Category Archives: Environment

Yellow Pages, The Sequel: RTM Reps Help Westport Go Green

Yesterday, “06880” reported that Westporters can avoid the coming Yellow Book plague by opting out.

Today, there’s even better news on the driveway littering front.

RTM representatives Liz Milwe, Jeff Wieser and Matthew Mandell have worked for months to make opting out of phone book deliveries easier, more effective — and environmentally friendly.

Spurred by Westporter Morgan Mermagen’s 200-signature petition, the RTM members started work on a town ordinance. The Local Search Association — the national lobbying organization for companies like the Yellow Pages and Frontier — heard about the plan. They — and members of those businesses from around the country — came to Westport, to meet with the 3 RTM members.

But the talks reached an impasse.

So this spring, the RTM reps moved forward with their proposed ordinance.

The companies reached out again. Finally — with the help of assistant town attorney Gail Kelly, and following months of conference calls — a deal was struck.

There will be no ordinance. However, all phone book distributors in Westport have agreed to follow these parameters:

  • All plastic bags used during delivery will be made with 20% post-consumer recycled content. This will be noted on the bag.
  • A new opt-out notice — showing the website www.YellowPagesOptOut.com — will cover 30% of one side of the bag.
  • A letter to the town, announcing a pending distribution by any company, will be done 90 days prior to any event, and 30 days prior to a cut-off for being able to opt out of that (and future) distributions.
  • All books will continue to have a notice on the front cover about the opt-out, with the same URL.
  • Within 14 days after delivery, the distribution company will return through the route, picking up any unclaimed bags within view.
  • A report will be sent to the town each year, noting how many people have opted out.

“These are serious concessions made by companies trying to stay relevant in a changing time,” says Mandell. “Each side used all of its might to sway things, with First Amendment rights waved around more than once. In the end this is a fair solution.”

“The change in the bags is a success for the environment,” adds Milwe. “It will be a greater success if residents opt out and if they tell their friends to opt out. Let’s make it happen!”

The 3 RTM members will now work with the town and local groups to create a campaign to inform all residents about the opt-out.

For more information, contact Milwe (lizmilwe@gmail.com), Wieser (JWieser@hwhct.org) or Matthew Mandell (matthew@westportd1.com).

Finding The UN At Earthplace Camp

Every jUNe Day, Westport hosts hundreds of guests from around the world.

As you walk along Compo Beach, you hear dozens of languages.

For Jaime Bairaktaris, his “Westport United Nations” moment comes at Earthplace.

The 2016 Staples High School graduate has worked for several seasons as an Earthplace summer counselor. Previously, he was a camper there himself.

Every year, Jaime is impressed at the number of international visiting campers. They come from China, Spain, Germany, Singapore, England and everywhere else. They’re all ages too.

He and the kids climb trees, run through the brook, build stick shelters, have mud fights, swim and canoe down the Saugatuck River.

“No matter where they’re from, we all realize the nature sanctuary doesn’t have a language,” Jaime says.

Last week was extra special. In his group of 5 youngsters, only 1 — Andres — was from Westport.

Andres’ cousin is from Chile. Sofie lives in New York. Liv and Adam come from Paris.

The world comes to Earthplace. On the right is camp co-director Becky Newman.

Jaime relied on “Spanish for Dummies,” “French for Dummies” and Google Translate. He’d switch in mid-sentence from one language to another, without missing a beat.

But, he says, “these kids, without fail, form a connection. They communicate with each other. They start to play. They figure out how to work together.”

As always, children adapt — often better than their parents. One family signed up for just one day at camp. By the afternoon their child was talking excitedly about tomorrow. The parents quickly enrolled for the whole week.

“Our goal is to get them to a level where they’re comfortable and feel safe, by simply showing them they have nothing to worry about — that we don’t have words in English to describe the things we’ll be doing, so it doesn’t matter anyway,” Jaime explains.

The children quickly surpass that basic level of comfort. They mimic his voice, words and hand motions, especially as he counts down from 3 or tells them to quiet down.

“We use handshakes, fist bumps, pinky swears, hugs and a lot of facial expression when we need to explain something,” Jaime says. There are also plenty of high fives, smiles and Charades.

If things get confusing they laugh, grab his iPhone for Google Translate — then laugh some more at the “universal” emojis.

Once, Jaime pointed to words on his phone to show a young boy that they were going to a pond. His sister yelled at Jaime — in French — that he could not yet read. “Whoops!” Jaime laughs.

The Earthplace camp gang. (Photos/Jaime Bairaktaris)

For the counselor, the interactions between campers are his favorite parts.

