaign uses that includes attacked inn jim’s character that are nothing but wrong. Is it the use of Code Blue that begins the ‘civil-civil war’?

          Civil political campaigns are easily to see. Yours is on the exact opposite. The negative and ugly side. And you seem to pride yourselves on the use based on an email we know and read that someone received just yesterday.

          Too bad. Civility in this election is far gone. Have fun bringing Washington to Westport. You already brought Hartford and NYC.

  15. Michelle Mechanic

    I live just a few blocks from the Aquarion tanks and I support this project. I support P&Z’s vote. Here’s why:
    I read through the record. This was a unanimous vote during an election cycle. They could have hid behind partisanship. They didn’t because based on what I read, and based this statement, approval with their limited discretion was the right decision for our town’s safety, and the best way to preseserve our taxpayer money.
    Our fire chief, who has nothing to gain and everything to lose, testified we are in danger of an imminent water shortage, and lack the water to save one house in three should there be a large fire. That fire could occur IN Staples high, with our children inside. If we are concerned citizens, we should be concerned about our neighbors’ lives; not aesthetics and inconvenience. A P&Z member acting as a concerned resident, (Daniel Dobin) wrote a compelling letter to mitigate the poor aesthetics and inconvenience
    as a result of this project. Now we have very expensive tree coverage going up!

    Aquarion has broad rights in this parcel. They do not need to accommodate our requests. Aquarion would win before an administrative forum and a court, and our tax money will fund that almost certain loss.
    I appreciate my neighbors’ collective passion. Some of them are my closest friends. That said, P&Z and town leadership bit a bipartisan bullet at a time it could affect their re-election campaigns bc it was the responsible decision. They represented our needs and safety to their potential collective detriment. I commend and thank them for making a tough choice to protect my family’s safety. Your family’s safety. A reduction in tank size compromises lives.
    Water towers are an eye sore in any of Westport’s beautiful neighborhoods. Aquarion’s easement/land rights are in my neighborhood. I accept that because benefitboutweighs the cost. Out residents deserve life above all else. I do not want our tax revenue squandered for a losing battle. These concerns transcend partisanship. It’s about safety and law – and these P&Z Reps know this. They’re volunteers tasked with making these tough calls because they understand how to balance our town’s zoning needs. They acted accordingly. For those who have not done so, please review the record. They’re public. P&Z are unpaid civic servants. Nothing has been buried or concealed. I commend them, and I’ll begrudgingly sit in the development traffic because that construction protects my family and friends. It was the right call, however unsavory. Finally, I urge ALL our candidates to reflect on this bipartisan decision as one of many tough calls THEY will inevitably confront if elected.
    Sincerely- Michelle Mechanic

  16. As many of you know, I have not always agreed with P&Z decisions. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the commission members for their passion, convictions, and countless volunteer hours they spend on behalf of the town they all love. Just like there’s no republican or democrat way to fix a pothole, there is absolutely zero partisanship when it comes to public safety and our local neighborhoods.

  17. I’m not well versed on this issue, but it looks like many intelligent people who have been involved in this have come to a working solution.

    What I do know is when I was chairman of the Library Float Commettee a few years ago — and admittedly a loust delegater — committee member Melissa Kane came to a meeting at my house and spent 30 minutes telling me how she was too busy to stay for the meeting, giving me excrusiating details of her many committments, and then left.

    Catty? Maybe, but I’m scared.

    Yesterday someone from the Democratic Party called me to tell me to vote THE PARTY. I told her I was not enamored by the candidate, and did she know what issues faced Westport voters? No, gee, she was from upstate and was spending her time telling voters to vote the party line.

    With a $200,000,000+ budget, many needs, many regulations, many opinions, many factions, I’m voting for people with smarts, experience and a breath of knowledge who are not — as my father used to say — KNOCKERS who stir the pot without full knowledge of WTF was really going on. (That last part was me.)

    • I agree with you on the towers.
      Regarding Melissa: With respect, the towers are not a partisan issue. Melissa/Rob and Jim/Jen are both strong candidates. In my experience Melissa has had made ample time to address public concerns long before she decided to run. Likewise, Jim has done wonderful work with my local organizations. I’m devastated our election has become so contentious. The online mud slinging is a terrible example for our town and our children. To see discourse devolve like it has over the past few months, and bleed into bipartisan community issues is truly distressing. This is about water towers; Not our local election.

