Category Archives: Environment

Friday Flashback #120

Last week’s demolition of the old Positano’s restaurant — remembered by real old-time Westporters as its earlier incarnation, Café de la Plage — evoked a welter of emotions.

It also revived memories of Allen’s Clam House, the other waterfront restaurant in the otherwise residential  neighborhood.

Allen’s was right around the corner, on Sherwood Mill Pond. Built in 1890 by Captain Walter Allen, customers flocked there for seafood — and views — from as far as New York.

Allen’s Clam House, in the 1940s.

It was the go-to place for generations of celebrations — proms, anniversaries, holidays, you name it.

An aerial view of Allen’s Clam House, on the Sherwood Mill Pond. (Photo courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)

In 1999, the restaurant and surrounding .83-acre property was up for sale. To protect it from the developers, the town bought it for $1.2 million. Private donations — including $50,000 each from Paul Newman and Harvey Weinstein — defrayed part of the cost.

The restaurant was torn down a few years later. Today — thanks to efforts of Sherry Jagerson, and a group of dedicated volunteers — the land is known as the Sherwood Mill Pond Preserve.

It’s one of Westport’s hidden-in-plain-sight gems. Of course, you can’t buy clams there any more.

But you can bring your own, and have a very fine picnic indeed.

Captain Allen and his wife Lida, in front of the clam house.

Techno Claus Comes To Town. Wait — He Already Lives Here!

One of the highlights of the holiday season — far better than fruitcake, much less stressful than holiday parties — is Techno Claus.

That’s “CBS Sunday Morning”‘s annual present to viewers. “Santa” — who for some reason has a New York-ish accent — offers viewers a whimsically rhyming musical look into some of the season’s more intriguing high-ish tech items.

It doesn’t take Einstein to figure out that Techno Claus is really David Pogue.

His clever patter and fun piano playing are no surprise. The nationally known tech writer/journalist/author/TV star majored in music at Yale, then spent his first 10 years after graduation working in New York, with a theatrical agency, and as a conductor and arranger on Broadway.

Pogue is also a longtime Westporter. Yesterday’s gift to viewers had a decidedly local flavor.

Nearly all of the scenes were filmed at his house: inside, in front and out back.

The only other locale was Granola Bar. That was for a segment on a reusable straw. Okay, it’s not exactly high tech — but it is important.

Click below to see Pogue’s Santa’s take on a speaker with scents; a spy camera for pets (it dispenses treats too); a keyboard for phones, and a wallet with tracker.

Ho ho ho!

Protesters Face PURA At Water Tower Site Visit

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.

PURA members and protesters at the Aquarion North Avenue water tower site visit on Thursday.

“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?

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

●  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.

A photo shows the height of the proposed new water tanks.

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.

E. Coli In Westport’s Waters: Here’s The Poop

First the bad news: Of 20 rivers in 17 Fairfield County towns, 77% exceed one or both of Connecticut’s criteria for acceptable levels of E. coli. The bacteria can indicate the presence of sewage pollution.

The slightly better news: The Saugatuck River had the lowest percentage of failing sites.

The worse news: Muddy Brook — which drains into Sherwood Mill Pond — was one of 8 rivers tied for the most bacteria. (The others: Bruce Brook, Deep Brook, Goodwives River, Greenwich Creek, Keelers Brook, Pootatuck River and Rooster River.)

The Saugatuck River gets high marks from Harbor Watch. (Drone photo copyright Ben Berkley/@youreyeabove

That’s this morning’s news from Harbor Watch. The group — Earthplace’s water quality research program — studied data from 169 stations, at those 20 rivers. They released their report this morning.

Harbor Watch director Dr. Sarah Crosby says: “The high incidence of failing bacteria concentrations shows us that there is still a great deal of work to be done to improve water quality in the Long Island Sound watershed.”

No s—.

(Click here to read the full report.)

