Category Archives: Environment

Failure To Launch

Alert “06880” reader Scott Smith loves many things about Westport. Kayaking is near the top of his list.

However, all is not ducky on the water. Read on…

Why is there a 3-year wait for a permit to store a kayak for the summer near a launch ramp in Westport?

That question came to mind when I stopped by the Parks & Rec office at Longshore to renew my annual handpass and beach sticker. They’re the tickets to many summer pleasures, and a big reason why Westport is such a great place to live.

I love getting out onto, and into, the water along our beaches, tidal creeks and river banks. For years I kept a small motor boat at Longshore.

Then I downshifted to a kayak, schlepping the big yellow sit-on atop my SUV to various ramps around town: Compo Beach, Longshore, the state launch on the Saugatuck under the I-95 bridge, and the Mill Pond, where I took the scenic route past the oyster shack, through the tunnel under the Sherwood Island Connector, and along the tidal creek to Burying Hill Beach.

The tidal creek at Burying Hill Beach. Scott Smith launched kayaks from here.

The past few seasons, following a car change and increasing age and laziness, I’ve been fortunate to keep my kayak for the summer at Longshore’s E.B. Strait Marina, courtesy of a neighbor’s slot, who liked taking his young daughter out on my old 2-seater.

It’s an easy put-in for a saunter up Gray’s Creek, a jaunt out to Cockenoe, or a venture around Longshore Sailing School to the Saugatuck River. For years I’ve harvested golf balls shanked from the practice range, free for the picking at slack tide.

Fun fact: There are nearly as many enthusiasts of paddle sports – kayaks, canoes, paddleboards – as golfers (around 25 million in the US, depending on which trade group does the counting). Tennis trails both pursuits by quite a bit.

There’s no lack of supply for Westport’s golfers or tennis players. That’s great, and I’m among them. But 3 years to wait for a spot to stash your kayak for the summer?

A kayaker at sunset, between Compo Beach and Owenoke. (Photo/Nico Eisenberger)

I’d like to know why the town has not figured out how to accommodate such an expressed demand for an increasingly popular, and very low impact, recreational pastime. Believe me, I’m still kicking myself for telling my neighbor I’d try to get the permit in my name this year.

I can see how adding parking spots for the train station lots, or boat slips at the marina piers, could come up against hard logistical limits. But how difficult would it be to add a few more wooden trestles to the existing lots at Compo Beach or Longshore?

Better yet, I suggest the town consider adding storage spaces and launch sites around town, for residents to use and help fund. I can think of several spots, including Compo Beach marina near the boat ramp and facilities, and Burying Hill Beach, which also has facilities and ample parking along New Creek (and which is chronically overlooked as a town asset).

Compo Beach has kayak racks near South Beach. Scott Smith would like more. (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

A great new place to launch from would be the lower parking lot at Longshore, which occupies precious frontage on the Saugatuck River and is now mostly used to accommodate wedding-goers at the Inn. Pilings from an old pier remain along the shore; it wouldn’t take much to repurpose a part of the lot as a put-in for paddleboards, canoes, and kayaks, with some seasonal storage.

It may require coordination with the state, but as the striving crews of the Saugatuck Rowing Club and the enterprising folks at Downunder can attest, the river is prime territory for today’s waterborne pursuits (at least when the tide’s right).

The town should bolster access to the Saugatuck for recreational fun. I’m pleased to see that the small park on Riverside Avenue near the VFW has been spruced up, though parking remains an issue. That pocket park could, with the Town’s support, be another fun new spot from which to explore a pretty stretch of the river.

Scott Smith suggests the small park on Riverside Avenue as another kayak launch site.

Excuse the rant. But once you’ve enjoyed the views and sport of Westport from the water’s edge, you want more.

And I don’t see why taxpaying town residents should have to wait 3 years to have reasonable access to it.

I asked Westport’s Parks and Recreation Department for a comment. They replied:

As the kayak facility is a popular and relatively inexpensive activity, demand exceeds supply. Therefore, there’s a wait list. It ranges between 1 and 3 years, depending on activity and turnover rate. Last year, 57 kayak positions turned over.

Short of building more racks (which we did about 8 years ago), the trend will continue with a 1 to 3-year wait. We currently have 58 on the wait list for the 192 kayak positions at Compo and 30 at Longshore.

