[OPINION] Another Long Lots Worry: Water

Peter J. Swift has lived in Westport since 1997. A master mariner, he spent 25 years at sea — including command of supertankers and liquefied natural gas ships.

He then spent over 25 years in senior shore management in international shipping, and his own maritime consultancy.

Peter is involved in international maritime charities. He is also a member of the Westport Community Gardens and Long Lots Preserve, and president of the Harvest Commons Condominium Association. He writes: 

There has been a lot of “water under the bridge” on the Long Lots School rebuild. Here are my observations, after speaking with local residents, civil engineers and architects., and attending many Long Lots School Building Committee meetings.

This is a much broader issue than Long Lots School.

Peter Swift

This serious problem affects all of Westport. 34% of all properties in Westport have a 26% chance of being seriously impacted by flooding.

We love our wet and rocky town. Yet brooks and watersheds, combined with rock, is a fact we have to plan for.

Obviously, some areas need special attention. The area from Long Lots Elementary School to Long Island Sound along Muddy Brook is a very serious one.

Here are a few examples.

When the lower ball field was constructed, despite engineering calculations to the contrary, considerable water ingress into Muddy Brook was experienced by neighbors.

During a 3-year delayed construction on a neighboring road, considerable increase of surface water was noted by neighbors .

Retention basins were added only after construction.

Peter Swift says, “the site is flooded because retention basin’s were put in after construction was delayed for years. Neighbors at lower elevations are left to manage storm water overflow.”

There is still concern whether this works, because it was designed only for a 25-year storm.

Recent drainage and sewer work in areas near Long Lots School revealed underwater streams, with a flow that should not be disturbed.

It’s no surprised this was once good farm land. There was water all around.

Neighbors near Long Lots report that their sump pumps run constantly. Some have 2, both running constantly.

The Long Lots retention pond often overflows the dry stone wall, which marks the boundary of Long Lots Elementary School … 

Because big houses are being constructed on plots that had smaller houses, the 25-year storm standard does not work. It must be improved.

I understand that the standard planning is for each construction to retain on site the estimated water run off for a 25-year storm. There are many instances in town where this has proved to be inadequate.

In turn stressing Muddy Brook as it runs downstream to Long Island Sound. (Photos courtesy of Peter Swift)

Can Westport not consider a higher standard, especially for large taxpayer funded projects?

We all live in Westport, and pay taxes. Even if we do not us our education system, we love and support it.

Why is there such a rush to get spades in the ground within a year ?

The school is 50 years old, and has had many extensions. Let’s get this right.

Can we not allow our professional engineers time to study this before decisions are made?

Not give them a decision to work with. The cart is before the horse.

This would allow more detailed study of the long-term problems of building on ball fields and community gardens which absorb surface water, and include wetlands.

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15 responses to “[OPINION] Another Long Lots Worry: Water

  1. Well said, Peter

  2. Around 1955, a friend of mine lived on North Maple Avenue. I’d go over his house to play and we’d go way back in his backyard. I mean way back and we eventually wouldn’t be too far from Hyde Lane. There, out of an old tree trunk, he built a canoe. It really didn’t float on the water back there, but I’d always return home wet. I think across from Long Lots there are homes now, and I can’t imagine how they were allowed to be built. I won’t mention my friend’s name, but he lives out in Oregon now and he’s getting a copy of this posting. I think he was a 1962 Staples graduate.

  3. Thank you Peter for bringing this very important water issue to our Westport residents and committees!

  4. Mr. Swift
    Thank you for putting this issue on the front burner.

    It is a serious concern and neighbors of 13 Hyde Lane deserve due diligence on the water and wetlands issues. It has been raised at every LLBS meeting I’ve attended, with nary a satisfactory answer.

    Where are those boring reports that were completed long ago?

  5. Peter makes some important points.

    The new school, replacing the current 50-year old building, would ideally be built to last for the next 50 years. It only makes sense that there should be considerations for a 50-year storm (at least).

    There should also be consideration for the role that the Gardens and Preserve have played in maintaining the wetlands. In addition to providing a storm buffer for neighbors who live adjacent to the Long Lots campus, the Community Gardens and Preserve absorb surface water, and have likely been mitigating storm impacts over the past 20 years. If they are destroyed, their environmental benefits will be gone, as well.

  6. Well-stated Peter. Thank you. Our town is suffering from inadequate drainage due to development and inadequate drainage infrastructure. I urge the town and school committee to heed Peter’s advice.

