Alicia Mozian Leaves Mark On “Wet Westport”

If you’re a Westport homeowner, there’s a 40% chance you live on wetlands, or in a floodplain.

If you’re part of that 40% and have moved here since 2001, you’ve received a letter — and fat informational packet — from Alicia Mozian, telling you what that means, and how to care for your property.

And advising you to call her, before beginning any work on the land.

That’s just one of the proactive approached Mozian has brought to her job as Conservation Department director.

Alicia Mozian

Low-key but intensely passionate, her blandly named office oversees nearly every aspect of Westport’s environment. Shellfishing, Cockenoe Island camping, the Sherwood Mill Pond Preserve, single-use plastics, the plastic bag ban — all are in Mozian’s domain.

But most important may be protecting the town’s wetlands and watercourses.

We have 13 named waterways. We sit at the bottom of several watersheds, which feed into Long Island Sound. Our groundwater table is very high.

“Westport is very wet,” Mozian says simply.

On Saturday, her 2-decade career as Conservation director — and 36 years of service to Westport — come to an end. She’s retiring — kayaking off into the sunset, you might say.

The Westport she leaves is much different than the one the Pennsylvania native found, soon after graduating from Nasson College with a degree in environmental studies.

Westporters are much more aware now of the effects of water on our properties, and our lives. At the same time, larger houses — and the construction they entail — impact things like runoff and silting.

Large homes and tree-cutting affect water tables and runoff.

Mozian has been the right person to manage the interactions between residential and business property owners, builders, neighbors, politicians, environmentalists, and everyone else with a stake in Westport.

Her first job here was in 1986, as an aide to Planning & Zoning director Mel Barr. She moved on to conservation analyst; earned a master’s in resource administration management, and was named assistant zoning planner.

In 2001 she succeeded Fran Pierwola, as only the second Conservation director in our history.

Mozian had already made an important mark. In the 1990s she helped Westporters get a 10% discount on flood insurance — a reward for town-wide flood hazard mitigation that continues today.

Flood insurance is important to homeowners in flood-prone areas like Compo Cove. Westporters are eligible for discounts.

As Conservation director, she spends much of her time talking to people. Mozian answers questions, and educates property owners about upcoming work.

A lot of that entails “managing expectations. People don’t always know what they bought, or design their project to meet the land. They want their land to meet the project, not the other way around. That can lead to problems.”

During Westport’s booming construction decades of the 1950s and ’60s, many wetlands were filled in. The federal Clean Water Act of 1972 slowed that, but the damage was done.

Now those homes are being torn down. Their replacements are larger — and their high basements sink into groundwater. Nothing in the state building code prevents that, Mozian says.

“Where does the water go? In other directions — on other people’s properties,” she says.

“You’re supposed to capture runoff from driveways and roofs. But you can’t do a lot about groundwater.”

Above ground, large-scale tree-cutting also affects where water goes.

Fortunately, Mozian says, Westporters are environmentally conscious. Her small office is augmented by a host of volunteers, from the Conservation and Shellfish Commissions to Sustainable Westport and the Sherwood Mill Pond Committee.

Fortunately too, she is not stuck in Town Hall. Mozian says her favorite days are “picking up garbage on Cockenoe Island, or the Mill Pond. That’s when I get instant gratification. I can see I made a difference.”

Alicia Mozian picks up garbage at Sherwood Mill Pond Preserve.

It’s harder to see the effects of educating a variety of constituencies about the environment. Still, Mozian says, “I think I’ve done pretty well, balancing what people want versus what they need. I want their plan to be better when they walk out the office than when they walked in.

“I don’t love all the teardowns. But I’ve learned to work with them, and make them as environmentally sound as possible.”

The low point of her career was the protracted fight with the Westport Weston Family Y over its proposed, and largely untested, Fixed Activated Sludge Treatment (FAST) sewage system at the Mahackeno site.

There are many more highlights. Mozian is proud of her Wetlands Community Leader Award from Washington’s Environmental Law Institute. It was presented for her work improving water quality, through the Sasco Brook Pollution Abatement Committee.

Alicia Mozian, with her Environmental Law Institute award.

She’s also proud that none of the Conservation Commission’s decisions have ever been overturned by a court challenge. She’s been sued by developers, homeowners and neighbors — sometimes more than one group, for the same project.

She has done it all with a staff of just 5.25 people. That quarter employee — the sediment and erosion control inspector — is shared with Planning & Zoning.

“We used to have complaints about sediment from construction sites getting into waterways,” Mozian says. “But not now.”

She does not know of any other community that funds such a position.

Overall, Mozian says, Westport is in “pretty good” environmental shape. It can be measured by metrics — which the Board of Finance demands every year at budget time.

She prefers a different measure: “If you can swim in the water, drink the water and eat shellfish, we’re doing our job.”

Low tide clamming at Compo Beach is part of Alicia Mozian’s portfolio too. (Photo/Ferdinand Jahnel)

Next week, Colin Kelly takes over that job. He’s spent 18 years with the Conservation Department, first as compliance officer and now analyst.

“It’s time for the next generation. He knows things I don’t know,” Mozian praises. “He has good rapport with builders and others. He’ll deal with violations quicker. The department is in very good hands.”

It’s been in great hands for the past 21 years, for sure. Now Alicia Mozian looks forward to seeing her 92-year-old mother more, and her niece’s upcoming baby.

