Category Archives: Local politics

It’s Election Season. Sign Here.

The Westport Police Department is non-partisan. But — like every Westporter – every fall they get caught in the great political sign crossfire.

They say:

With the approaching November elections comes the traditional posting of political signage.

Once again the Westport Police Department has begun to receive complaints related to the disappearance, removal, and/or theft of these signs.

Residents and visitors are advised against taking it upon themselves to remove
signs that do not belong to them, from either public or private property. The
enforcement of the town’s rules is the responsibility of the town of Westport, not
private citizens.

The removal of signs from public or private property by someone not authorized to do so by the town, or by the owner of the sign, may constitute theft.

Entering onto private property to remove signs may also constitute
trespassing. Both of these acts can ultimately result in arrest.

Political signs are considered an expression of free speech, and are allowed on
public property.

It is not advisable to place signs on state property (including rights of way and islands along Routes 1, 136, 57, 33, and the Sherwood Island Connector, nor on the exit or entrance ramps of I-95 or the Merritt Parkway), as the state may remove them.

No sign may be placed on any school property without the prior permission
of the Superintendent’s office.

No sign may be placed within the interior of Compo Beach or Longshore.

No sign may be placed on Town Hall property.

No sign may be placed on trees or utility poles.

No sign may interfere with traffic visibility.

Signs on private property require property owner approval. Signs on private
property must not extend beyond the property line or into the town right-of-
way. It is suggested they be removed within 2 days after the election.

Finally! A candidate we can all agree on. (Photo/Luke Garvey)

Town Hall Still Closed. Attorney Asks Why. Officials Respond.

In mid-March, the coronavirus swept through Westport. In just 48 hours nearly every institution — schools, stores, restaurants, the YMCA, the library, Town Hall — closed to the public.

Gradually — if partially — they’ve all reopened.

Except Town Hall.

Employees, residents, and the many folks who do business every day there have had to find new ways of operating.

That does not sit well with one “06880” reader. A real estate attorney, he used to be in and out of Town Hall nearly every day. Title searches, transactions, deeds — the daily work of home purchases and sales must go through the Town Clerk, Planning and Zoning, Building and Conservation Department offices.

For nearly 6 months, those offices have been shut.

On March 11, flanked by town officials, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe announced the latest COVID-19 news. The next day, Town Hall was shut.

“To record a $6 million sale, I have to make an appointment,” the attorney says. “But only certain times. You can’t do it at noon. That’s their lunch hour.

At the appointed time, he says, “they come outside. You give them the documents. They go inside, then come back out and hand you a receipt.”

Once, he says, he was told to put a notarized document in a drop box. It was quarantined for 24 hours. Then it got lost. “I’ve never heard of COVID being transmitted by paper,” he says.

He’s frustrated too to call with a question, and be told, “I’m working from home. I don’t have access to those files.”

It’s not only Westport, the attorney says. Weston, Norwalk, New Canaan, Darien — those Town Halls are closed too.

“It’s not right,” the attorney says. “With all the buying and selling going on now, there has to be a better way.”

I asked town officials to reply. Operations director Sara Harris says:

“While it may appear that Town Hall remains ‘closed,’ it has in fact never been closed. Town Hall staff members have been working in Town Hall every day since March 11, with services available to the public by appointment only.  Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, we have maintained a citizen- centric approach to accessing all town services. Complaints regarding access to Town Hall have been minimal, and those concerns have been mostly due to misunderstandings of available services. We appreciate that residents have been patient and understanding during this challenging situation.

Sara Harris in her Town Hall office. A painting of the old Town Hall — now Jesup Hall restaurant — hangs behind her.

“Before COVID made its way to Westport, the staff in Town Hall were preparing and planning to offer all town services in case Town Hall needed to be closed to the public for health reasons.

“We devised an operational approach that allowed services to continue. That meant a mixture of staff members working from home (those who utilize cloud-based software for the majority of their work), some coming in on an alternating schedule to allow for social distancing, and some needing to be physically present to do their job.

“We are proud to say that all services continued to be offered to the public during COVID. These have been handled via telephone, email, or the use of the exterior drop box for paper document submission or payments. The Town Clerk and other departments have been hosting appointments for those services that require a face to face transaction, such as marriage certificates or notary.

“There are approximately 20 departments operating in Town Hall or Westport’s other facility buildings. Each have very distinct services and processes. As a result, some staff have worked in-person, remotely or on an alternating schedule.

