[OPINION] Westport Deserves Better From Aquarion

The battle between Aquarion and North Avenue residents — over the proposed construction of 2 large water tanks — drags quietly on.

“06880” Robert Harrington provides this view of the ongoing battle:

Behind the scenes, things has been busy. Since December, we have been trying to gain a better understanding of the reasons for the increase in water capacity and work with Aquarion on a compromise for the proposed water tanks on North Avenue.

To date, we have not reached agreement. Aquarion has rejected our compromise plan, committing only to extra landscaping.

After a months-long campaign, North Avenue residents have removed road signs opposing the water tanks. They hope to foster a better relationship between Aquarion and the community.

Our plan proposed removing the 9-foot dome roof, and a modest 5-foot reduction to the planned 31-foot side walls. (The current tank side wall is 11 feet).

Piping upgrades alongside this project would deliver the fire department more fire flow and pressure than the current plan.

It is nearly impossible to shield 2 40-foot giant tanks. Last August, Aquarion’s CEO promised Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission that the tanks would be “fully shielded within a few short years.”  This will not be the case. Under our plan, two 25-foot tanks would be much easier to screen. Nowhere in Connecticut has anyone successfully screened 40-foot tanks.

Twin tanks in Trumbull are unscreened.

The 3-acre North Avenue site is very different from other Aquarion properties. They are typically located on 20 to 30-acre lots, surrounded by thick woodland.

The Westport project is currently on hold, pending an appeal at the state’s Public Utility Regulatory Authority. Yet neighbors may be denied an opportunity to present their arguments.

Limited talks with Aquarion are ongoing. However, Aquarion’s legal stance is to stop the neighbors by filing motions to block them.

The neighbors’ action group has an important message. 1,200 residents signed a petition requesting an independent water study, and lower tanks.

We support a major water infrastructure upgrade, but the new tanks need to fit better within the residential environment.

An aerial view shows the North Avenue Aquarion tank site, opposite Staples High School.

The problems are not just related to how they look.

During low usage periods, (i.e., during the fall/winter months), water will have to be drained off to prevent water quality issues. The tanks are too large.

More worrisome, 73% of Westport’s key fire hydrants will still have “deficient” fire flow and pressure.

11 of 15 test hydrants will not be compliant with Insurance Service Office standard. As the P&Z is sworn to uphold public interest and welfare in town, we have formally asked them to investigate this.

A peer review, paid for by Aquarion, cited both issues.

What the study did not highlight is the biggest single opportunity to increase our ISO rating: annual inspections of fire hydrants. Aquarion won’t commit to annual inspections. They should.

Bigger tanks alone cannot fix the problem. Piping upgrades are needed too. This is critical to properly protect Westport.  Aquarion’s own data shows this clearly.

Residents can get lower tanks. Fire Department can get significantly better fire flow. This costs money — although both tank and piping upgrades could be paid for over the life of this 50+ year project.

This appeal matters. Our voices should be heard. Aquarion is trying to ensure that doesn’t happen. Elected officials have our backs.

First Selectman Jim Marpe has written to PURA requesting our appeal be heard,

State elected officials have followed his lead. Senators Toni Boucher and Tony Hwang, and State Representatives Jonathan Steinberg and Gail Lavielle have written to PURA Secretary Katie Dykes that they support the rejection of Aquarion’s motion to dismiss.

Save Westport Now and the Coalition for Westport have shown strong support too.

Water quality issues, deficient hydrant data and a proper look at alternatives were not fully discussed at the P&Z.

Eversource/Aquarion, the state’s largest electric/water utility, need to rethink. Our plan would protect Westport and avoid going to PURA altogether — if agreement can be reached beforehand.

Westport deserves better.

40 responses to “[OPINION] Westport Deserves Better From Aquarion

  1. Jan Carpenter

    So, this may or may not be related. I read recently that there is a mandatory water conservation plan being put in place by Aquarion. It’s for Westport and a few other neighboring communities, but NOT Fairfield. Two questions for the group: (1) really? do we really have drought conditions that warrant this; and (2) if Westport, why not Fairfield. The restrictions seem pretty severe and I’m surprised more people aren’t talking about this.

    • I posted this in December, about the restrictions: https://06880danwoog.com/2017/12/12/aquarion-douses-daily-watering/

      There were 14 comments.