  7. The neighbors adjacent to Long Lots School, the Westport Community Gardens, and the Long Lots Preserve have water issues. Water builds up on the south side of the Westport Community Gardens and the Long Lots Preserve during periods of rain. It pools up there for days. Go look today. Homeowners on Bauer Place, Barbara Place, Bowling Lane, Old Road, Harvest Commons, North Turkey Hill and Keller Lane are subject to that runoff and the fact there is substantial groundwater there. I believe town records show an underground stream there.

    Westport Community Gardens and Long Lots Preserve act like a sponge. This property, as it exists now, retains the water and releases it slowly. The hundreds of trees and shrubs planted in the preserve, along with the existing stand of very old trees, absorbs excess water. The thickness of the soil in the gardens, built up over 20 years, along with thousands of perennials, trees, shrubs, grape vines etc. planted in there do the same. Putting a ballfield there will drastically increase the runoff from the property.

    As the town appears headed towards covering our only Community Gardens and adjacent preserve with a ballfield, not only will this wreck a unique and diverse town asset, destroy a recreational resource much valued by our seniors and children, sterilize an ecological gem brimming with pollinators and other integral components of our local ecosystem, and take away the opportunity for hands-on environmental education that is emerging in the school district’s curriculum, it will cause additional flooding problems for the neighbors.

    The heroes here could be the First Selectwoman, the Parks And Recreation Commission and the Department of Parks and Recreation. Please find equitable ballfield resources that will be lost from the building of a new Long Lots Elementary School. Please do not put that ballfield over the 20 year old Westport Community Gardens and Long Lots Preserve. The Long Lots School community will still get all of the fields and play areas needed as outlined in the Board Of Education specifications for the project. Everyone wins.

    This can and should be done.

    • My grandfather owned all the property that is now Bowling Lane and as a kid I remember the property, at one area, was swampy. He died in 1962 and the property was sold. Again, it’s amazing that homes were able to be built back there! The wetness was at the back of what’s now Bowling Lane. He bought 4.2 acres for $600 dollars in 1910.

  8. We continue to learn as more and more people are studying the situation and process. Big take away is how much time was actually spent on studying the project vs the politics to push it through? The tactic of applying unnecessary deadlines and parameters on a structure that is only 50 years old is telling.

  9. Yes, there are water sheds (aquifers located underground that contribute to streams) to the east, south and west of the Community Gardens. Running under Cottage Lane and Bauer Place Ext impacting those neighborhoods and beyond. The gardens and preserve absorb a lot of water and should not be disturbed. Those neighborhoods already have water issues.

    This information has be presented to the building commission, but no response, which leads to the question…Why are plans being drawn prior to a wetland/aquifer study?
    Also, prior to redistricting in 2025 and the Parks and Rec report regarding athletic field usage study?

  10. A big thanks to Peter for pointing out a serious issue and problem that needs to be carefully engineered before the Long Lots School is redone. Serious flooding of a newer school and houses should not be on future newscasts! ” Measure twice, cut once”!

  11. Thank you for writing this piece, Peter! This should DEFINITELY be a topic fully vetted & evaluated before this project begins. It’s an indisputable law of physics that water always finds the lowest level in an incredibly efficient manner. What used to be considered a 25 year storm is now probably an annual event. Hurricane Ida & many other recent storms showed that the Muddy Brook area is VERY vulnerable to flooding already. The plans for construction & building on/near wetlands should take into account runoff & water flow w/ changes from sports fields, gardens & a possible new building on LOWER elevation.

  12. I agree completely with Peter’s comments. As a neighbor, who has lived on Muddy Brook for 26 years and has seen how it has changed, I have been raising the water issue at every LLSBC meeting I’ve attended. The site is complex, with many elevations and lots of water all around. Although we hear that water will be contained on site, we, the neighbors, know from experience that this does not always work out as planned. The town is already studying widening culverts along Muddy Brook south of the Post Road because of flooding issues. The school property is practically adjacent to the brook and major changes to the landscape could impact the flow of the water. This deserves to be studied properly. We are living in a time of climate change, where flooding is a growing concern. Westport, as a forward thinking town with extensive resources, should stay ahead of the curve on this.
    Joellen Bradford

  13. I note the observation about the use of the outdated “25 year flood plain” as the standard to be used. This standard is out of touch with reality and the P&Z Commission should act to change it to a more demanding standard, for example the 100 year flood plain.

  14. Peter, well said. Finally someone points out serious important issues rather than trying to push this issue through on a tight timeline.

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