Pic Of The Day #596

Happy Hanukkah, from Wakeman Town Farm

Photo Challenge #205

Westport’s cemeteries are important places.

Like most boneyards, they feature row upon row of gravestones, markers and monuments. This being New England, many are old. Some are historic. All mean something.

But cemeteries can be beautiful too. Willowbrook — established in 1847 — is more than final resting place of generations of Coleys, Burrs, Nashes, Bedfords, Bradleys and Hurlbutts.

It’s a place of rolling hills, specimen trees, shrubs, a pond, the famed Daffodil Mile — and last week’s Photo Challenge.

Mark Jacobs’ image showed a lovely brook, running underneath a handsome viaduct. (Click here for the photo.)

Only one “06880” reader — Dan Herman — knew where that photo was taken: by Carriage Lane, just off Main Street.

Perhaps the end of the Thanksgiving holiday kept the number of correct guesses low.

Or maybe we all need to spend more time hanging out in Westport cemeteries.

This week’s Photo Challenge —

(Photo/Stan Skowronski)

— can be found in a hangout of a different type.

Hint to young “06880” readers: The object above is a “pay phone.” Once upon a time, you fed coins into the slot (upper right), dialed or punched in a phone number, and talked to them using the “handset” (middle, with cord).

Another hint to young readers: This phone is located in a place you’re very familiar with. Now you know what it is!

Readers of any age, who know where in Westport you’d find this: Click “Comments” below.

Pic Of The Day #593

The Compo Beach palm tree has not weathered the weather (Photo/Amy Schneider

Our Long Parker Harding Nightmare Has Ended

(Photo/Chip Stephens)

Electric Car Dealer May Still Move Into Dragone

Yesterday, “06880” reported that Carvana — the online used car dealer — is moving into the space vacated last spring by Dragone Classic Motorworks.

Though the Planning & Zoning Commission recently passed a text amendment allowing an electric car dealership on the property — provided it remediated all the oil, chemicals and other contaminants there — Carvana would not have to do that. As a non-electric car dealer, the text amendment does not apply.

However, Carvana is only a temporary tenant.

According to a letter sent by David Ross of 176 PRW LLC — the owner of the 176 Post Road West property, diagonally across from Kings Highway Elementary School — to Mary Young, P&Z director, he and his company are “strong advocates” for electric vehicles.

In fact, he says, he’s been involved in their development since 2005. In 2013 he bought an EV, joined the Westport Electric Car Club, and began working to bring an EV facility to Westport. That’s when he first eyed the Dragone site.

“We acquired the property and the lease at 176 with the sole purpose of bringing an EVAD (electric vehicle auto dealership) to Westport,” he writes.

“We believe it would be great for Westport and help the other properties on Post Road West flourish.”

However, he adds, “there are a lot of moving parts in this process, and we are just clearing one hurdle at a time. The EVAD would not commit until we had a site. Thus we took a big risk and purchased the site. We now need zoning approval so our chances to get the EV company can increase significantly.”

Some factors, Ross says, “are beyond our control. The EV company has corporate and legislative hurdles they are working hard to clear. But without the approvals our chances drop to zero.”

The former Dragone property, and its neighbor, on Post Road West.

Ross says that Carvana would be a short-term tenant. 176 PRW is making a business decision “to cover costs, while the EV company works out their challenges.”

Ross has hired a development team to work on the long-term plan, with a “major EV company.”

So there may well be an electric car dealer on Post Road West.

And — according to the P&Z text amendment approved earlier this month — they would clean up the site, contaminated by years of use by regular ol’ gas-powered car dealers.

Pics Of The Day #590

Finally!

The gross, unsightly, overflowing, visibility-impairing dumpsters at the head of Parker Harding Plaza have been removed.

Unfortunately, it seems some downtown merchants didn’t get the message that the new trash compactors are ready for use.

(Photos/Chip Stephens)

Let’s hope they figure out how to dump their garbage soon.

It’s not rocket science. Just common courtesy.