      • Michelle. Have you seen the lies posted and distributed by the Melissa and Rob campaign? It is extremely disappointing and has brought out frustration and some anger to fight back. I have lived in Westport for over 2 decades and never saw this time of campaigning.

        But if you go back and remember that Melissa accepted the help of Code Blue and read about their motives and tactics, I am now not surprised by the discourse. Melissa decided not to run on her policies but to use mistruths and lies to attack a very nice guy who worked for us all-Jim Marpe. If you know him, this would never be his style.

        But a decision was made by a campaign. Now we have to deal with the results.

  18. This issue seems to me to be a no-brainer. Chip and Danielle have done a good job in explaining the situation. I thank them for their VOLUNTARY Service. The facts are available if you a really interested in the facts. But then this is Westport and one of the great things about Westport is that some folks like to complain and make noise. I guess that’s what blogs like this are for.

  19. I do not want this thread to get out of hand. Please — if you have already posted 3 times, refrain from posting anymore. Please keep comments germane to the water tower issue. If not, I’ll close this thread. Thank you.

  20. The issue of needing new water tanks or reserves is not being questioned by anyone. However, there are questions that should respectfully be answered for the benefit of the overall community. I hope that we can all agree that there are a tremendous amount of facts that surround this project.

    I live within a short distance of the proposed tanks and just recently watched what was supposed to be a short term project take 26 months, so forgive me if I am a bit hesitant in taking the words of Aquarion at face value. I do want to go on the record and state that I was never notified of the pending public hearings while some of my neighbors were, so the overall process is flawed.

    A few questions for consideration:

    If the overall population of Westport has remained a constant, averaging 25,000 – 28,000 since the last tank was built, why is there a need to replace 1 tank with a storage capacity of 1.5 million with two tanks of 2.125 million? I agree that water consumption has increased because people water their lawns, but if we are at a dangerous level now, then why have we not had water restrictions in place? When the initial tanks were constructed some 50 plus years ago, toilets used 5 gallons per flush, today that number is closer to 1 gallon, the same is said for showers, bath tubs, and so forth.

    If the current tank is partially constructed underground, can the same be done with these proposed tanks? What is the cost difference and what would be the cost to the consumer? Were alternative considered for the tanks and if so, what would have been the additional cost, if any, to place new tanks at an alternative location rather than at the proposed site? It is my understanding that these questions were asked but responses have not been given to date.

    New technology – I understand that other locales have been able to alleviate there water problem by working with the local utility company to devise alternative solutions. Was this considered? I believe this was just done in New Canaan.

    In terms of safety and the impact on the community, North Avenue and its cross streets are highly traveled roads, to a point where people are constantly speeding on North Avenue to dangerous levels. If a construction site is going to be located on North Avenue, whereas there is a daily traffic jam pulling into Staples, what will the impact be when construction starts at the desired 7am time? Just because someone owns property, it does not imply the right that they can build what they want.

    I can go on about this matter but I personally am not looking for an argument – I am looking towards working as a unified group towards an amicable solution. We will all benefit from having improved infer-structure, but I hope that the questions that have been asked can be answered so that we can all make informed decisions on a going forward basis. If this is the best place for the tanks, so be it, but there are too many unknowns in my mind that still exist on this matter.

  21. Dan has asked us to post only comments about the water tower issue. No response will come and I will continue to read posts from those in the know about the towers and those that raise legitimate questions.

    Dan-good job getting it back.

  22. Seth Braunstein

    Well said Chip. This is a needed project, perhaps even required from a public safety perspective and in terms of ensuring that residents have access to water. The utility’s ability to meet peak demand is already strained by limited storage capacity and it is only going to worsen.

  23. Wendy Batteau

    Thanks Chip. Thanks Danielle. Thanks Cathy. Thanks P&Z: I know you do not not make decisions lightly and I appreciate your work and the ideals behind it. I watched most if not all of the discussions about the towers, but now I am wondering if any soil analysis was done to ensure that no contaminants from the Nike site leached into soil and might be stirred up into the air with the new work.

  24. Larry weisman

    Reading the spirited defenses of their approval of the water towers on North Avenue, which has caused so much consternation on the part of so many, I was struck by what seems to me to be a failure to recognize the real issue.
    I have no opinion as to the propriety or wisdom of the decision, but I do have sympathy for the neighbors whom, it would appear, were largely excluded from the deliberations.