“Additionally, as witnessed with the overall economy, we also struggle with staff who have childcare or other competing priorities that make it more difficult for some to be physically present. At various times, department office phones may not be answered, and callers are requested to leave voice messages. I have instructed all departments to either answer phones, respond to voice messages or forward them to the appropriate office within 24 hours.

“Regarding the comparison with private business such as stores, banks, gyms and restaurants: Town Hall has in fact been functioning similarly, and for a longer period of time.

Town Hall is closed to the public. However, employees are available by phone and email. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

“Phase II of our ‘reopening’ strategy is to allow additional appointments to take place in one of the larger conference rooms in Town Hall. We anticipate that this phase will begin later this month, along with some physical improvements to coincide with its implementation, including erecting partitions, removing carpet, etc. Public access to the building will still be somewhat limited.

“Phase III, which we expect in the spring, will include major renovations to allow increased control of traffic into Town Hall. These changes are currently under design and are expected to require a budgetary appropriation due to the complexities of the older building design, ADA compliance, layout, and security and egress concerns.

“With the completion of Phase III, we anticipate that the building can be reopened to members of the public wishing to conduct Town business. We do, however, intend to continue to restrict access to some sections of the building, both for security purposes and to uphold best public health practices.”

Town Clerk Patty Strauss adds:

“The Westport Town Clerk’s Office is open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Phone calls are answered directly by a staff member, and in- person appointments are arranged to meet customers at the rear entrance of town hall to conduct business that requires in-person attention. Customers may call to make an appointment for deeds with conveyance, marriage licenses, certification of documents and many other types of transactions where face to face customer contact is necessary. These instructions are located on the town clerk’s web page.

(Photo/Larry Untermeyer)

“Westport land records are indexed back to the town’s incorporation date of 1835. The index to these records, and many other collections housed in the Town Clerk’s office, is available for searching online 24/7 FREE.

“Due to COVID, online viewing of land record documents is free of charge. Land record images are online back to 1974. Requests for older documents not imaged are emailed to the Town Clerk’s office. Orders are filled within 24 hours or same day delivery by scanning the document instead of post mailing, free of charge.

“The Town Clerk’s office has recorded 3,952 documents since March 11. No other complaints have been raised, so there is no reason to assume an adjustment to the current searching/recording procedures should be made. However, we are open to any suggestions to better service our customers and, at the same time, keeping customers and the staff safe.”

New Westporters Offer Energy, Excitement

On March 11, our world changed.

COVID had lurked here for a while. But that day, schools closed. Stores, restaurants, the library and Y followed quickly. In a head-spinning 24 hours, the entire town shut down.

Every Westporter had a multitude of fears. We worried about interrupted educations, job losses, wiped-out savings. We wondered how to juggle childcare and eldercare. We had no idea how or where to shop for groceries. We hoarded toilet paper. We thought we might, literally, die.

A few industries flourished. Most suffered greatly.

Real estate professionals bunkered in. With buyers and sellers confined to their homes, open houses canceled and the entire Northeast locked down, they imagined they’d never sell another property.

To everyone’s amazement, the market sizzled. First came rentals; sales followed soon. Buyers purchased houses sight unseen. Sellers juggled multiple offers, above the asking price. In a world gone crazy, the real estate market was truly insane.

Some of those newcomers have been here since spring. Others arrive every day. Almost unnoticed — kind of like the coronavirus, but in a good way — they snuck up on us.

They haven’t taken over our town. But all these new arrivals will inevitably change it.

As a native Westporter, I am truly happy and excited

In a thoroughly unscientific sampling, it seems that nearly every new homeowner comes from Manhattan or Brooklyn. Some had already thought about moving to the ‘burbs; the virus sped up their plans. Others had no intention of leaving New York.

During a pandemic, the advantages of city living take a back seat …

But here they are. They bring youth, energy, fresh eyes and young kids to our town. They are smart, talented and creative. They are diverse and intriguing.

They want to take advantage of the best that Westport offers. They love what they’ve seen so far — and they haven’t even seen us at our best.

They want to contribute something to their new community, too. With so many of them working from their (new) home offices, they’ll have time to give back. All we have to do is let them know what’s possible, and invite them in.

… to amenities like space and grass.

If you’re a newcomer, get involved!

When social distancing restrictions are lifted, the Westport Library’s Forum will once again be a community hub.