Parks and Recreation Commission chair Charlie Haberstroh added:

We are putting together a site plan for Longshore, and will look to add kayak spaces there. We can also see if there is a more efficient way to design and stack kayaks at Compo.

I believe that we understand the problem. Unfortunately there is not a solution for this summer. In a way it is a good problem: more demand than supply. We will get on it.

(Has Scott Smith’s story got you intrigued about kayaks? You can rent them at Longshore Sailing School, and Downunder on Riverside Avenue.)

[OPINION] Good News — And Not So Good — At Baron’s South

Alert “06880” reader, historian and preservation advocate Morley Boyd writes:

In April, I raised environmental and safety concerns about the appearance of a large pile of fill at Baron’s South. The mysterious mound, estimated at roughly 5,500 yards, was discovered in what had once been a meadow dotted with mature trees.

Upon closer inspection I noticed that material in the mound included asphalt, jagged shards of metal, tires, pieces of what appeared to be asbestos cement pipe, plastic containers and the shattered remains of a toilet.

Earlier this spring, Morley Boyd photographed debris in the fill behind the Senior Center.

While erosion prevention netting had been placed across one side of the mound, gullies had formed anyway, and the entire top was exposed. Runoff was visibly headed to drains connected to nearby Deadman’s Brook, a tributary of the Saugatuck River.

Runoff from the fill heads toward Deadman’s Brook.

After learning that the fill had been excavated from a nearby construction site associated with the now completed Senior Center expansion project, I wondered what else might be in the fill. Had it been tested? And why was it there in the first place?

First, I reached out to those whose homes abut the park to see what they knew. After learning the homeowners had been told by the Senior Center project manager that the giant mound was permanent, I made private inquiries about the fill with town officials.

The site of the fill (just south of the Senior Center) is shown by a red arrow (bottom) in this Google aerial image.

When that inquiry went unanswered, the story appeared on “06880.” Shortly thereafter, in reaction to public outcry, the town retained the services of Steve Edwards, recently retired director of public works. He was charged with having the fill professionally tested for the presence of toxic substances.

My concerns proved valid. The recently released toxicology report indicates that the material contains DDT, traces of petroleum byproducts, and a level of arsenic that exceeds state standards for human exposure.

Because of the toxicology report and public pressure, the town has now agreed to remove all of contaminated fill (ideally within the next few months, according to the current director of public works), and restore the meadow to its previous condition.

Morley Boyd says that 6 feet of fill was dumped into the meadow near the Senior Center. (Photo/Morley Boyd)

At Tuesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, town officials said the tree warden has prepared a replanting plan for the site, including new trees.

In the meantime, residents hope that the toxic pile, which remains fully exposed in the midst of a public park, will be cordoned off to safeguard the health and safety of visitors.

On the whole, this is good news. The town deserves credit for taking responsibility. Still, a number of unanswered questions remain — notably, why did this happen?

The approved site plan for the construction project did not permit the area in question to be disturbed, and the project’s contract included a specific line item for hauling away any excess fill.

Further, many question the wisdom of the town’s proposed plan for reusing the contaminated fill: a parking lot project at the Greens Farms railroad station.

Although the toxicology report — consistent with state guidelines — recommends that the contaminated fill be buried beneath several feet of clean fill if it is to be moved and reused, there is an apparent regulatory conflict.

While state standards for the use of fill are more relaxed, Westport’s are quite stringent. They specifically do not allow the use of fill containing “petroleum based products or materials.”

Since the Baron’s South fill has been shown to contain — in addition to other toxins — chunks of asphalt, it remains unclear how the town can use the fill at the Greens Farms train station and also comply with its own regulations.

If there is any doubt as to whether or not this contaminated fill can be safely remediated for reuse in a public space, wouldn’t the wisest solution be to just dispose of it at a proper facility?

Whatever ultimately happens to the toxic fill, the good news is that a quiet corner of Westport’s “Central Park” will soon return to its natural state. And that’s in large part due to the vigilance and concern of the “06880” community.

Pic Of The Day #786

Early morning bounty, at Burying Hill Beach (Photo/Lucy Zeko)

Pic Of The Day #783

On Greenlea Lane: Sculpture of a seated woman and baby — or just tree limbs? You decide! (Photo/Sandy Rothenberg)

Photo Challenge #232

Sylvan Road is well named.

