[OPINION] Last Fall For North Avenue Trees?

Jennifer Johnson is a former member of Westport’s Parks & Recreation Commission, RTM representative and Westport Transit District director. As the mother of a Staples High School sophomore, she is very familiar with North Avenue. Jennifer writes:

This could be the last autumn for over 150 trees at the entrance to our flagship school, Staples High School.

That’s because Aquarion hopes to begin construction of 2 massive water towers on North Avenue this coming spring.

North Avenue trees near the entrance to Staples High School.

It would be the largest public works project in town history, likely to last several years. The constant flow of construction trucks will exacerbate already crippling traffic caused by the closure of Coleytown Middle School.

Does this site make sense for 2 towers? Why is the town continuing to make this a neighborhood issue rather than a community-wide issue? How will we survive years of construction ahead?

There are alternatives. They may cost more. But maybe the cost of moving forward at this site is too great to bear.

If the the RTM, and all of our leaders and town staff join in, hopefully we can find a solution before it’s too late.


13 responses to “[OPINION] Last Fall For North Avenue Trees?

  1. Jennifer, thanks so much for raising awareness to this issue. After an appeal to the planned construction, Smart Water Westport, a group initiated by neighbors and concerned community members has been engaging with Aquarion to find a compromise. We’ve been negotiating to lower the height of the tanks and to keep mature on this property, but because of the massive excavation for these tanks we’ve only recently learned that hardly any tree will be kept – over 55 are marked to be cut! After the closure of the Coleytown, traffic on North Avenue has increased, and adding a gigantic construction site will most likely lead to a nightmare scenario for the next couple of years for everyone in the town (planned construction time 2 years!). We applaud the efforts of including the wider Westport community in the school process. In our town, we need a wider involvement and information on maybe the most important issue: Water. We need new tanks, but the how and where is a topic the community needs to be part of.

  2. Rozanne Gates

    We have a First Selectman who smiles and shows up at parties. We need a First Selectman who will show leadership and guts in fighting this tragedy that is about to take place. We need everyone to consider better alternatives than the one Jennifer describes above.

  3. Ann Marie Flynn

    I do hope this message reaches all Westporters. We have read short articles of what is to be…but never the thought of Actual
    Destruction of what is to be was mentioned….plus it’s lasting affect.
    How can we exercise our legal rights to put a brake on all of this. Who is really protecting us for the number of years this operation will take….and the physical change to the town that will be lasting.There has to be a better way!
    Will some one please speak up and let us know what our recourses are..
    And mention the best paths of action to take.

  4. I recently became aware of the massive industrial works project being planned by Aquarion/Eversource on North Ave, with destruction of the environment, pollution and years of disruption to the local traffic. As a parent of 3 kids at BMS & SHS, I have to ask Why for heaven’s sake is the Town consenting to such a project in the middle of a residential area right opposite our school? As far as I am aware, Aquarion has not even provided a written Construction Plan yet. One would expect that at least from a local plumber. Our whole community should pull together to review this important project that is going to eat up several millions of our tax dollars. We will be living with the results for decades and so will our kids. We can do better!

  5. Arline Gertzoff

    How do we put the brakes on this insanity?

  6. Carmine Picarello

    What’s that old saying about the horse being already out of the barn? One hundred years ago our water company and local government had the foresight to predict a need for a system of reservoirs. Sadly, a bucolic farming community was lost in the process. When the water levels are low you can still see the foundations of buildings. But it was done for the greater good. Unlike Easton and Greenfield Hill communities, Westport developers succeeded in pushing for zoning that allowed greater density. Little thought was given to open space. There are few if any farms left in the NorthEast corner of town and these (even larger) new homes need water and other utilities. The NIMBY era gave resistance to gradual upgrades of our infrastructure, so now reality strikes. If your eyes are offended or your property values dieminish you have no one to blame.

    • Well said and I totally agree with you. I’m very surprised why Westport never had any land put aside for reservoirs or more water towers.
      This water tower will be helpful to the homeowners in the area for their homeowners insurance and help the fire department if there’s a fire in the neighborhood they a have a good water source they know is available to them.
      Norwalk has it’s own Water Authority (First District Water Department). They bought land for reservoirs and water towers. They just recently built a much larger water tower to replace the tiny one on the hillside above US RT 1 to the right of Norwalk Hospital. There’s quite a few water towers tuck away or in plan site all over Norwalk. They’re well maintained and painted from time to time.