    • David J. Loffredo

      Westport water comes from Fairfield. Be nice or we’ll shut it off.

    • Robert Harrington

      Thanks Jan. I actually think we should be supportive of the changes on irrigation. I agree that I am surprised not more people are talking about it. A modest change in usage can have a dramatic impact on water usage and pressure in our pipes.

      There are lots of things we should be pushing Aquarion on. That said, I think supporting them on these usage changes and conservation measures are a good thing. No one is saying you can’t water your lawns….85: just a question is scheduling different groups on different days. Having seen the usage data it has a meaningful impact on usage trends in the summer. It’s pretty easy to make the changes to irrigation systems etc.

      • Jan Carpenter

        I agree that water is an increasingly scarce resource and we need to find a way to conserve. But to be clear, I’m actually wondering why I am NOT being included as I DO live in Fairfield (I wasn’t complaining about why I was being targeted, I was wondering why I was NOT included in the effort). The whole thing just seems arbitrary and odd given that we are not in the midst of some sort of severe water shortage and there hasn’t been a more organized, thoughtful communication about a different way of proceeding for us all. Especially given Westport’s current argument over the water tanks, it seemed suspicious as well….

        • Robert Harrington

          Ok that make sense Jan thanks for the clarification. Not sure why Fairfield not being asked to step in yet I am sure they will be. I agree that the timing of the Westport announcement was very suspicious and I do think linked to the timing of the new tanks. That kind of action by Aquarion has not been helpful at all. There is definitely a trust issue between the community here in Westport and Aquarion and this is something I have been clear to Aquarion about during my many ongoing discussions with them.

  2. Why is anybody surprised that a garbage company like this is behaving this way? I cannot for the life of me understand how not one person I’ve spoken with in this town the past six months has any clue that Aquarion is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Eversoruce. How in hell did any politician permit two companies which have absolute monopolies on our power and water to become one entity? Every serving politician who permitted this should be tossed out of office onto the pavement immediately. Eversource is replete with liars and cheaters and thieves, and so long as they continue to go unchecked, nothing will change. I feel bad for those North Avenue residents dealing with this nonsense, but understand who, no, what it is you’re dealing with.

  3. David Abrams

    As Westporters ponder their relationship with Aquarion it may be a good time to look at water usage rates. Westport’s population has been pretty steady over the past 40 or so years so why the increased need for water? If Westport doesn’t want the new, larger water tanks, and if Aquarion is proving istelf to be a poor neighbor and partner, decrease your usage. Take shorter showers. Water your lawns less often. Use flood irrigation techniques in your gardens rather than sprinklers. This isn’t rocket surgery.

    • Hi David, did you know that the new water tanks would serve not only Westport but the entire southwestern region of the state (except Norwalk)? This revelation did not come out until December 13, 2017, when the neighbors met with state elected officials and Aquarion representatives. Nor was it presented to Westport P&Z in the summer of 2017. See full article here: https://www.westport-news.com/news/article/Neighbors-politicians-water-company-clash-at-12431311.php

      P&Z, what do you think about the timing of that revelation? You approved the construction of these water tanks not having been given the full picture. In all the P&Z hearings, Aquarion kept repeating how “Westport needed the new water tanks” and that the project would be great “for Westport”. No other towns were mentioned in those hearings. Westport is being asked to host these water tanks IN THE MIDDLE OF OUR TOWN to support the water needs of other towns.

      Why is Westport being asking to bear the brunt of this project?

      Is this something you are still willing to support?

      Or is it time to reconsider your decision?

  4. Tim Fielding

    Thank you Robert for your work and Dan for publicizing it. As a resident of North Ave, I have been to a number of meetings and observed how Aquarion has been responding to the residents’ concerns over the past year. I have seen very little evidence to inspire any trust in Aquarion, and believe that the public should be very concerned. This is our water supply and our environment at stake here – not just for the locals but for everyone who lives in the area. Aquarion won’t share information, they conducted few tests if any and were resistant to any proposals for innovative solutions or research into new technology or more ecologically-sound designs; they fobbed off the residents’ helpful attempts at finding a compromise with insulting offers to put up a few trees to mask their multi-million dollar construction job, and they communicate through an aggressive, heavy-handed lawyer who seems to think that the old lady who lives across the road from me and whose home is in jeopardy, is just some pesky nuisance. All in all, they confirm one’s worst fears that they only care about money and care nothing for the community that they have the privilege to serve through an effective monopoly. And all this, right in front of Staples High School, the future of our community! The Town and all our elected officials should be up in arms about this.