The Westport world is your oyster.

And we’ve got plenty of them. Find them at a restaurant (and discover your favorite eating places). Learn about the Saugatuck River by kayak, paddle boat and rowing vessel (Westport Paddle Club, Saugatuck Rowing Club, Sea Kayak. Work out at the (soon to be expanded) Westport Weston Family YMCA. Spin at Joyride or Soulcycle. Jog or bike on the roads (be careful!).

Fun at the Westport Paddleboard Club

I’ve left out thousands of ways for newcomers to get the most out of their new home — and contribute to it. Feel free to add your own; click “Comments” below.

Our new arrivals will add new ways to this list, too. They’ll bring new ideas, create new organizations, take our town in new directions.

This is a wonderful time for our town. Out of the bleakness of a pandemic has come an opportunity for reinvention, growth and progress.

Our realtors have done their part. Now it’s up to all of us — the Westporters who have been here awhile, and those who have just joined us — to do the rest.

School Days: Scarice Recommends Hybrid Model

With less than a month to go before the school year begins, the look of that year is becoming clear.

Last night, in a Zoom meeting with the Board of Education, superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice recommended a hybrid model. It’s different at each level, but consistent in one way: All students — at least, all who do not choose full-time remote learning — would spend half their time in school, half at home.

Staples High School would have 2 cohorts, based alphabetically on last name (A-K, L-Z).

One cohort would be in school Monday and Tuesday; the other, Thursday and Friday. There would be 4 classes a day; each class is 80 minutes long. When students are not in school, they’d be online.

On Wednesday, all students would learn remotely. The highly touted Connections group meetings would be held that day too.

The final 30 minutes of each day are set aside for teachers to support and connect with remote learners.

Staples high School

The middle school model divides students into cohorts too — both alphabetical, and based on their “home school” (Bedford or Coleytown). One group would in school Monday and Thursday, online Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. The other group is in school Tuesday and Friday, online Monday, Wednesday and Thursday.

All middle school students would be online Wednesday, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. On that day, teachers will have professional responsibility time from 12:30 to 3:15.

Bedford Middle School (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)

The elementary school model was developed thanks to “herculean, unparalleled work” by professionals at all 5 schools, Scarice said.

The elementary model — which emphasizes literacy and math for live instruction — splits youngsters into morning and afternoon groups. There would be live “online specials” when students are home; phys. ed., art, music and Spanish are taught once a week. Small group instrumental lessons and ensembles would be taught virtually. Students would eat at home.

Stepping Stones Preschool would be “business as close to usual” as possible. The class size is 9 to less than 14, meeting state guidelines.

Long Lots Elementary School

Scarice pulled no punches in his introductory remarks. “This is not a 100% data-driven decision. Nor should it be,” he said.

Noting “we are a community and nation enveloped in fear and uncertainty,” he acknowledged that any decision would impact “students, families, teachers, staff members and the entire community. We will not be able to answer every question. This is something we’ve never done before.

“There will be a perception of winners and losers,” he acknowledged. “We must remember: Our purpose is to serve students.”

Although there is a national debate over the role and conduct of education and educators, the superintendent said, “This is a moment for our profession to shine. I am fully confident we will do this very, very well.”

The Board also heard a proposal to move the first day for students back a week, from September 1 to September 8. Those extra days are needed for staff training.

The Board of Education will vote on the hybrid models, and the calendar change, at their next meeting, on Monday.

Superintendent of schools Tom Scarice, during last night’s Zoom meeting.

[OPINION] Disaster Planning Is Imperative

Larry Perlstein is a long-time Westport resident, and Staples High School graduate. He cares full-time for his wife and 12-year-old daughter, and authors a blog for caregivers

This is a rant. I hope this does not provoke ire. I’m not pointing a finger at anyone, any government or any specific company. But I am in the midst of unprecedented craziness between the pandemic, the storm, the heat wave, etc. My emotions are running wild, so please hear me out — and be civil.

Can we all agree that disaster planning in general is a disaster? Having lived in Westport or nearby since 1970 (minus 10 years in the San Francisco Bay Area), I notice we recover quickly after a storm only when we are lucky — not because we were prepared.

For example, I live near a road that is a nightmare after any significant storm. Isaias brought down 5 or 6 large trees. Eversource regularly trims the trees, and owners of the multi-million-dollar houses take good care of their properties. But it’s to no avail. The road gets battered. There’s no taming Mother Nature, and no guessing what damage might occur.

