North Avenue Water Tank Agreement Reached; Site Work Begins Thursday

It’s tough to get anyone, anywhere, to agree on anything these days. And in Westport, a long-running, particularly thorny issue was the North Avenue water tank project.

Area residents worried about installation of big, tall tanks near their property, and traffic issues during construction across from Staples High School. On the other side: the need for upgraded facilities, plus Fire Department concerns about inadequate water supplies in town.

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

But town officials, Aquarion representatives, North Avenue neighbors and the state Public Utilities Regulatory Agency worked together to address water supply, public safety and construction concerns.

Today, the town and Aquarion announced that site preparation will begin Thursday (June 4), with the installation of erosion controls, temporary fencing and limited site clering.

The project itself includes construction of two water tanks (28 and 33 feet tall — lower than the original 40-foot plan); removal of an existing tank, and extensive landscape restoration. Sound dampening equipment will be installed. Work is expected to take 2 years.

Among the conditions of the settlement agreement is appointment of an ombudsman: former assistant town attorney Gail Kelly. She will act as a liaison between the neighbors, town officials and Aquarion, providing weekly construction updates to residents, and meeting with school and police personnel to insure minimal impact on North Avenue traffic. No road closures are planned.

In addition, an independent site monitor will ensure permit compliance.

PURA members and protesters at the Aquarion North Avenue water tower site in December, 2018.

Construction hours are 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, with pre-arranged extensions as required.

First Selectman Jim Marpe thanked all parties for their cooperation, along with state legislators Will Haskell, Tony Hwang, Gail Lavielle and Jonathan Steinberg.

Click here for construction status, work schedules and project updates.

9 responses to “North Avenue Water Tank Agreement Reached; Site Work Begins Thursday

  1. Sooo-z Mastropietro

    They better take the day off on June 11th so our seniors can have their graduation parade!

  2. Bill Strittmatter

    Aside from an ombudsperson, what other concessions were wrung out of Aquarion?

    From plans on their website, it appears that the tanks will be partially below grade/underground but it isn’t obvious if that was part of the original plan. In any event, just curious what was achieved and how much more the rest of us have to pay for our water to cover the incremental cost.

  3. Robert Harrington

    Thanks for posting this Dan.

    As someone who was very closely involved in this I wanted to highlight a few things and a few people.

    Firstly – I want to thank many of our elected officials, residents and neighbors:

    To receive over 1000 names of residents who signed our petition was a big deal. Thank you to our community.

    I wanted to thank two people who were both elected officials (2+ years ago) that stood forward early – Melissa Kane and Jennifer Johnson. They were instrumental in providing early support.

    I also want to thank our state representatives – Johnathan Steinberg, Gail Lavielle, Tony Hwang and Will Haskell. Will was not elected when this got started but he became an important voice for us. Additionally, I wanted to highlight Toni Boucher who was very involved for much of the campaign.

    I want to do a special call out to Rep Jonathan Steinberg at the state level who put so much time and effort into this. It will not be forgotten.

    At the town level I want to thank members of the committee for their time – and specials thanks to Jim Marpe and Sara Harris at Town Hall. Jim and I didn’t always see eye to eye on this at all time (especially at the beginning) but I can say without doubt he went the extra mile for Westport and it’s residents. I really learned to respect Jim during this process. Thank you.

    It was good to see our elected officials from both political parties work together and put Westport first and be very sensitive to the local community.

    I was not overly impressed by the leadership of the Fire Department during this process and it felt like at many times residents were left doing their work on issues such as hydrant water pressure and fighting for better water infrastructure piping in this town (see below).

    I also want to thanks PURA – who respectful listened to our case and made Aquarion take this seriously. Although we didn’t always agree with Aquarion – I do want to thank you for working with us, and compromising. Not everyone gets what they want in a compromise, but we all worked hard to get a workable plan.

    The residents of Westport are counting on Aquarion to deliver a smooth execution of this plan. I am confident they will do so.

    So after 2 plus years what did we achieve and how will residents benefit ?

    This is an essential project and I am highly confident that all the relevant parties made this a better project for Westport. We all win.

    1) There will be a flat roof – approx 20% of the height was removed from the tanks. We argued strongly against 40ft tanks “40ft tanks no thanks!”- and there will NOT be 40ft tanks on North Avenue. Westport will have almost triple the amount of water storage at the completion of this project between two tanks.

    2) Several hundred thousand more dollars was added to the tree screening on the Aquarion property on North a Avenue and Terhune Drive. This is a very comprehensive screening plan – and Aquarion is working with the neighbors through a review to try and further enhance the plan.

    3) Aquarion has agreed to fund important screening on neighbors own property (after construction).

    4) Of they wish neighbors living a certain distance from the site can have their house / foundations checked / assessed prior to any substantial work.

