You’ve seen the yard signs up and down North Avenue.
On Thursday, members of the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority did too.
They came to Westport last week, on a site visit to the proposed location of 2 concrete water towers. Aquarion hopes to build them — as replacements and improvements on the one current, much smaller facility — directly opposite Staples High School.
Jennifer Johnson joined several other opponents at the regulators’ site visit.
She was not impressed.
“Aquarion didn’t mark out the rough location of the proposed tanks, or mark the trees that are coming down, and/or float a balloon so people could visualize the tanks’ height (squished into a small site),” she says. “Isn’t that the point of a site inspection?
Johnson reports that a few non-Aquarion attendees tried to mark the location of one of the new tanks by standing in the woods at the proposed center, then walking 50 feet in each direction. “It was only partly successful,” she says.
Johnson and her group hoped to convey some of their opposite to the PURA members. They printed out their main objections, part of a fact sheet originally compiled by Save Westport Now:
● As currently planned, the new tank will not solve the water pressure problems in Westport. Even if the new tanks are built, the majority of ﬁre hydrants in town will still be deﬁcient.
● The new tanks will allow Aquarion to “push” more water to other parts of Fairﬁeld County, begging the question: Can’t they ﬁnd another site for the second tank, in a less residential area?
● During the proposed 2-plus-year construction period, trucks and industrial excavators will clog North Avenue and streets around Staples. Combined with traffic from Bedford Middle School and the loss of the sidewalk, it’s a disaster waiting to happen. Yet Aquarion remains delinquent in providing a basic construction plan.
● The real problem is not just the size of the tanks, but the obsolete and undersized water mains that run beneath our roads.
● To make matters worse, the new tanks are likely to create bigger problems. The large increase in water capacity can lead to stale water.
● Aquarion has ﬁnally acknowledged the problem with the water mains, and agreed to minor upgrades. It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough. (Aquarion is a for-proﬁt monopoly. Its interest in rewarding shareholders does not necessarily align with residents’ or customers’ interests.)
● Westport could wind up with 2 extremely ugly tanks, more expensive water—and still have a water pressure problem.
Opponents ask PURA to require a “full independent review and comprehensive plan for upgrading Westport’s water infrastructure.”
They also want Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission to have the authority to revoke the permit for this project. That way, they say, “Westport and Aquarion can move forward with a workable plan for rebuilding our water infrastructure for the next century.”
Several town officials, including the fire chief, have testified that the towers are necessary for safety.
PURA will hold a public hearing on Thursday, December 20 (9:30 a.m., 10 Franklin Square, New Britain), to consider Aquarion’s proposed towers.