Days after Isaias, Avery Place remained blocked by downed wires and limbs. (Photo/Lauri Weiser)

After each storm we hear the same complaints, and go through the same discussions: The forecast was wrong. The utilities were slow to respond. The governor is angry at the utilities. The town was hardest hit and angry at the utilities. The people living on private roads (60% of Westport) don’t get enough attention from the town. Utility, cable and phone support lines are overloaded or non-existent. People ignore warnings to avoid downed lines. And so on.

In my case, 3 trees fell. They took down all my power, cable and phone lines, and blocked my driveway. I called the police non-emergency number 2 days after the storm, alerting them that wires were down across my road, and that my family (including my disabled wife and 12-year-old daughter) were essentially trapped in the house.

Larry Perlstein and his wife Jacquie.

The response was disheartening. The officer said it wasn’t worth putting tape across the road because people tear it down or drive over it, and they did not have any lists of contractors or individuals who might be able to cut us out. Basically, it is what it is.

Thankfully I had a generator and gas. A neighbor helped me find a great tree company. After 2 days, we extricated oruselves.

I suggest that we stop thinking we can develop grand disaster plans, and instead focus on practical strategies that will improve our resilience.

Here’s a list of services that the state and town might provide that would be useful after a storm. I’m sure some of these things exist, and some might be impossible. But we should use this as a starting point:

  • Police and fire departments should have access to a list of tree and electrical contractors that can be provided to homeowners. The list should include those willing to donate services for low-income households.
  • Town emergency messages should include areas/roads to avoid, gas stations and grocery stores that are open, cell services that are impacted, and outage reporting numbers for Eversource, Optimum, Frontier, etc.
  • The state should provide low-interest loans or grants to acquire and install generators for families with disabled or elderly members, and critical facilities and businesses such as senior centers, gas stations and grocery markets.
  • The state should offer emergency relief for homeowners with significant tree damage. Most homeowner insurance plans offer only $500 for a tree that might cost $2500+ to take down. California offers earthquake insurance. Why can’t Connecticut have tree damage insurance?

Tree damage from storms is an ongoing concern. (Photo/C. Swan)

  • The town should have backup generator capability for critical cell towers. Thank god for my good old Frontier copper landline that kept working even with my lines down.
  • The state should regulate Altice’s internet business to ensure accelerated investment in maintaining/upgrading existing infrastructure, and monitor their storm response. I never did find a way to report an outage.
  • Local radio stations such as WICC, WEBE, and WEZN should be enlisted to provide road closure and other emergency information, and someone should figure out what the “Emergency Alert System” can actually be used for. I continued to hear tests on my battery powered radio, but no actual alerts.
  • The town’s Department of Human Services should be sufficiently staffed (with volunteers if necessary) to handle incoming requests for support, and proactive outreach to the voluntary disability registry. Volunteer groups that provided amazing support during the early days of the pandemic should be coordinated by this office to supply gas, food, water, etc., to households unable to do it themselves.

Many more things can be done, but I’ve tried to keep the list reasonable. Having watched and participated in the volunteer efforts that sprang up after the start of the pandemic, I’m certain that with a little centralized organization and some political will on behalf of the town and state, we can make recovery from storms more palatable.

One last note: While our state and local representatives rake Eversource over the coals (again), I urge everyone to remember that the workers who fix our problems have likely left their own families in the middle of their own problems. These folks are our current heroes. I can’t wait to hug one of those heroes (from a distance) when my power gets restored.

A crew from Canada connects Westport to the world. (Photo/Doerte Inett)

One More Post-Storm Update: Get A Refund! Don’t Kill Yourself!

This afternoon, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, the Department of Public Works and Westport’s Emergency Response Team provided this information. It Includes power outages (including Optimum TV), and safety and food tips.

Most roads are passable. But some may be detoured if crews are in the area clearing debris.

Currently 0.32 percent, or approximately 41, of Westport’s Eversource customers are without power. Those customers, and others with specific outage issues are being addressed as quickly as possible.

  • Due to the heat wave and for those in need, the cooling center at Greens Farms Elementary School is open now until 5 p.m. Wear a face covering, and maintain social distance recommendations.
  • Homeowners should contact electricians to manage individual issues, such as wires that were pulled from the home or electrical panels. A certified electrician must re-attach those wires. Neither Eversource nor town DPW crews are qualified to service individual home electric panels.

