Category Archives: Local politics

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 telephone 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**

Town Officials: Prepare For Isaias

First Selectman Jim Marpe and Westport’s Emergency Management Team are watching a tropical storm, expected to strike here tomorrow (Tuesday). They say:

We ask the community to begin preparations now, and ensure they have a plan of action in place for themselves, their families and/or their business.

Fire Chief Robert Yost says: “Avoid traveling and plan to be home by Tuesday afternoon as we expect damaging winds and flooding. Now is the time to secure your home: check sump pumps, clear gutters, secure your outdoor furniture, BBQs and loose objects.”

Isaias is a tropical storm, not a hurricane. This is the result of Superstorm Sandy, in 2012.

Expect flash flooding due to heavy rains.

⚠️   Seek shelter and avoid traveling once rain and storm winds start.

🚧 Do not walk or drive through flood waters.

Never attempt to drive on or through a flooded road.

🏠 If your building floods, move to a higher floor but do not enter a closed attic.

According to the National Weather Service, Tropical Storm Isaias is now forecast to make its closest approach early Tuesday. Tropical storm force winds are expected to arrive a few hours later, at approximately 2 p.m. The latest model indicates that the tropical storm will pack sustained winds of 40-50 MPH, with gusts to 70 MPH when it arrives.

The primary threat from Isaias still appears to be from strong winds. Based on the current NHC forecast we can expect a high end moderate to borderline major impact to trees and power lines.

As with all dying tropical systems there is also the risk for severe thunderstorms, and a few weak tornadoes. The tropical storm will also be accompanied by some heavy rain of 2-4 inches.  Minor to moderate flooding is also possible.

Myrtle Avenue flooding in 2018.

The updated arrival timing brings the strongest winds into the coast at low tide. Therefore, only minor coastal flooding is expected, which may inundate a few low lying coastal roads with wave splash.

Downed power lines can be deadly. Always assume they are live, and avoid going near them or anything in contact with them.

Sign up for emergency notifications by registering at www.nixle.com, or texting “06880” to 888777 from your mobile phone. 

Old Mill, New Problem: The Back Story

Last week’s announcement that public parking at Old Mill Beach is reopened was straightforward. Parking is once again available for vehicles with beach emblems or hang tags, on a space available basis.

But the Parks & Recreation Department news underscored long-running tensions between residents of Old Mill and Compo Cove, and residents in other parts of town.

Parking at the small beach opposite Joey’s by the Shore has always been limited. There are 35 residences by the beach or over the twin wooden bridges (accessible only by foot). There are 13 garages in back (they’re private property, each deeded to a home). A few properties do have room for parked cars. After re-paving a year ago, the lot was striped for 64 spaces.

The parking lot in April 2019, after paving and re-striping. (Photo/Matt Murray)

Parks & Rec placards identify vehicles that belong to residents. Those allow residents to park overnight there.

Old Mill and Compo Cove owners and renters have also been allowed to purchase 4 passes: 2 for themselves (1 per car, license plate-specific), and 2 for guests. The cost is $330, and they do no guarantee parking spaces.

During the COVID shutdown — designed to minimize crowds on the sand — Old Mill residents bristled at charges that they had a “private beach” paid for by Westporters’ taxes.

Old Mill Beach, early July (Photo/Diana Griffin Coyne)

“We pay for the schools and other services we may not use,” Matt Murray says. “I’ve been here 32 years, and never had a child in the school system. It’s part of funding the town.”

(Old Mill residents have their own complaint. This spring and summer has seen a steep rise in the number of tweens and teens jumping from the wooden bridge into Mill Pond. Some ride bikes there; others dropped off by parents. Residents say the youngsters have been loud and disrespectful, and have vandalized cars in the lot. Parks & Rec has now assigned an employee to the area. But that’s another story.)

A time-honored ritual, in 2019. The parking garage — part of some owners’ property deeds — is in the background.

For years, Old Mill was Westport’s forgotten beach. Once upon a time, there was a lifeguard. Then it eroded so badly that swimming became almost impossible. The Mill Pond behind it was in bad shape too.

But Old Mill is back. People swim, go crabbing and fishing, use skim boards and boogie boards, and walk out (and party) on the mud flats. The Mill Pond is healthy again too.

Old Mill in June (Photo/Les Dinkin)

The popularity of Joey’s by the Shore/Elvira’s Coffee Bar — particularly now that the Compo concession stand is not open — has added to the allure of Old Mill Beach.

With Compo operating at half capacity (meaning occasional closures on great-weather weekends), plus some Westporters’ hesitancy to hang out at still-crowded Compo — along with the fact that more people (including kids) than ever have stayed home this summer — Old Mill has never been more attractive.

Old Mill Beach (Photo/Dan Woog)

For a couple of weeks, a social media firestorm pitted Westporters demanding more access to the Old Mill parking lot against residents defending their right to park there.

Parks & Rec’s recent decision to reopen Old Mill Beach — under the regular, first-come-first-served parking rules — has quieted the tempest.

For now — let’s hope — everyone can play nice in the sandbox.

Marpe: Fight COVID Fatigue!

1st Selectman Jim Marpe says:

As we enter a new month of restrictions and regulations designed to keep ourselves and others safe, it is understandable that some are experiencing “COVID fatigue,” and perhaps becoming too relaxed in abiding by public health requirements.

Westport needs to remain vigilant. We must all maintain social distancing, not gather in large groups, practice diligent hand washing, and continue to be responsible by wearing a face covering whenever leaving our homes. This is especially important during the summer months when we are drawn outside to exercise, shop, dine outdoors and go to the beach.