  5. Daryl Styner, D.D.S.

    Again, here is an issu which effects all Wesporters, not just this North Avenue neighborhood. We all must raise our voices to make sure we are all heard on this issue. Those who are at the forefront of these issues need to give us the oportunity to participate.

  6. These tanks will provide our water for (at least) the next two generations of Westporters. A smart & comprehensive solution should get us siginificantly better pressure at most if not all the hydrants in town. Not just a few. There is no redo option once the tanks are up. The time to get this right is now.

  7. Marc Lemcke

    Unfortunately, the issue is bigger than North Avenue or even Westport. A 1954 court ruling basically allows Aquarion to “do the f… whatever they want” to quote the P&Z Commission. It means that the biggest infrastructure project in town for the next “100 years” (Aquarion) can be done without a single independent review. Compare that to the recent Westport YMCA construction: Developers were asked for three independent studies. Residents – with the support of the town, Save Westport Now and the Coalition for Westport – say that this cannot be right and now have to deal with their lawyers claiming that no one has the right to demand any review – pointing to 1954. Now, Eversource wants to take over Connecticut Water: if successful, the “900 lb gorilla” (P&Z Commission) will get even bigger. Shareholders, regulators and lawmakers need to reject the attempt and ensure a minimum of independent expertise in the state to ultimately protect public safety – not just in our town.

    • Mike Alpert

      Very rarely does a local issue seem to have such a simple, common sensical solution that should be in the best interests of all parties. Do an independent study of all the water issues facing the town and let’s solve this like adults. We all know who will bear the cost—but let’s make sure we do the smart and logical thing. And if Aquarion will not agree to that, then we as concerned citizens have the right to stand up and demand action. No public company, monopoly or not, wants that.

      • Addison Armstrong

        Eversource, while a public company, is a regulated utility holding company. It’s only constituency is the state utilities commission. The company doesn’t give a fig about its customers because it doesn’t have to. Expecting Eversource to be responsive to its customers is like expecting a fox to behave itself in the hen house. This is a political matter and will require Westport’s political leadership to confront the state regulators with evidence of Eversource’s bad faith.

  8. i would hope that Aquarion will listen to our elected leaders and work together with the town to reach an equitable solution that meets everyone’s needs and especially protects the safety of our town.

  9. Why is this process taking so long? Neighbors have been talking since June 2017. I know the first meeting with Aquarion regarding the appeal didn’t happen until Dec 2017 but we are now 6 months on front that. How can we only have achieved a few more trees? Is Aquarion serious about working with the neighbors. It feels like they are just running the clocks. It takes too long to get any real numbers, costs or anything from them.

    Aquarion, you must do better!

  10. Nicholas Eisenberger

    I wholeheartedly agree that Westporters deserve to be heard better in this process. The decisions made will have an impact for decades. The tanks are both right next to one of Westport’s central arteries (North Avenue) and across the street from our town’s crown jewel, Staples High School, the institution and place that truly makes Westport special. If sound science and best water management practices say we need new tanks, fine, but there is no excuse for a monopoly institution, that operates in the public trust, to push this down the public’s throat without a genuinely deliberative, collaborative, and respectful dialogue with us.

  11. Rob Gutman

    I understand the cries for our voices to be heard. Sadly, however, said monopolistic company is not the slightest bit interested in listening. Even more egregiously, neither are the politicians complicit in permitting two utilities with absolute monopolies over a population to merge with each other.

  12. Jan Chunovic

    73% of fire hydrants still not complying with the ISO standard after all this construction is truly shocking. It’s actually outrageous. Did the P&Z know about this? Did the town know about this? They are happy to put up their posters at election time. But we are Westport residents! We are your electorate!

  13. Jennifer Kobetitsch

    When the Bridgeport Water Company built the original tank, was there a promise to keep a balance with both developed and open space? It seems that the current tank was built thoughtfully, purposely centered on the land as to have minimal impact to surrounding neighbors. It was then concealed in such a way that most residents don’t even know it is there. The proposed two new behemoth tanks will make the North Avenue neighborhood look like an industrial zone. The greatest generation built the original tank that blended into the landscape of the neighborhood. This generation is placing profit before aesthetic.