    5) communication with the neighbors and the community will be better with the appointment of an ombudsman and a full time site manager. We worked hard to ensure projects would be executed more smoothly than some of the historical and recent experiences in Westport.

    6) we fought hard to get PURA and Aquarion to agree that increased water storage alone would be solve the substantial deficiencies in the number of Westport’s fire hydrants – even after this project is completed. This was a big fight and we wish the Fire Department leadership had been more vocal about this issue prior to the planned project and during negations (You can inspect ISO insurance report at the Local Fire Department or contact me for details

    The result is there will be a substantial upgrade in water mains / piping by Aquarion in many parts of Westport – resulting in great water pressure and materially less deficient hydrants. There was a long term plan but we got Aquarion to provide far more details and they promised the regulator, PURA (and its part of this deal) than this will be carried out over the next 5 years (not the previously 7-8 years). This was a highly significant change / pull forward and is a win for the whole town. The local residents were fighting for this point the whole way.

    This was much more than just arguing about the height a two water tanks.

    Compromises are never easy – but this was a good example of different residents, neighbors, elected officials working hard to get clear concessions from our water company for the benefit of the whole town.

  4. Robert Harrington

    I also wished to strongly thank Both Save Westport Now and The Coalition for Westport for their hard work and Support.

  5. What is the plan to ensure that the Staples and Bedford students can get to school on time? Don’t you think that our students have been through enough disruption over the past few years?

  6. Robert Harrington

    Construction will not occur by blocking road during school starting and dismissal. First Selectman’s office will oversee all traffic related details. Deliveries to the site will not be allowed during those times. Most of work will be contained on the Aquarion site. Its really a matter of deliveries etc.

  7. Jennifer Johnson

    Thank you Robert. Everything you mentioned is a huge accomplishment. And yes, much thanks to all who worked so hard, especially you and a great group of neighbors on North Avenue.
    Personally, I still feel a tremendous sense of sadness. Yes, we need the water.  But I – and many others – feel that there were other options…one that wouldn’t take away so much from our town by sacrificing a lovely neighborhood.  I am sad beyond words that the sound of the buzz saws and wood chippers will now begin.  I believe most Westport residents have no idea of the sheer magnitude of this project and the irreparable change that is about to unfold.
    Still, thank you for all your efforts to get Westport to a much better place than where were were in September 20017 when the P&Z approved the tanks.

    • Robert Harrington

      Jennifer – I agree with much of what you write and appreciate your comments. Your efforts, and so early on were critical to the successes here. I am not much of a compromise person, but on this situation we learned to adapt otherwise risk of losing some of our gains and stepping backwards – particularly on the 20% height reduction.

      I do think the Fire Department leadership could have acted differently and helped secure a different outcome. But they showed no flexibility. What’s ironic was as I mentioned before – they showed no prior concerns about a lack of water and there was no evidence of them arguing for annual inspections of our fire hydrants. There were also no clear signs of them arguing or going the extra mile for accelerated water main improvements which are very badly needed as extra water storage doesn’t move the needle on many of our fire hydrants in terms of water pressure. Moreover, the plans they had been shown before the community involvement were very vague. I am pleased that you and our action group, alongside our great elected representatives argued strongly for this important change. These changes are now part of the PURA Settlement.

      I agree on the trees and wish we could have saved more. Given how tight things are on the site this seemed a tough one to make progress on.

  8. Wendy Cusick

    It puzzles me why everyone gets upset about erecting larger water towers.
    Norwalk has them all over the city all way down to Rowayton.
    Norwalk is replacing their water tanks because some are really past their ‘sell date’ and the population has grown 26,000 plus since they were erected.
    When my parents moved here from New York in 1971, the population was 60,000 and they were impressed to see all the water towers around town because that’s what they had in their old neighborhoods plus Norwalk had their own reservoirs in New York and Connecticut.
    The new Grandview Ave water tower in Norwalk is huge and made the old one look ‘itsy bitsy’. It looks great and it didn’t disrupt much.
    The Bayne St tower will soon be replaced with a much bigger one too and they’re clearing land to make room to add a whole new tower.
    Westport population has exploded in the last 20 years or so and a lot of that land was once working farms and nurseries. Now that land has huge houses on them plus the smaller houses are being demolished and replaced with much bigger houses which means everyone needs more water.
    I’m really surprised Westport hasn’t added more water towers throughout town.
    It does lowers your house and fire insurance and raises property values when you have a water tower in your neighborhood.
    In the Old Hill section of Westport, they had to replace the existing water main which a much bigger pipe because the newer, bigger houses need more water.
    By the way, there’s a water tower right behind Stew Leonard’s between Walter and George it’s hard to see.
    So please folks, don’t complain and fret some much over this new larger water tower.
    It’s long overdue to be replaced. Be thankful you didn’t need it in an emergency.
    It’s a necessity!!