(Photo/Wendy Cusick)

Cable and internet service

If your power has been restored but your cable/internet access remains down, please contact your provider. Those providers rely upon electrical restoration or pole re-installation before their services can be addressed. Some fiber cables have been compromised. Town officials are also in contact with providers to encourage facilitation of those services.

Optimum (also known as Cablevision/Altice) says that teams have been deployed around the clock restoring services as quickly as possible. The percentage of customers in Connecticut without Optimum service due to the storm has fallen from more than 44% to less than 4% today.

Optimum offers these restoration tips:

If you lost power, restart your equipment using these steps:

  • Unplug your equipment from its power source.
  • Wait 30 seconds.
  • Plug your equipment back into the power source

If your service does not return after restarting, it is possible that:

  • The power that feeds the network in your area comes from a different commercial power source than the power that feeds your home or business location, or there is another issue relating to network power that needs to be addressed. Optimum is coordinating with electric companies to identify these issues and ensure prioritization of repair or restoration.
  • There is damage to the Optimum network, like a downed utility pole or wire break. Crews are working to rectify this type of damage.

To check on service status:

  • Go to optimum.net/support/outage  Sign in with your Optimum ID and password. Next, under Support (upper right corner), click “Service status.”

To report service issues:

To request a credit, click here: optimum.net/support/request-a-credit

Safety Information:

Homeowners are often seriously injured trying to do their own post-storm cleanup work.

  • Consider consulting a professional before undertaking any major restoration or tree / large limb removal.
  • Do not use a chain saw if you are not experienced in properly and safely operating it, or if you are not physically fit.  If you must use a chainsaw, work only on the ground, not in a tree.
  • Use extreme caution with ladders.
  • Stay safe in hot weather; hydrate; pace yourself.
  • The Westport yard waste site on Bayberry Lane is open fto discard tree limbs and branches.

Food safety reminders: 

  • Any food remaining in a refrigerator or freezer during the outage should be considered contaminated. Do not rely upon appearance or smell to determine if it is safe to consume. When in doubt, throw it out.
  • When power comes back on, clean out your refrigerator and freezer before putting new food in it. Wash the inside of the refrigerator and freezer with soap and warm water, then wipe with a mild solution of ½ tablespoon bleach in a gallon of water. Keep doors open to allow to dry. Once dry, allow the unit to get cold before placing food inside.

Unsung Heroes #155

This one’s a no-brainer.

It’s been 8 days since tropical storm Isaias hammered our homes.

Power is still out in some spots. WiFi, cable and phone service may take longer.

But as we look back on the past week, our town is filled with heroes. If you are …

  • A first responder (police, fire, EMT…) who fielded hundreds of calls
  • A second responder, like the Community Emergency Response Team
  • An Eversource worker — or one that the utility outsourced, who drove for hours to get here — and worked tirelessly, in dangerous conditions, sometimes bearing the brunt of residents’ frustrations with Eversource’s highly paid higher-ups
  • A Department of Public Works worker, who made seemingly impassable roads passable
  • A landscaper or tree guy, who had more work than you ever dreamed of from regular customers, but still found time to help homeowners in dire straits who desperately flagged you down

To the rescue! (Photo/C. Swan)

  • A Human Services Department employee, who did way-beyond-the-job-description things like delivering food and water (and toilet paper!) to stranded seniors
  • Nate Gibbons, the fire inspector who provided sane, soothing and life-saving advice on a continuous WWPT-FM loop
  • The staff of the Westport Library, who made sure the generator stayed on so that (literally) thousands of residents could access WiFi, (literally) 24/7

A small part of the large WiFi crowd. (Photo/Miggs Burroughs)

  • A Westporter who helped a neighbor (or stranger) in any way: offering charging or a hot shower; clearing brush; providing food or shelter or a shoulder to cry or vent on — or anything else
  • A restaurant, deli or market owner, who somehow saved or scavenged food, kept it cold or heated it up, and somehow found a way to serve or sell it
  • A Parks & Recreation Department staffer, who got our parks and recreation facilities cleaned up quickly — a take-your-mind-off-your-woes lifesaver for many, especially over the weekend
  • A town official who fielded countless urgent calls, pleas and requests, along with tons of demands and questions; dealt with impossible-to-deal with utility representatives; got the ear of the governor, senators, our congressman and state legislators; kept everyone as safe as possible — and did it all during a pandemic, while also planning for (hey, why not?!) a primary election

… then you are our Heroes of the Day.