    The objectors complain that the public hearing was held during the summer when many are out of town, with less than adequate notice and in an atmosphere rife with predetermination. They also say that they encountered difficulty if not resistance, when they sought to review the file.

    Sad to say, I find their complaints to be credible and completely consistent with the lack of transparency and lack of interest in public participation which has come to characterize the land use process in Westport.

    The Commission – including the two incumbents seeking re-election – seem not to understand that it is difficult for citizens to accept an outcome when they have not been included in the process, no matter how well considered and correctly decided.

    One has only to consider the woefully inadequate, POCD and the back room process by which it came to be to understand that this is business as usual and that this Commission likes to act without the bother of taking the public seriously.

    The Coalition for Westport views this as a threat to democracy at the local level, just as it is at the national level, and it has got to change. We need commissioners with a new perspective, who have respect for the public and who understand the need for a broader range of opinion than they can get from talking to one another.

  25. Stefanie Lemcke

    Larry: Thanks for summarizing the concerns of 700+ Westport residents. It is about the HOW this was done, it’s not about IF Westport needs a better water solution. As an immediate neighbor, the public might be interested in all the things that went completely WRONG in the process (and most of these wrongs were by Aquarion, not the town:)

    -Neighbors were not invited to the hearings as required, even Aquarion confirmed this

    – Westport residents were informed about the hearing in Norwalk’s The Hour, who reads that in Westport ??

    – The towers will triple in height: from 12ft to 37ft; has gravity changed in the last years? If fire protection is a reason for it, a second location can be considered (but wasn’t)

    – Aquarion will sell this water in the region; the P+Z took out a requirement that would have stop this without an explanation (please read full letter of Cathy Walsh)

    – The P+Z raised all the right questions internally (“monstrosity”, “selling to bottlers”, “no doubt this will impact property values” all quoting P + Z’s own Cathy Walsh!! ) and yet did not ring the alarm when Aquarion didn’t answer any questions

    – Population and water consumption is going down in Westport, the water company doesn’t dispute this but is yet planning a massive increase in capacity – “for unwanted growth in Westport” (P+Z)

    – A new tank costs $1.2mio, upgrading the old $1mio according to the water company. Yet, it is $8mio project. Why? If you are concerned with the Westport water bills, why hasn’t the P + Z checked and verified their numbers?

    – Greenwich and Darien elected officials stood up for their residents – the Westport P+Z did not – we were scolded for hiring an attorney (yes please DO watch the video, thanks Danielle for pointing it out!)

    – Numbers were wrong and not verified, due process was not followed

    – never at one point was the location and the HUGE construction considered – across the street from where thousands of kids and their parents travel to DAILY – 5 years of traffic HELL!!

    – Aquarion was just bought by Eversource because of their strong growth rate. “They are setting themselves up for growth on our dim.” (P+Z’s own words)

    Why are neighbors so upset? When the P+Z (yes, Chip!) lectures neighbors “the big utility will win anyway”, they are maybe right. BUT: We want a P+Z that fights with the residents and stands up for Westport.

    Allow me a personal remark: Mr. Marpe and Ms. Kane have supported the neighbors by showing up at our homes to discuss our concerns in a civilized way; Jennifer Johnson, P + Z candidate has worked tirelessly with the neighbors to inform us on difficult to understand requirements.

    Chip: You might be doing your P+Z job for too long and have seen it all. Step down if you are too tired to fight for Westport. You might be seeing red, we see lots and lots of WRONGS.

    WE ARE NOT AGAINST A BETTER WATER STORAGE. but we are for a fair and balanced review of the water need of OUR TOWN and we are for RESPECTING THE ZONING LAWS. As a quick reminder: Water towers in a AA residential zone are only permitted if it serves the “Immediate neighborhood” . We have heard from Aquarion that “they could not stop the water to flow into other towns”

    For anyone interested in the full petition that 200 + residents singed and over 600 Westport residents are now supporting please email me:

    Thank you Dan Woog for supporting this dialogue.

  26. On Monday night we hosted three of the first Selectman candidates at our neighbors house (66 North Avenue) to meet with many concerned Westporters. Currently there are approaching 700 residents that have signed an online petition.