  7. What are the numbers that back up this project?

    Why is there not a simple, “We have X gallons and we need Y gallons, because of this forecast.”?

    Not only is is very suspicious that a company that is under investigation for rigging the markets https://www.nbcconnecticut.com/news/local/Eversource-Avangrid-Face-Investigation-Into-Alleged-Price-Fixing-451296093.html that is accused of “fraudulently causing a 38 percent increase in the average gas price and a 20 percent increase in the average electricity price in New England over the three-year period studied.” wants to do a project without providing numbers, it is disheartening that the P&Z passed their initial review without any substantial questions and it was only when citizens asked a few that they reluctantly reopened the discussion. – Chris Woods

  8. Robert Harrington

    This has been a situation where our State Delegation has worked exceptionally hard. This is both a town and a state issue. I don’t understand why an issue like this never had to go to the RTM? Individual RTM members have come to support and speak – including Greg Kruat. Our first selectman has put in a huge amount of time. Our State delegation has fought hard – and worked together. Representative Steinberg has taken a lead from an early point. We need to very hard push to make this an acceptable project. Progress has been made enough but not enough.

    But right now we still haven’t reached agreement. There is a an appeal before the state regulator, PURA. We haven’t yet saved a single mature tree on the site opposite Staples. These twin tanks will be over 30ft high and more than 100ft wide.

    The community has been fighting hard and has put the issue of the real water main improvements on the agenda. We’ve helped to bring about a reduction in a 8 year water main infrastructure plan – down to 5 years. But this has not fully satisfied our Fire Department. We don’t know precisely why as we were not allowed in the discussions. We think the Fire Department should be given the reassurances they need. Already our involvement has helped to rescue the number of deficient fire hydrants from over 70% down to approximately 40% (within five years).

    Aquarion needs to:
    1) firm up and improve the landscaping plan – and work to save some existing mature trees. Their CEO promised to screw the tanks “within a few short years”. Right now that is not happening.
    2) work harder to gain acceptance of the fire department by addressing their needs
    3) unveil a clear construction timeline with details (essential in any event but now critical given the situation on North Aveneue with the CMS school closing that will very likely run well into 2020 and beyond).

    This will be a monster construction site for 2 years PLUS opposite Staples and Bedford.

  9. This sounded bad when I first heard about it, and it’s sounding worse all the time. Our community has been dribbling away from us bit by bit for a long time, but now the dam seems to be giving way. Utilities obviously provide critical services, and I’m sensitive to the argument they need flexibility to do their jobs effectively, but I find it hard to imagine a much more disruptive site for this facility.

  10. Jennifer, thank you for bringing up this massive, industrial-sized Aquarion issue to the forefront.

    Westporters, our town and and our fire department need a new water tank, no questions about that. The questions are:

    1) Why is Westport being asked to bear the brunt of the 2-5 year construction of TWO water tanks, to support the water needs of other towns?

    2) Why didn’t Westport P&Z push Aquarion for more information on alternate locations BEFORE the P&Z approved the project?

    3) How much longer is YOUR DRIVE going to be to and from SHS, BMS, CES and GFS with a major construction site across the street from SHS for the next 2-5 years?

    4) With CMS students going to BMS and SHS, the North Avenue traffic has worsened. Can you imagine adding a massive construction site to the mix?

    To quote Jennifer, “It would be the largest public works project in town history, likely to last several years. The constant flow of construction trucks will exacerbate already crippling traffic caused by the closure of Coleytown Middle School.”

    Westporters, let’s work together to protect our town. Ask your RTM members to fight for a sensible solution for our town. Go here to find your RTM members’ contact info: https://www.westportct.gov/index.aspx?page=388

  11. As someone who has owned two houses on what police have ruefully called the North Avenue Expressway, I am concerned for the safety of those who will be sharing the roadway — both drivers and pedestrians — with what is sure to be a disheartening spate of heavy equipment vehicles, as well as the increased traffic flow due to Coley Middle’s closing, all headed to the area of BMS and Staples. Of particular concern is the safety of the students who bike, walk and run track… and especially those who are new to driving. Though anecdotal, I have observed that many of the accidents on North Avenue have involved teenagers. Surely there must be a better thought-out location for this project.

  12. Let’s vote tomorrow for the people who are helping us with this cause!