“There’s nothing better than watching 6-year-olds sit down, build a perfect Lego house — sharing pieces, adjusting them — and then realize after 10 minutes that they didn’t even know they spoke different languages,” he says.

“Most kids truly have no clue there’s a language barrier. And when they do, they just keep playing.”

Some things need no talking. One child extends a hand to another, as they climb a tree. Together, they run over to show Jaime a frog they’ve caught.

“I think something of major importance happens here,” Jaime notes.

“In a world where screen time and organization is so prevalent, nature still teaches us how to be just human beings before we become students, athletes or artists.”

Earthplace’s “unscheduled” schedule is “whatever we want it to be. And whatever it turns out to be, we’re okay with. It’s a level playing field that binds them together, by making them equals.

“If an adult goes into the woods and sees a dead log, we see a dead log. They see a seesaw, and build one. Instead of watching a video about how tadpoles transform into frogs, they catch them — and see what’s happening.

“They can’t bury their head in their phone or rely on a computer to socialize. It’s all done outside, by themselves, and it works out just fine.”

Jaime loves that the Earthplace camp celebrates getting outside, and going with the flow.

And, he emphasizes, “we don’t even need to speak the same language when we do it. At the end of the day, we’re the same people.”

There are no words to describe how great that is.

Morgan Stanley Furniture Dump: The Sequel

Last week, Ken Bernhard was Paul Revere.

The Cohen & Wolf lawyer — a former state representative, assistant minority leader and Westport town attorney — was appalled that Morgan Stanley was tossing at least $100,000 worth of office furniture into a wood chipper, in preparation of a move from 320 Post Road West to new digs on Post Road East.

Last Friday, a contractor tossed Morgan Stanley furniture into a wood chipper.

Bernhard contacted Jeff Wieser, CEO of Homes With Hope. The Westport housing non-profit managed to save “1/20” of the cherry desks, tables, chairs, sofas, bookcases, credenzas and other perfectly good goods.

This week, Bernhard was Kojak.

He spent the past few days trying to get answers from Morgan Stanley: about why they had thrown away so much furniture, and whether there was any truth to the rumor that a similar dump — though 4 times as large — is planned for this Friday, at the financial firm’s Nyala Farm site.

Bernhard said he hoped that Morgan Stanley would follow its own policy of “relocating” unneeded furniture “within other MS facilities,” then reselling or donating the rest to a third parties. He urged the company to work with Westport, other local communities and non-profits, allowing access to Nyala Farms for inspection and perhaps recycling of what the firm is about to discard. He even offered himself as a facilitator to help make it happen.

A small portion of the furniture Morgan Stanley threw away …

Bernhard was not pleased with the hemming, hawing and eventual silence from corporate headquarters.

Yesterday, he sent another email. He noted that a hospice facility in Stamford said it needs office furniture. They were happy to send a truck to pick it up.

Bernhard added:

In all honesty, I don’t understand MS’s perceived intransigence in not giving away some of what the company plans to destroy. In some communities the waste of valuable, useful assets might go unnoticed or overlooked, but Westport citizens aspire to do better than that. We have a strong, vibrant recycling program, a Green Task force, and municipal goals to reduce the community’s carbon footprint. Morgan Stanley is a part of our community.

Again, I offer my services to act as facilitator in identifying not-for-profits or others that might benefit from the reuse of furniture that will otherwise be wasted.

So far, he has not heard back.

Meanwhile, the clock ticks toward Friday.

And whatever happens at Nyala Farm — the sprawling office complex tucked away in the rolling hills off the Sherwood Island Connector — will be a lot less visible than it was on Post Road West.

… and another.

Ka-Boom!

A tree fell earlier today on Hillspoint Road, by the Conservative Synagogue. It brought down utility lines, cutting power to over 50 customers. The traffic light at the Post Road by McDonald’s was out too.

A tree falls on Hillspoint Road

Darcy Hicks — who lives nearby — took this shot. Apparently her brother Tyler — the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times photographer — is not the only Hicks family member with an eye for dramatic news images.

Take $100,000 Worth Of Perfectly Good Furniture. Then Throw It Out The Window.

Ken Bernhard is a principal in Cohen & Wolf’s municipal, real estate, and business and corporate groups. He works in the firm’s office at 320 Post Road West.

He’s also a former state representative, assistant minority leader and Westport town attorney.

He’s nobody’s fool.

This morning, Bernhard heard an enormous crunching sound coming from the building’s top floor.

Morgan Stanley — the tenant there — is moving out. Workers were methodically moving every piece of furniture — cherry desks, tables, chairs, sofas, bookcases, credenzas, you name it — onto the ground.

A chipper then chewed every single piece up.