She will visit friends across the country, hike, and go to concerts. (She was a DJ in college.) Perhaps she’ll teach; she’s interested in subjects like citizenship, and helping realtors understand wetlands, aquifers and floodplains.

She will not miss the daily commute from Orange. But Westport will miss Conservation Director Alicia Mozian very, very much.

(“06880” covers all things Westport. Please click here, to support your hyper-local blog.)

17 responses to “Alicia Mozian Leaves Mark On “Wet Westport”

  1. Alicia has dedicated her life to preserving the environment. She is universally respected by applicants, professionals and the Conservation Commission. Many young people vow to make the world a better place; few accomplish that goal. Alicia has indeed made Westport a better place. Good leadership includes a sound succession plan; Colin Kelly will continue her legacy. Thank you Alicia for all you have done for the environment and for Westport.

  2. Congratulations on your retirement, and thanks for what positive things you might have done. I do however wonder why this job has already been filled. Shouldn’t this position been posted to have qualified candidates apply?. This seems to be another “good old boy” promotion without due process.
    Is this how our Selectwoman runs our town. Think so!

  3. We moved into town in 2010 in a flood zone, never received any info at all from conservation or anyone at town hall. I just texted neighbors, also in flood zone, who moved into town in 2015 and 2017, and neither ever received any info. Further, trying to deal with these departments in town hall is infuriating. Two new construction projects adjacent to my property (turning 1600 sq ft into 4500 sq ft each on .5 acre) has increased flooding in the years since and during construction resulted in silt covering my property more than once (mud covered everything). The response from conservation and wetlands has always been “you live in a flood plain/what do you expect/ your house shouldn’t even ever have been built there.” I’ve never heard of Alicia and she sounds great and I wish her the best in retirement. Hopefully change brings about change and the conservation department changes to become more helpful.

  4. Congratulations Alicia! I can say that serving alongside of you on the Westport Shellfish Commission has been nothing short of amazing! Your leadership as one of the most competent, engaged and truly dedicated stewards of Conservation will be missed but never forgotten! Thanks for everything and we are looking forward to welcoming Colin in his new role!

  5. Alicia, you will be so very much missed. Calm cool, collected you’ve been PLUS knowledgeable and passionate. I’ve so enjoyed working with you and becoming friends. May our friendship continue!

  6. Alicia is such a knowledgeable, warm, and welcoming professional who I had become friends with over the years. Her longstanding dedicated work with Westport’s Eagles Scouts was inspiring to observe. She will be sorely missed as her kindness to everyone is beyond measure.

  7. Alicia Mozian has been a tremendous asset for our Town. Even though modest, I am certain Alicia will remember and relish in all the terrific things she undertook and achieved for the environment of Westport. I have worked for many years on matters involving Alicia, the Conservation Dept. and the Conservation Commission and have always experienced her knowledge, commitment and engaging qualities. All the best Alicia.
    Don Bergmann

  8. As a homeowner Alicia always made me feel like she was on my side. Even when she couldn’t agree with my requests she was compassionate and worked with me to find a mutually acceptable solution. She is a smart, friendly and helpful. Westport will miss her! Happy retirement.

  9. Alicia was always pleasant and reasonable even with draconian regulations to implement 👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼🙏

  10. I served on the Zoning Board of Appeals for 8 years. Alicia mostly worked with the Conservation Commission, but I knew I could always get information from her when I needed to. Anyone who has served on a zoning board knows how valuable her expertise and caring for the environment have been for Westport. Happy retirement Alicia!
    Joanne Leaman

  11. Alicia is a Westport Treasure. Her knowledge, expertise and dedication will be missed

  12. It would be hard to find a more valuable, important, or well informed person than Alicia. Not only has she served and guided Westport well in environmental issues, she has welcomed a host of young people into the intricacies of environmental activism—she has been a significant influence on my son whose goals do a credit to her.

    Wishing her a bountiful or rewarding after-public-service afterlife…

  13. All the best to Alicia for a long and enjoyable retirement.
    And thank you Dan Woog for shining a light on her long service to Westport.

  14. Alicia Mozian, it was a pleasure to work with you and learn from you, during these past 19 years as Save Old Saugatuck struggled against a powerful and monied developer, who chose to build a mammoth multiple-building project in the very heart of 8 acres of wetlands, watercourses, a high ground water table and an established history of flooding. We’re still fighting to Save Old Saugatuck and when we have survived, please know that your help was essential. Thank you.

  15. Dear Alicia,

    Thank you for your help over the years, when I came to you for words of Conservation Wisdom. May you have a wonderful post-Conservation Department life, many years full of new and good adventures, and much pleasure in your loved ones.

    And may you never need to have a long or slow commute!

    Best Regards,

    Judy

  16. Heather Williams

    My thanks and gratitude to Alicia Mozian. She always showed such grace, competance, fairness, and knowlege in everything she did for Westport. It’s been quite the honor to work with her on many projects pertaining to Shellfish and Ospreys! I will look forward to the next chapter, having more social time with her in her retirement, boating, cooking shellfish perhaps, and concerts since we love the same music. Thanks, Alicia.

  17. Alicia
    Wishing you the best moving forward. Even though you gave us an extremely tough time building our house, we appreciated your guidance and understanding and we have a great house! Our best, Kathryn and Tony Sirico

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