Last week’s Photo Challenge — courtesy of Tom Lowrie — showed a pastoral scene. The flowers, bushes and rock gardens are on a main road. But where?

They’re on Sylvan Road South, near Gilbertie’s Herb Gardens. Marion Kelly, Amy Schneider and Darcy Sledge were quick with the answer. Though I gotta say, last Sunday was gorgeous. They shoulda been outside gardening. (Click here for the photo.)

This week’s Photo Challenge also has a nature’s feel to it. Kinda, anyway.

(Photo/Amy Schneider)

If you know where in Westport you’d see this, click “Comments” below.

Single-Use Plastic: What You Can Do

Alert — and environmentally conscious — “06880” reader Bob Weingarten writes:

In 2008 Westport passed an ordinance banning single-use plastic shopping bags. At that time it was the most extensive ban on plastic bags in the U.S. Since then we have assisted many other communities in their efforts to ban plastic bags.

Last month our RTM voted unanimously to ban single-use plastic cups, straws, stirrers and Styrofoam materials used in food services. Westport is believed to be the first municipality on the East Coast with such a ban.

Westport is ahead of the times in considering bans of plastic bags and single-use plastic products. We appear to be the most forward-looking town in Connecticut in plastic usage. But are we celebrating our efforts a bit too early?

According to the EPA, 12% of the municipal solid waste stream is plastics. Only 8% of all plastic products are recycled.

The most recognized single-use plastics items are plastic bags, straws, coffee stirrers, soda and water bottles, but there are many more ordinary items. They include plastic bags for vegetable and fruit packaging; meat, poultry, dairy and fish products; packaging for fresh flowers and dry cleaning items; doggy waste bags and much more.

Single-use plastic is everywhere. (Photo/Bob Weingarten)

Why worry? The EPA only attributes 12% of our solid waste to plastic products.  This sounds small, but we need to consider where this 12% is placed.

Most of the plastics go to municipal waste sites. But they go in the ocean too. Recently, 180 countries reached an agreement to sharply reduce the amount of plastic that gets washed into the world’s oceans. The US was a major holdout.

An estimated 100 million tons of plastic is now found in the oceans. Some of that is ingested by fish. We know where that goes next.

What can we do to preserve our environment, since new regulations take lots of time? We can continue to voice our opinion for legislative support to ban single-use plastic products. This will cost more, but in the end will benefit us, our children and grandchildren.

In the interim we can take steps to recycle single-use plastics today, by chopping it into pellets. They can be reprocessed into new bags, and can be shipped to a company to be manufactured into plastic lumber.

Right now, our Westport transfer station does not provide recycling bins for plastic items.

But one place in Westport does provide plastic recycle bins: both entrances to Stop & Shop.

(Photo/Bob Weingarten)

I’ve only found one other plastic recycle bin in our area: Stew Leonard’s in Norwalk.

Care must be taken with these bins.

There cannot be any paper labels on the plastic — even pricing information — because the paper interferes with the chopping process.

Also, plastic with bright color imprints is not good for chopping. Do not include those products.

Some people may not know what to do with single-use plastic products. I hope this information helps.

The Osprey Family Is Proud To Announce …

… the birth of 2 chicks.

Carolyn Doan — whose photos of Westport’s favorite raptor have captivated and educated “06880” readers — reports she saw 2 little heads bobbing in the nest this morning.

“Just barely,” she notes. “They are tiny.”

Mother feeding her chicks, moments ago. (Photo/Carolyn Doan)

The Audubon Society steward saw chicks as well, Carolyn says.

Like 21st-century males everywhere, the father is doing what he can to help. Yesterday, Carolyn photographed him bringing food — a fish tail, she thinks — to their home, near Fresh Market and Terrain.

(Photo/Carolyn Doan)

“06880” readers joyfully welcome the new additions to town.

The Sorriest Thief In Westport

Just when you think you’ve heard everything, you read Debra Kandrak’s post on Facebook’s Westport Front Porch page.

And you wonder what the hell is going on in our world. She writes:

I am posting this because I cannot believe that someone would stoop so low as to steal plants from an Adopt-a-Spot.

I had 4 vibrant blue grasses recently stolen from my spot. An Adopt-a-Spot is town-owned, but maintained by town residents or local businesses. All plants, mulch and labor are borne by the individual or company. It’s time-consuming, but I consider it a labor of love because I believe in giving back to my community.