Into the chipper it goes.

Bernhard — who helped create the Syria Fund, which provides education, medical supplies, household goods and food to families living in desperate areas underserved by large, mainstream organizations — was appalled.

He asked the foreman of the company — Total Relocation Services — what was going on. The man said they had a contract. Morgan Stanley’s floor must be “broom clean” by the close of business today.

A small portion of the furniture Morgan Stanley is throwing away …

Bernhard asked the foreman to check that the financial services firm really wanted to toss at least $100,000 worth of perfectly good furniture away.

Yep, the forerman reported. A Morgan Stanley representative repeated the claim: “Broom clean” by the end of the day.

… another shot …

Bernhard swung into action. He called Jeff Wieser. The CEO of Homes With Hope raced over. He salvaged what Bernhard estimates is “1/20” of the furniture being demolished.

Bernhard also called 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. He said he would send someone over, to see what he could do.

The foreman said he’d had no real notice of the project. But, he told Bernhard, next week the company is scheduled to do a project “4 times as big,” not far away. That may be Morgan Stanley’s Nyala Farms complex.

Bernhard hopes to organize non-profits, and save some of what is there.

“It’s a collective effort,” he says.

It certainly is.

But what does it say about Morgan Stanley — and our society — that it has to be?

… and a 3rd. (Photos/Ken Bernhard)

David Pogue Finds A Renovation Angel

To the rest of the world, David Pogue is a tech guru. He’s a writer (Yahoo, New York Times, Scientific American), TV correspondent (“CBS News Sunday Morning,” PBS “Nova Science Now”) and author (“Missing Manual” series, “Pogue’s Basics”) who has won 3 Emmy awards, 2 Webbys and a Loeb for journalism.

To Westporters, he’s a neighbor.

Which means he worries about the same things you and I do: traffic. How his kids do in school. His kitchen renovation project.

Here — because David Pogue is a neighbor, friend and “06880” fan — is his exclusive story about one part of that kitchen remodel:

When we decided to renovate our aging kitchen, one of my greatest stresses was: What happens to the old kitchen?

David Pogue’s kitchen, before renovation.

For most Fairfield County residents, I’d imagine the answer is, “it winds up in the landfill.” Occasionally, “Habitat for Humanity will take a few items.”

But I’m here to tell you about an amazing alternative that I wish everybody knew: Renovation Angel.

Our kitchen designer told us about this outfit. To be frank, it sounded too good to be true. Listen to this business model:

* They dismantle and haul away your old kitchen for free. You’re saved the cost of the demolition, disposal fees, dumpster rental, and so on.

* They give you a huge tax deduction.

* They then resell your entire kitchen, both online and at their huge showroom in New Jersey. All of it: cabinets, countertops, appliances, lights, chairs —whatever you can part with. Other people who are renovating their kitchens get luxury stuff for a fraction of its usual price.

* The best part: Renovation Angel then gives the proceeds to charity. They donate to programs for addiction recovery, at-risk children, job training, and social entrepreneurship.

David Pogue, wondering how to renovate his kitchen and help the world.

To me, this seemed like a win-win-win-win-win. You win (free demo and the tax writeoff); the planet wins (nothing thrown away); your kitchen’s buyer wins (saves a fortune); Renovation Angel wins (employs 135 people); and, of course, the charities win.

I decided to try it. I sent them photos; they sent a guy out to measure. They asked when we wanted them to show up, and recommended that we have the water and gas disconnected when they arrived. That was it.

Oh — except for the part where they said that our nearly 20-year-old kitchen would earn us a $40,000 tax deduction! Unbelievable.

And so last week they showed up on schedule with a big truck and a 4-man, fully insured crew. Board by board, piece by piece, they dismantled our kitchen, protecting each piece as they loaded it into the truck. They worked nonstop for 4 hours, treated each piece like an heirloom, and left the place spotless. (Incredibly, ours was their 2nd kitchen of the day.)

Almost done!

Renovation Angel is the brainchild of Steve Feldman, who credits a drug addiction recovery program with saving his life when he was a teenager. About 12 years ago, he saw a 10,000-square-foot house in Greenwich being demolished — and watched all the fine marble, custom cabinetry and expensive appliances get tossed into a dumpster. That was the inspiration for Renovation Angel.

Now, a dozen years later, he’s recycled 5,000 kitchens, donated $2.2 million to charity, and kept 30 million pounds of stuff out of landfills.

The kitchen, after Angel Renovation got done. (Photos/David Pogue)

The experience for us was joyous, effortless and thrilling — not words you usually associate with home renovation. Seems like Westport is a national hub of nice kitchens and kitchen renovation. So I can’t help myself in trying to spread the word!