  14. Jan: I agree – It’s tough to conclude anything other than the fact that the P&Z were misled by Aquarion’s interactions with them. We just wish they would speak up and agree that after months of relentless work the residents are discovering more and more facts that the P+Z should acknowledge were never presented during the hearing. Robert, thanks so much for your relentless work in trying to solve this issue and Dan Woog for continuing to inform the residents on these important issues. We all deeply care about our community – that’s why we are demanding a better solution (and trust us, there are better ones than the one that has been approved!) . Mike Alpert – you are absolutely right: As adults we should be able to get the one thing done that would solve all of this: A truly independent water study.

  15. Andrew Blatt

    From the onset, this entire process has been flawed to the best of my understanding. There are so many reasons why we should all be against the the proposed monstrosity that Aquarion received approval to build, as a result of lies, deceit and even threats to our very own P&Z, it is evident that Aquarion knew they were pulling a quick one against the residents of Westport. The existing tank is 50 plus years old, yet they want to replace one smaller tank with TWO large, INDUSTRIAL style tanks right off of one of the golden gems of our town, Staples High School. If the town has been able to go so long with the existing tank, lets revisit the situation, address alternative solutions and collectively come up with a reasonable solution. I am not implying that nothing should be done, but we can all do better. The new water tanks should improve efficiency to all the fire hydrants not just a small amount. If the cost is a concern, the cost of this work is a long term improvement to our community including I assume the creation of some new jobs.

    The residents of Westport have received the support of our elected officials as it pertains to the pending PURA appeal including but not limited to First Selectman Jim Marpe, Senators Toni Boucher and Tony Hwang as well as State Representatives Jonathan Steinberg and Gail Lavielle. We must act now as a community and go back to the beginning as we have all been provided additional information, which was held back from the members of the P&Z last summer. Pushing this project back one year will not have any long term negative consequences on the community.

  16. Jennifer Johnson

    Thanks Dan for publishing this story and for helping to elevate the dialogue in Westport around this important topic. The fact is that Westport owes a huge debt of gratitude to the 1200 residents who signed the petition opposing the scale of this project at this site, and to residents of North Avenue who have shouldered the burden of uncovering the multitude of issues that are now coming to the surface. The simple fact is that these tanks are part of a water network that services multiple towns in our region. No one town should face greater water restrictions than another town, and no one residential neighborhood should take the full blow if there are workable alternatives. In fact, there are better alternatives that could lower the tanks, save a residential neighborhood and improve water flow and pressure, but Acquarion refuses to discuss anything other than their current plan. The neighbors should be given the opportunity to be heard by PURA. Acquarion is trying to stop them. Westport should support the neighbor’s PURA appeal and demand that Acquarion allow the appeal to move forward.

  17. Dorie Buchman

    Good for the North Ave. neighbors for digging deep for a better solution. If these big tanks won’t address the sub-par water pressure for those problem hydrants around town, find a better way. A pipe upgrade might be a good idea…

  18. Ana Carolina Bicalho

    3) Public trust in Aquarion is still a major issue. The problems around the pump station project were unacceptable. We, the neighbors, are still dealing with waking up in the middle of the night with the roaring noise from the generator, as it happened just a month ago. You would think that Aquarion would soundproof a generator this powerful when installing it in a residential neighborhood. Moreover, you would also think they would have done something to improve the situation by now as they have made multiple false promises to do so. So far there are no signs of any real change, they are seemingly unreliable and deceptive. As we know today a lot of facts were not presented at the P&Z hearing. The impact the construction of the two ginormous tanks could have on North Ave and the neighborhood is a big issue. Aquarion must do the right thing, work with the community, and not let money talk all the time.

  19. David Chaskin

    This has been a sorry story from start to finish. Neighbors were not properly informed. Notices were posted in the Norwalk Hour newspaper – not a Westport publication. People have been trying to bury this project and the neighbors have shone a bright spot light on this. There must be a better way to do these things.

  20. Lucy Fielding

    Thank you for bringing such a comprehensive and clear presentation of the facts forward on this incredibly important issue facing our collective community. We applaud your coverage and appreciate any opportunity for constructive dialogue with Aquarion. With increased awareness, let us hope they are willing to demonstrate the same levels of transparency, positive communication and partnership that the residents of Westport have shown to date. Compromise, consensus and common sense matters… esp when it comes to infrastructure projects which will impact our town to such a large degree.