I know I’ve missed plenty of categories. Apologies in advance. Feel free to add your own Heroes; click “Comments” below.

Lamont, Blumenthal Visit Westport; Slam Eversource’s “Unacceptable” Response

Post-Isaias, it’s not easy to get to Town Hall.

Avery Place and Myrtle Avenue are shut. Downed wires and trees litter both important roads. Town Hall itself is closed.

But Governor Ned Lamont, Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz and Senator Richard Blumenthal got there an hour ago. (“I had a police escort,” the governor joked.)

Joined by 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and 3 state legislators, the bipartisan group met first with Fire Chief Robert Yost, Police Chief Foti Koskinas and other officials behind Town Hall, then faced the press and a few Westport residents by the front steps.

In both places, they slammed Eversource’s actions before, during and after the storm.

Or, as more than one said, Eversource’s “lack of action.”

Clockwise from left: Senator Richard Blumenthal, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz, Fire Chief Robert Yost, Police Chief Foti Koskinas, Governor Ned Lamont and State Representative Gail Lavielle. (Photo/ Brendan Byrne)

Standing next to the absentee ballot box in the back parking lot, Marpe told the governor and senator that he had taken Congressman Jim Himes on a tour of Westport this morning.

There were plenty of places they could not reach, Marpe said. “Lives are at risk. And Eversource should be in touch with local leaders, so we know what’s going on.”

Blumenthal noted, “Eversource bet the storm would pass us by. They lost the bet. And we’re paying for it.”

Press and Westport citizens surround the governor, senator and other officials. (Photo/Kyle Ehrlich)

A few minutes later, facing a battery of microphones from news outlets around Connecticut, Marpe called the fact that 85% of Westporters still lack power “unacceptable.”

He added, “We need help right away. Our Public Works, first responders and Town Hall staff are working full time to get the town back in shape. AT&T and Verizon are here.

“But hundreds of roads are inaccessible. Lives are at risk. Eversource’s response is totally inadequate. I can’t tell you if 10 trucks are here, or 2, or 200. I have no idea of any time estimates.”

Lamont, speaking next, cited the COVID pandemic. “We hope for the best but plan for the worst. That’s not what the utilities have done.

“Eversource should have been pre-positioned. We’ll hold their feet to the fire later. We will have a tough post-mortem. But right now the house is on fire, and we need (the equivalent of) the fire department. That’s our first priority.”

Governor Lamont speaks at Town Hall. (Photo/January Stewart)

Lamont was “surprised” to get a call from the White House last night. “FEMA will reimburse us 100%,” he said. “But that’s small potatoes compared to the action that’s needed right now.”

Blumenthal noted, “I’ve never seen Connecticut more angry, and rightfully so. No electricity and no internet are matters of life and death.

“There can be no more teasing, no more delays, no more rate increases. Eversource’s CEO is well compensated.” (Bysiewicz said he earns $19.8 million a year.) “But he won’t even come out and meet the press.”

State Senator Tony Hwang and State Representative Gail Lavielle echoed the criticism of the utility.

State Representative Jonathan Steinberg added, “This storm hit Westport like a freight train — and it sounded like one. People say that Eversource’s response is unacceptable. Well, the word ‘unacceptable’ is unacceptable.”

Senator Richard Blumenthal, Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe at Town Hall. (Photo/Calvin Carson)

Town Update: We’re Getting There. But It Will Take A While.

Westport’s Emergency Management Response Team says:

The Department of Public Works has made great progress opening up approximately 40% of the 294 roads that were closed. Last evening they reopened Saugatuck Avenue so that police, fire, and EMS can access Saugatuck Shores without having to pass through East Norwalk.

Part of the standard for restoration is the “Make Safe” program. Town highway crews are paired with Eversource crews to reopen streets blocked by downed trees and power lines. Once the power company verifies that the electricity is off to the downed wires, Public Works crews can then safely remove trees, branches and debris to open the streets. Streets with no secondary access are prioritized so that emergency vehicles can gain access.

Power cannot be safely restored until all the trees are cleared. Unfortunately, this process may take days. There can be no official estimates for when power may be restored while the Make Safe process is ongoing. However, once the next phase begins, more accurate data will be available to provide estimates on times and areas of restoration.