As I said, David Pogue may be world famous, but he has typical Westport/1st world problems. Like, how will he and his family eat while their new kitchen is being installed?

Click below for David’s great time-lapse video of the entire Renovation Angel project:

 

 

Main Street Merchants To Earth: Screw You!

The 1st selectman endorses it. The Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce does too.

So do the Westport Downtown Merchants Association, Green Task Force and Earth Guardians, a Toquet Hall-based youth group.

All back an initiative asking local businesses to keep their doors closed on hot summer days. Air conditioning is a major contributor to carbon dioxide emissions that lead to global warming.

And open doors are a major contributor to wasteful air conditioning.

Yet despite reminders from all those folks, this was the scene last Saturday on Main Street:

(Photo/Bob Mitchell)

That’s 3 stores in a row with wide-open doors — including Blue Mercury, which has been doing it since at least 2010.

There were many more as well.

I know the usual suspects will jump into the “Comments” section, declaring that unless there’s a law against it, stores can do whatever they want to attract customers.

Of course they can.

But that doesn’t mean they should.

Neighbors Oppose Aquarion’s Proposed North Avenue Water Tank

For nearly 2 years, on-again, off-again construction of a new water pump directly across from Staples High School slowed traffic and disrupted neighbors.

Now a group of North Avenue residents is alarmed at the next project. Aquarion wants to build 2 storage tanks — each holding 2.5 million gallons of water. They would replace the one current 1.5 million gallon tank, built in 1956.

Aquarion says the tanks are necessary to address future town growth. Fire chief Robert Yost supports the proposal.

Opponents disagree. Their petition to the Planning & Zoning Commission says:

We, concerned neighbors surrounding and adjacent to the area of the proposed water tank construction project on North Avenue, hereby urge you reject Aquarion Water Company’s Special Permit Application #17-043 to allow the installation of two 2.5 million above ground concrete water storage tanks at 63-67 North Avenue, Westport.

We believe that Aquarion’s construction of the tanks, along with their permanent siting on this property, will have a deleterious effect upon our quality of life, neighborhood safety, North Avenue traffic, visual landscape, and home values.

Our objections are as follows:

1)  The proposed 39 foot above-ground height of the two tanks far exceed the 24 foot height of the one existing tank, as well as the heights of all homes in the surrounding area. This will have a significantly negative impact on the character and quality of the residential neighborhood surrounding it, effectively changing its appearance from residential to commercial.

2)  As proposed, construction of these tanks will take 2 years but is very likely to take longer, based on Aquarion’s previous record of construction of its pump station, which was projected to take 6 months but actually took 18 months. During that time the ensuing noise of construction activity, all-night presence of high intensity construction lights, debris and operation of construction equipment had a severely negative impact on the peaceful enjoyment and quality of life of our neighborhood. Additionally, landscaping besides 6-foot trees, has never been restored since then. With the proposed project we expect this impact to be magnified due to its much larger scale, and Aquarion’s lack of concern for the neighborhood be repeated.

The Aquarion water tank, during recent pump station construction.

3)  Construction activity will severely exacerbate traffic conditions on North Avenue which already suffers from chronic traffic backups and congestion due to the daily volume of cars and school buses traveling to and from Bedford Middle School and Staples High School. This will make travel to and from the schools virtually impossible for both staff and students, and guaranteed to result in school delays.

4)  We are very concerned about the impact on the safety of this residential neighborhood, where so many children live and commute to school, due to the siting of two huge water tanks at this location. When at the June 28 informational meeting Aquarian was asked precautions have been taken regarding the storage of five million gallons of water in a residential neighborhood, Aquarion’s response was “nothing will ever happen.” We find this response irresponsible and unacceptable.

5)  It is highly objectionable that Aquarion did not adhere to the Site Plan and Special Permit requirements, as follows:

a) Aquarion informed and invited only 13 neighbors to the June 26 informational neighborhood meeting, instead of all 27 neighbors in the 250 feet radius from their property.

b) The neighbor list was not distributed to the neighbors in that invitation, as required.

c) Important details were not communicated during the meetings, such as the fact the application had already been filed.

6)  Siting of these highly visible, unsightly structures in our neighborhood will be unpleasant and will adversely affect our property values to a significant extent.\

7)  Given that Aquarion filed the Special Permit Application only on June 21, the last week of school when many families are involved in graduations or traveling, insufficient time has been given to neighbors to review and weigh in on the proposed project. Aquarion has thus far failed to provide answers to our questions including:

What is the basis for the project?
Capacity: Why is there a need to increase the current tank capacity by almost 400%, from 1.5 million gallons to 5.75 million? Population in Westport has been relatively stable since 1970, during which time we have not been made aware of any serious water shortages in our area.