  21. Jodi Hardin

    As a long time resident of Westport I expect to share in the responsibilities required to make the town run successfully and serve all its constituents. What I don’t expect or accept is being asked to be the single neighborhood in the community and the county to shoulder the responsibility of storing water for everybody regardless of the impact on our quality of life and our property values. Aquarion needs to step up and work with the neighbors to make this project as efficient and low impact as possible not just convenient and cost effective for them.

  22. George Harrington

    2 years construction opposite my high school and it still doesn’t fix the water pressure problem for our fire fighters. Who agreed to this and why? Time for the adults to sit down.

  23. It’s has become apparent that the P&Z were clearly misled by Aquarion.
    I hope P&Z is aware of Aquarion’s actions and will act accordingly
    Aquarion is giving us lip service by stating that they want to be good neighbors. They act in a very different manner.
    Aquaion has not properly notify immediate neighbors of their work.
    Aquarion has repeatedly provided misleading data.
    Aquarion refuses proposals that will address the concerns of the town and citizens.
    Hopefully the town will join our fight to force Aquarion to be more transparent.

  24. Daniel Katz

    Just wondering how much water could be saved if golf courses did not water at all or watered 90% less than they do…especially municipal golf courses in towns with restrictions….such “restrictions” are far less stringent for “municipal” facilities…..in addition, there are no real penalties for ignoring restrictions; just “warnings” for abuse of the necessary restrictions.

  25. Bradley Agar

    Accountability of Aquarion is why the town, politicians, and it’s citizens should care about Aquarion implementing their proposal.
    Aquarion has don minimal maintenance on the existing site over the past 60 years.
    Aquarion has said they want to reach a compromise but when presented with one they refuse to agree.
    Aquarion states they are not against the citizens having a hearing in front of Pura but they are taking steps to silence our voices.
    Clearly actions speak louder than words and why it is important for the town, politicians and it’s citizens to strongly oppose Aquarion’s proposal.

  26. Is there an oral argument on the motion to dismiss? If so, maybe the attorney could at least summarize much of the testimony that would be given if the appeal is allowed to proceed.

  27. Ian Warburg

    Thank you Dan Woog for shining a bright light on this important matter—and hearty praise to Robert Harrington, Stephanie and Marc Lemcke, and other North Ave. residents for leading the neighbors (and the more than 1,200 residents who have signed the petition) in the PURA appeal and demanding that Westport gets fair treatment.

    Save Westport Now is deeply troubled by the way the facts are now stacking up. We too have come to believe that Aquarion misled our P&Z Commissioners when it sought approval for the two new huge tanks (for more info, see our op-ed, “Aquarion’s Looming Tanks,” published in the Westport News last month).

    Westport does, indeed, deserve better and we hope that PURA recognize that.

    Ian E. Warburg
    Valerie Seiling Jacobs
    Co-Chairs, Save Westport Now

    https://www.westport-news.com/news/article/Letters-to-the-Editor-Aquarion-s-Looming-Tanks-12864466.php

    • Robert Harrington

      Ian and Valerie – thanks for your leadership at Save Westport Now.

      We take your conclusion very seriously. No one is more focused on planning matters. We don’t take your observation lightly when you write, “We too have come to believe that Aquarion misled our P&Z Commissioners when it sought approval for the two new huge tanks”.

      Our fight is not with them. They should speak out and state if they feel that too. Westport deserves to know.

  28. State Senator Toni Boucher

    Lily said it it so well. Thank you Lily!
    “I would hope that Aquarion will listen to our elected leaders and work together with the town to reach an equitable solution that meets everyone’s needs and especially protects the safety of our town.”

    • Robert Harrington

      Senator Boucher – thanks for your continued leadership and your common sense approach to this problem. Thanks for working with your state colleagues from both parties to get a winning result for Westport.

  29. Tom Chinovic

    The elected officials have come up with a plan. The neighbors have come up with a plan.  Aquarion is dragging their feet or just telling us it’s too expensive all the time.  This project will last for 50-70 years! Come on Aquarion it’s time to work with Westport.

  30. All of my life I have lived in homes in Westport, Weston, and Redding and all had in common: Well water. And it’s free!