Post Road West, near Academy of Dance, 11 a.m. this morning. (Photo/Leah Nash)

1st Selectman Jim Marpe adds:

I have been in direct contact with Eversource and our legislators about the Eversource response and its expected time frame for restoration, demanding accurate estimates from Eversource for their remaining restoration efforts. Governor Lamont has also stepped in to demand a better response from Eversource.

In an effort to manage expectations regarding estimates of power restoration time, be aware that this storm has created as much electrical infrastructure damage as Super Storm Sandy 8 years ago. Power restoration for some customers in that event took many days. We understand everyone’s frustration with even a day without power, so we will push Eversource in every way possible to speed the process, without compromising safety.

A hanging utility pole, on Quarter Mile Road. (Photo/Richard Epstein)

We are also aware of the challenges with sporadic to non-existent WiFi, internet and cell service. We have been in contact with executives at major carriers, including AT&T, Wireless and Verizon. Cell towers and antennae require commercial power to operate. As a result, they are also affected by the massive outage. The representatives assured us that they are working on temporary solutions to gain some level of service, but ultimately they, like all of us, rely on full restoration by Eversource before they may achieve full capability.

The town is working on establishing locations for public device charging stations.  Seniors age 60 or over can charge their devices on the outside of the Senior Center weekdays between 8:30 and 4:30 p.m. Outdoor public Wi-Fi can be accessed at the train station houses, outside of Town Hall and outside the Westport Library.

Yesterday, there were technical issues that prevented broadcasting on WWPT.  Those issues have been resolved. I encourage residents to tune in to 90.3 FM radio for information and guidance during this emergency.

Linda Doyle lives on Rocky Ridge Road, off Valley Road. She says: “No power. Any source of communication in or out is almost non-existent. Scant emergency texts come from the town that we are able to retrieve! There is no way in or out of the road at this time. Lucky to have great neighbors and friends. We are trying to remain patient and hopeful.” (Photo/Linda Doyle)

While safety remains our utmost concern, we suggest that residents remain at home after dark given that downed wires are harder to be seen at night.  Furthermore, traffic lights continue to be out of service and all intersections must be approached as if a stop sign was there.

Please do not remove caution tape or barricades from roadways; they are there for your safety. If tape or barricades are removed prematurely, personnel must reattach it, taking time away from other vital activities. Exercise extreme caution if out walking, cycling or jogging on the roadways and sidewalks, since many remain blocked by limbs and wires.

We appreciate your continued patience and cooperation as we work effectively and efficiently to address the issues associated with this event. Please remember, we are still fighting the COVID-19 virus so practice social distancing and use face coverings if you choose to leave your home. Please help protect our community as we work together to get through the pandemic and the storm aftermath.

Update on Westport Parks & Recreation:

Town beaches are open, but will close at 8:30 p.m. in an effort to keep people off the roads after dark. Longshore golf course and tennis courts remain closed as clean-up continues and there is no electricity. Access will be available to the ER Strait Marina, Longshore Sailing School and the Pearl restaurant.  Please note that due to the lack of power, fuel is not available at either marina.

Athletic fields are open with the exception of Town Farms and Coleytown Elementary School fields.  For updates on those fields, check with Westport Little League.

Other park facilities that are open include Winslow Park, Machamux Park, Grace Salmon Park, Luciano Park, Eloise Ray Park, Pasacreta Park, Jesup Green and Veterans Green.

The Staples, Town Farms and Doubleday tennis courts are open for play. Other parks will be opened once damage has been assessed and the area is deemed safe.  Please do not enter a park if it has been closed off.

Don’t remove caution tape. It’s there for a reason! (Photo/Bruce Haymes)

REMINDERS

For your safety and the well-being of others:

Only call 911 for true medical emergencies.
Check on your neighbors.
Stay at least 25 feet from downed power lines.
·         Be aware of possible carbon monoxide poisoning from portable generators.

·         All generators (portable and installed) should be used in well-ventilated locations outside and at least 10-15 feet away from all doors, windows, and vent openings.

·         Never use a generator in an attached garage, even with the door open.

If you must drive, use caution, expect delays and detours, and be considerate of other drivers and emergency crews. DO NOT drive around tape or barricades – they have been erected for your safety. Without working traffic signals, intersections must be approached as if a STOP sign was there.  Make a full stop at all intersections and treat this as a four way STOP.