Why situate two huge tanks next to each other in a residential area?
a) Alternative sites: What other options have been considered?

b) Can the second tank (if need has been proven) be situated on a different piece of land?

c) Why is such a large (62.5%) increase in tank height necessary?

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

Finally, we are dismayed and concerned that the Planning & Zoning Commission has agreed to review and presumably rule on this Special Permit Application along such a rushed time frame, with so little consideration given by Aquarion to neighbors who wish to review and weigh in on the application. Thus far, few of our questions have been answered to our satisfaction, and few of our concerns addressed. We would expect that in your roles as advocates for us, the Town’s residents, Planning and Zoning Commissioners will not allow this process to be rushed. We are counting on you to insure that our concerns are addressed and alternatives proposed.

In conclusion, we once again respectfully urge the Planning & Zoning Commission to reject Aquarion’s Special Permit application pending further review, consideration of alternatives, and input by Westport citizenry and other public officials.

Thank you for consideration of this very important matter. Yours truly,

North Avenue Neighbors including: Dr. Stefanie and Marc Lemcke; Michael and Kusumarn Fleming; Jennifer and Andrew Kobettisch; Claudia Steinman, Alfred and Mirian Popkin; David and Dawn Chaskin; Jodi and Russel Hardin; Jennifer and Jeffrey Watzman; Jennifer Stein, 12 Terhune Drive, and many concerned neighbors of Westport.

Photo Challenge #133

Last week’s photo challenge was easy. You might call it a “clam dunk.”

Richard Hyman’s photo showed devices under the 2nd wooden bridge at Sherwood Mill Pond, just before Compo Cove.

They were described variously as a “sluice gate,” “pumps,” “pond gates,” “lock system,” “flood control gates” and “water control mechanism.”

Actually they’re electric gates, installed around 1990. They replaced hand cranks.

Craig Clark provided important context:

They are neither locks or flood gates, but gates to keep water in the pond after high tide. The escaping water was then used to run the grist mill. On an incoming tide there was about 2 feet of clearance under the gates. Many of us swam under them, much to the distaste of the lifeguards.

As the tide changed, the gates would close and hold water back, hence the name Mill Pond. The gates were raised yearly to flush out the pond and allow any repair work to be done to the stone coffer dams, and flush out some of the other stuff that would accumulate.

The Mill Pond has gotten a lot shallower over the years, due to sand coming from Compo Cove and the state park. Farmers used to harvest the salt hay that grows on the flats, and the channels were cut for mosquito control. The Mill Pond is one of Westport’s and the state’s true treasures.

Congratulations to the 24 alert readers — a record! — who knew their onions: Fred Cantor, Luke Garvey, Lisa Marie Alter, Vanessa Wilson, Matt Murray, Craig Clark, Andrew Colabella, Rich Stein, Bob Stalling, Susan Granger, Robert Mitchell, John Brandt, Martin Gitlin, Stan Skowronski, Jill Turner Odice, Antony Lantier, Julie Fatherley, Peter Swift, Jay Tormey, Joelle Malec, Michael, Pettee, Rosalie Kaye, Linda Amos and Don Jacobs. (Click here for the photo, and all responses.)

Since last week’s photo challenge was so easy, here’s a tough one. If you recognize this sign, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Paul Curtis)

Friends Indeed: New Trees Grace Compo Beach

The Compo Beach palm tree was not in the plans. Its fate this winter is unknown.

But 2 other trees planted nearby last month were long expected. And they’re just the start of a new, Johnny Appleseed-like look by the shore.

Friends of Westport Parks & Recreation — formed in 2011 to help fund projects and services beyond the town budget — spearheaded a private program. As with benches, donors can plant trees honoring friends and loved ones. Funds cover planting, maintenance and replacement due to storm damage or death.

Specific species and locations — at Compo and Winslow Park — are determined by the tree warden, and Parks & Rec Department.

The 1st 2 trees honor a newly married couple who just moved here, and a family matriarch who recently died.

Irene Penny honored her grandmother — World War II veteran Evelyn I. Wright — with a lace bark elm.

The lace black elm …

Longtime Westporter George Schweitzer planted a red oak to celebrate the marriage of his friends Anne O’Grady and Skip Wells. Their new home is not far from the tree.

… and the red elm.

Besides the tree program, Friends of Parks & Recreation has raised funds for Wakeman Town Farm, and Longshore projects including the Cliff’s Place halfway house, and a storm shelter at the 9th hole.

To read more about the Friends group, click here.