    We would like to share a letter from Melissa Kane clearly supporting our situation and showing her willingness to fight this situation on our behalf – we welcome all the support from our elected representatives. We appreciate Mr Marpe agreeing to meet us. We hope all relevant elected officials will sit alongside us in a meeting with Aquarion and represent the residents of Westport against this public utility.

    Jennifer Johnson has also been outstanding in her support on this matter.

    Please read the letter from Melissa Kane:


    October 30, 2017

    Dear Westporters,

    I wanted to reach out to discuss and let you know my thoughts about the approved Aquarion water towers construction project opposite Staples High School and the impact it will have on home values, our community, our traffic and quality of life.

    If this proceeds in its current form, any car/bus journey to and from school will be longer. The safety of our children on North Avenue – home to two flagship Westport schools – will be less secure. This is not for only a few months, but up to five years.

    I know this plan has been discussed for over a year with Aquarion, but you and the community have been shut out of some of the conversations on the process and plans. When questions are asked about the process on the Marpe/Tooker Facebook page, they are deleted and those who post are often banned from posting questions about the towers.

    A proposal of this magnitude should be transparent and conversations with the community open and frequent, no matter the forum.

    This is not right. When contacted about this issue, which I had not been previously aware of, I immediately reached out to the concerned neighbors and residents. When we met, I connected them with State Representative Jonathan Steinberg and asked him to set up a meeting between Aquarion and the community. And the meeting is now being scheduled for mid-November.

    Westport deserves public discourse and transparency. The Fire Department has made it clear that we need more water for fire safety, which I of course support. What I do not approve of is the flawed, opaque process that shut out residents. If elected, I will fight alongside and on behalf of the many concerned residents for the best deal for Westport .

    I will work to try to make this project work for all of us. I won’t do it in secret, and your input will be welcome.

    Thank you,
    Melissa Kane

    • What is Melissa’s plan other than to post negative comments about people who donate their time to be on the P&Z? Let’s hear Melissa’s plan. Details would be appropriate.

  27. Lazy

  28. The P&Z spent hundreds of hours researching and meeting publically before they voted unanimously 7-0, across party lines (Republican, Democrat, Save Westport Now) to approve the critical water upgrade, that has also been urged for by our Fire Department. We do however feel strongly that the neighbors’ questions and concerns must be heard and addressed wherever possible.

    Here are answers to the key questions regarding our water supply:


    According to Aquarion, the water supply level in the current tank built over 50 years ago in 1956 frequently drops to near empty, particularly in the nighttime when many Westporters have their sprinkler systems operating. It is essential that we do not run out of water for the community’s basic use, but also for public safety reasons. The fire department requires water from hydrants supplied by the tank to put out fires. In fact, according to the fire department, for the dozens of fires they responded to last year, hydrant water was used in every case. It is critical that the fire department as well as our citizens have the water they need. Additionally, larger residential construction requires greater water capacity than that envisioned decades ago.


    Because the water supply serving the community is contained in only one tank currently, it is almost impossible to make repairs to the tank, as it would require taking the Town’s water supply off-line. Two tanks allow for necessary maintenance without shutting off the Town’s water.


    The current North Avenue position of the tank is optimal for several reasons: 1) Aquarion does not own other parcels of land in which to relocate the tanks; 2) moving the water tanks would result in the tremendous expense of laying new pipes, create a huge construction project far exceeding what is planned for by adding the second tank to the current location; and 3) the North Avenue location is among the highest points in town, and as such, allows the water to be distributed throughout the community. Indeed, according to a study, no other location in Westport would allow the distribution of water to Saugatuck Shores. However, we are mindful that this construction project faces a major Town thoroughfare near Staples High School, and all available measures will be taken to minimize the impact to the area.


    Currently the water tank is barely visible as it is obscured by plantings – in fact, many people do not even know it is there. The new tanks will take up a larger space and will be more visible because of their increased height. At the behest of First Selectman Jim Marpe, Aquarion met with the neighbors on three occasions to find workable solutions. Following those meetings, the proposed height of the water tanks was reduced and additional taller, more mature landscaping was agreed to. The Traffic Authority (Board of Selectmen) will work to mitigate construction noise issues by restricting hours that they can work to reduce traffic during peak hours and to mitigate disturbance to the neighborhood.

    • Robert Harrington

      So what with Mr Marpe so from here. Will he sit in the meeting with senior management from Aquarion and host it as his meeting ?

  29. This thread is closed to comments.