Sign up for Emergency Notifications by registering at www.nixle.com, or texting 06880 to 888777 from your mobile phone

 

Marpe: The Latest On Connecticut’s 4th Worst Storm Ever

1st Selectman Jim Marpe and the Westport Emergency Management Team provide the following update. It is also available on WWPT-FM (90.3), which frequently provides information in emergencies.

Eversource considers this storm to be the 4th largest ever experienced in Connecticut, and Governor Lamont has declared a State of Emergency. [“0688o”‘s side comment: We don’t want to even think about the other 3.]

It was a “wind event,” with sustained winds of 54 mph and gusts of 63 miles per hour. Fortunately, the flooding risk never materialized as rainfall was measured at ½ inch. The Emergency Management Team anticipates that the storm and its aftermath will require multiple days of clean up and restoration in all areas of town.

Statewide, 617,000 customers are without power, with 12,226 Eversource customers (97%) without power in Westport. The significant damage and high percentage of those without power and other utility services indicates that Westport may have been the hardest hit municipality in the state.

Residents are advised to remain safe at home to allow for an expedient and safe clean up. Many homes sustained significant damage. A large number of roads remain closed and impassable due to uprooted trees, large limbs, debris and downed wires. Department of Public Works crews will not touch, move or remove downed trees until the utility companies address downed wires first.

Eversource crews are assessing and evaluating the safest way to manage the many downed wires and then work cooperatively to restore power safely to neighborhoods throughout town. All of Westport has been impacted by this event, with varying degrees of damage and need for immediate attention and prioritization. Unfortunately, this means that it may be days until full power is restored.

Damage on Saugatuck Shores. Isaias was the real deal. (Photo courtesy of News12)

For your safety and the safety of work crews who are trying to clear the roads and restore power:

  • Do not go sightseeing! Roads must be kept clear for emergency vehicles.
  • Do not drive over or go near downed wires.
  • Do not drive or walk around yellow barrier tape or barricades.
  • Stay well clear of downed power lines: 25’ at least!
  • Be vigilant about downed trees and tree limbs hung up overhead

If you must drive, use caution, expect delays and detours, and be considerate of other drivers and emergency crews. DO NOT drive around tape or barricades – they have been erected for your safety. Without working traffic signals, intersections must be approached as if a STOP sign was there.  Make a full stop at all intersections and treat this as a four way STOP.

Please be aware of possible carbon monoxide poisoning from portable generators.

  • All generators (portable and installed) should be used in well ventilated locations outside and at least 10-15 feet away from all doors, windows, and vent openings.
  • Never use a generator in an attached garage, even with the door open.

Town facilities, including the beaches, Longshore, Recreation programs, the Westport Library, the Senior Center and Wakeman fields remain closed today. All Senior Center virtual programs are cancelled for the remainder of the week.  The Board of Finance meeting scheduled for tonight is cancelled.

The Department of Human Services reminds residents to please check on your friends and neighbors. This weather emergency, combined with COVID-19 concerns, is stressful and may have a profound effect on our most vulnerable citizens.  We are a resilient, caring community that looks out for one another.

If you know of a neighbor who is elderly or particularly vulnerable, please reach out to him or her and offer assistance from a safe distance. DHS staff is available weekdays from 8:30 am-4:30 pm at 203-341-1050 to provide information and resources, although it’s most important to rely on your natural supports at this time. Please practice patience and consideration as we are all doing the best we can under the circumstances.

After 4:30 p.m., residents can call the CT information hotline by dialing 211 or go to www.211ct.org for mobile crisis support.

Only call 911 for true medical emergencies.

Due to COVID-19, Westport’s cooling centers, charging stations, and shelters are currently not available, so it is essential to make specific plans to address your needs.

We will continue to provide updates to residents as soon as they are available. Please recognize that there are many who are working as quickly as possible to effectively and efficiently clear the roadways and restore power. Most of us are without power, so we are in this together. You are not alone.

And please remember, we are still fighting the COVID-19 virus so practice social distancing and use face coverings if you choose to leave your home. Please help protect our community as we work together to get through the pandemic and this latest weather crisis. Remember, you are safe at home; not stuck at home. We appreciate your anticipated patience and cooperation.

** Sign up for Emergency Notifications by registering at www.nixle.com, or text 06880 to 888777 from your mobile phone**