Robert Harrington, his wife and 4 children have been Westporters since 2004. He speaks out on local issues — including the Aquarion/ North Avenue water tank debate.
“I live over a mile away from the approved tanks, so this is not a NIMBY issue for me,” he says. “It’s about elected representatives supporting local residents.” In the wake of a recent regulatory hearing in New Britain, he wrote this letter to 1st Selectman Jim Marpe.
I was greatly disappointed by how several town officials came to speak out against community requests at the recent Aquarion Public Utilities Regulatory Authority hearing in New Britain. This will likely ensure that the town of Westport will fail to get the best results for all residents.
No Westport resident should be put in a situation where the quiet use and enjoyment of their property is destroyed by a private company.
This is not just another large-scale development. This is the largest public works project in our town’s history. It is being placed in the middle of a residential neighborhood.
In particular, I was personally angered by the tone and commentary from public works director Peter Ratkiewich.
Neither Mr Ratkiewich nor any of his staff attended any of the P&Z meetings in 2017 when the project was discussed and voted on. He never explored valid alternatives. Then, at PURA, he sought to undermine any attempt to consider alternatives that could have offered increased fire protection and fire flow.
At times during his testimony, Mr Ratkiewich sounded more like an Aquarion employee than a town of Westport representative.
Other towns across the state from Greenwich to Derby to Mystic have supported residents and successfully fought back against private interests. They found workable alternatives. Westport did not.
I was very careful not to attack our fire marshal in New Britain. I didn’t want to undermine one of our key leaders before the commission. However, if this project is really that urgent why are we not looking at all potential supplies, in addition to tanks? Why did Aquarion and Westport do nothing for 5 years following the Saugatuck Congregational Church fire in 2011? Why are the key players not making a much stronger argument for water main upgrades?
The water mains may yet be improved, although we have not been able to get concrete guarantees from Aquarion. Our community group fought hard to have upgrades included in any deal, despite the fact that in August 2018 your staff meekly recommended that we drop the effort given Aquarion’s stubborn refusal to do so. We wouldn’t take no for an answer, and upgrades are thankfully back on the table.
Even more worrisome, Aquarion has changed the fire flow numbers that were contained in the original reports they gave to rgw town. No one from our town is questioning this.
Why have these numbers changed?
The town of Westport has approved a plan that is better than the current situation — but will leave places like Saugatuck Shores vastly below what is recommended for fire flow.
Party politics should play no role in a project that will last for the next 100 years. That said, as a Republican I was embarrassed by the fact that Republicans didn’t come and represent any of the people in the room at PURA, New Britain over the past 3 months.
Westport was well represented by many Democrats and small parties. We had wonderful representation from State Senator Will Haskell, Representative Jonathan Steinberg and many RTM members
You took the explicit choice not to stand with the community — or even attend.
We also had strong participation from community leaders like Valerie Jacobs and Ian Warburg from Save Westport Now, and Jennifer Johnson from the Coalition for Westport.
Many residents spoke about losing value on their homes, and had to do the work that Aquarion and the town of Westport should have done.
We will likely see 2 huge tanks constructed on the current 3-acre site, which is far too small to provide full screening.
We also offered several alternatives to PURA to evaluate. PURA could immediately approve one tank on the site and rule that a second location must be found for a second tank. You and your staff dismissed this.
Alternatively, Aquarion could build two2 shorter tanks on the site. But getting approval for the second tank, they would have to demonstrate to the community that they were being good neighbors and honoring their commitments while the first tank is constructed – including committing to material water main upgrades.
If 2 tanks are squeezed on to the site, Aquarion could plant taller trees to fully screen the tanks — and reduce the side wall by 3 feet. They offered the community this height reduction in August 2018, but didn’t bother to speak to the fire department first.
You and your staff chose not to support these common sense proposals.
There is a potential deal to be done on Bayberry Lane for a second tank location, but that would require political leadership. Alternatively, you could have explored leasing land on school property — potentially giving the town a much needed revenue source. None of that happened.
Any delay at this point is your responsibility.
We urge PURA to approve one tank on the current site, and begin the work immediately driving almost a 50% increase in storage within 12 months versus the current single tank. Until the current old tank is decommissioned, the 2 tanks will contain almost 150% more water today.
The Westport P&Z was misled by Aquarion. Your town employees are helping to ensure a project that won’t fix Westport’s water pressure and fire flow gets the go-ahead because this is the easiest and cheapest route for Aquarion.
We need your leadership.