I find it shocking that in this well to do community someone would do such a thing. But I hold no grudges, because I believe in karma. What is disheartening to me is that these plants were given to me by my friend. They came from her garden when she moved to Florida, and were her gift to me.

I wish now that I planted them in my yard. 

Here is a photo from last year …

 

… and this:

 

Minuteman, Spare That Tree!

It’s one of Westport’s most iconic views: The Minute Man monument.

Yet just as impressive as the 1910 statue is the magnificent red oak tree behind, at the corner of  South Compo and Compo Beach Read. It frames every photo. It adds permanence to that historic spot. It’s as beautiful as New England gets.

The tree stands on town-owned property — long a buffer against development. But that doesn’t mean it’s safe from private property harm. Part of the tree makes contact with private property, so ownership is considered “shared.”

The Minute Man Monument, with the magnificent red oak behind

Spec builders — Simple Plan One LLC — hope to develop a home at 280 Compo Road South. The project is moving through various town departments.

The plan does not include removal of the tree. But it could very likely cause the tree to die within a couple of years due to nearby root cutting and root compaction, along with changes to the topography after regrading.

A major threat to the tree is the proposed moving of a WPA-era drainpipe (which has a permanent easement), to make room for the new house. The developer has asked permission to redirect the pipe, expanding the building envelope — thus allowing a significantly larger home to rise on the site.

Moving the pipe appears to run a very real risk of damaging the red oak’s root system.

The tree would not die immediately, if damaged. Its demise could take a year or two.

But it would sure not last the 800 years or so that similar trees, in robust, healthy condition, could live for.

This one is more than 100 years old. It’s still a child.

The Minute Man Monument, around the time of the 1910 dedication. The very young tree can be seen in the background.

Another worry involves construction of a new driveway across the town-owned property onto Compo Beach Road. That would provide a 2nd driveway, in addition to the one the property has long had on South Compo.

(The driveway is now at the easternmost edge of the property — down the road, away from the Minute Man. The new driveway on South Compo would be closer to the monument.)

Neighbors worry that the 2nd driveway, with parking and a garage — passing over town-owned property — also runs a very real risk of encroaching on, and damaging, the tree’s roots.

The reason for the garage there? It’s to insulate the living areas of the home from traffic noise on Compo Beach Road.

One more view.

According to tree warden Bruce Lindsay, the “stately red oak … is in excellent health.” He hopes that it “is not harmed, (and that) proper tree protection systems are put into place to maintain the tree’s health and structure outside the Critical Root Zone, (and) beyond the scope of the work.”

The Flood and Erosion Control Board approved the project on May 1. Since then, it appears that a number of changes have been made to the plans. The tree was not part of that board’s discussion, as it was not a known issue at the time.

The Conservation Commission met on May 15. They held the matter open until a special meeting — set for June 10 — to allow neighbors’ consultants time to review the proposal. Click here for a video of the commission’s May meeting.

The developer hopes to get on the Planning & Zoning Commission agenda this month or next.

Will officials permit the taking of town property for an additional entrance? Will they green-light proposed work that runs a substantial risk of harming a historic, stately town-owned tree?

All of this does not even touch the question of what new, large construction would mean to the streetscape view of the Minute Man Monument, at that iconic corner.

Stay tuned.

The Minute Man himself may not be able to fight.

But concerned Westporters can.

Go Green, Earn Green: Sustainable Westport Needs A Logo

Sure, it’s a clunky name. But the Sustainable Westport Advisory Team — formerly the Westport Green Task Force — gets the job done.

Members — appointed by the first selectman — have led projects like school zero-waste lunches, the Pollinator Pathway and Green Building Awards.

They coordinated zero-waste zones at the April Maker Faire, diverting 113 pounds of waste from the incinerator.

What Sustainable Westport lacks is a logo.

But not for long. They’ve designed a contest, open to all. The winner gets $250 — and the satisfaction of seeing his or her design appear on letterheads, banners, awards and more, for years to come.

Entries can come in any form — including on a (recyclable) napkin. But remember: Sustainability is where “environmental viability meets economic success, and is inclusive of all people in town.”

In other words: The logo should not be just a tree.

Anyone who works, lives or goes to school in Westport — or has done so in the past — is encouraged to submit a design. The deadline is June 10.

For more information, click here.

This was the logo for the previous name.