Wearing a face covering properly over both the nose and mouth protects us, and protects those we may come in contact with. To those who forget, or choose not to wear a face covering: You are placing those around you in an uncomfortable position, and may put their health at risk. Remember to bring your face covering as if it were your cell phone!

There are some who may not agree with the actions that are being taken by town health and safety official. Please: Remember that the best interests of our residents and visitors are foremost in the decision-making process. We want everyone to have the opportunity to enjoy all the town’s amenities in a safe and responsible manner while respecting family, neighbors and friends. Everyone can help by wearing a face covering and maintaining social distancing.

To date, we have not mandated the wearing of face coverings because my leadership team believes that residents’ personal responsibility in insuring the virus does not spread in this community has a much stronger impact than the imposition of a mandate. I am confident that residents, visitors and guests will be considerate of others. If we all wear face coverings, then we are setting a positive example to those around us. Please continue to be respectful of others, and wear face coverings properly at those times when you are required to do so.

Residents are reminded that weekend traffic and possible overcrowding at town beaches may result in early closure. In an abundance of caution and to insure public health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, when a beach reaches a capacity where it is deemed impossible to maintain social distancing, it will be closed to additional beachgoers. Signage at key intersections on local roadways will inform drivers if a beach is closed, and traffic will be diverted from the area. Parking on local streets to avoid the parking lots is not allowed.

Residents who wish to spend the day at a town beach are advised to arrive before 10 a.m. If a beach closes, it may reopen mid to late afternoon, provided safer conditions relative to crowds and social distancing are observed at that time. The town will make every effort to inform residents of the current conditions throughout the day via the Town of Westport and Parks and Recreation Department website homepages, and the Town and Parks and Recreation Facebook pages.

While in the Compo Beach area, please wear a face covering when walking on the boardwalk, using the restrooms or area sidewalks, or any other time when you are unable to maintain a 6-foot distance from others. Please have a face covering available at all times.

Online:  www.westportct.gov/COVID19

Updates:  Sign up for emergency alerts and email subscriptions

The ADA In Westport: 30 Years Of Progress

Thirty years ago this week, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans With Disabilities Act into law.

It was a monumental achievement. The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, state and local government, public accommodations, transportation and more.

Its effects have been both intended (curb cuts make things easier for wheelchair users; closed captioning aids people with hearing loss) and unintended (those same curb cuts help anyone pushing a stroller or wheeling luggage; closed captions are great for TVs in noisy spots like restaurants and bars.

In Westport — as in the rest of the nation — the ADA has made building access easier. At Compo Beach, Mobi-Mats intended to ease the trek across sand to the Sound for people with mobility problems has been a boon to anyone hauling a cooler (or young kids).

Compo Beach Mobi-Mat. (Photo/Patti Brill)

The new bathrooms at South Beach are a welcome relief to many. So are the walkways that now lead from the pavilion all the way to the kayak launch.

Jim Ross — chair of Westport’s Commission on People With Disabilities — notes a few other important local initiatives.

The Remarkable Theater‘s drive-in movies have brought joy and life to Westport during this entertainment-starved COVID summer. But the theater has another, equally important mission: to create meaningful employment for the disability community. That visibility may be another legacy of the ADA.

The confidential Voluntary Registry — managed by Westport’s Department of Human Services, in conjunction with the Police Department — enables individuals with disabilities, and their families or caregivers, to register medical and living arrangements, so it can be known during a police or fire emergency.

Town officials and disability leaders are working to secure independent housing facilities on town-owned property.

An “Employment is for Everyone” initiative is in its early stages. Ross’ commission is working with the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce and Westport Downtown Merchants Association to help people with disabilities find employment here — and help Westport businesses better serve the disability community.

When a beach wheelchair was delivered more than 10 years ago, then-Parks & Rec director Stuart McCarthy gave Rotary president Irwin Lebish a ride.

It is estimated that up to 1 in 5 Americans have some sort of disability. Have you, a relative or friend been impacted by the ADA? How does Westport compare to other places, in terms of accessibility and accommodations? Are there areas where Westport can do better? Click “Comments” below.

(For more on the 30th anniversary of the ADA, click here. Hat tips: Diane Johnson and Elaine Daignault.)

Roundup: P&Z; Ospreys; Justin Paul; Bridge Lights; More


This Thursday (July 21, 5 p.m., Zoom session), the Planning & Zoning Commission considers 3 COVID-related items.

Two are text amendments aimed at striking a balance between promoting economic vitality and protecting nearby residents.

One would extend the current temporary outdoor dining regulations through March 31, 2021. The other would allow fitness businesses to use certain outdoor spaces, enabling them to serve clients in a socially distanced way.

In addition, Pierrepont School is seeking to use additional space at 220 Post Road West — across the street from its current home at 1 Sylvan Road North — to provide more social distancing space for its approximately 48 students in grades 7-12, and staff.

The meeting will be livestreamed on www.westportct.gov, and shown on Optimum channel 79 and Frontier channel 6020. Public comments may be sent by noon on Thursday to PandZ@westportct.gov, and during the meeting as well (PandZcomments@westportct.gov. For full details, click here.

Outdoor dining has been successful on Railroad Place.


Yesterday’s Roundup featured a photo of the Fresh Market osprey fledglings.

A bird-watching friend writes about other osprey platforms in town. They include:

Two on the exit road from Longshore. One is along Gray’s Creek at the back of the out-of-town parking lot for the marina. The other is along the exit road just past Gloria’s mooring, opposite the 12th green.

Two are at Sherwood Island. One is north of the Nature Center in the salt marsh between the island and Beachside Commons; the second is on the west side of the island, in the marsh alongside Sherwood Mill Pond, north from the end of the second bridge at the tidal gates,

One more is off Beachside Avenue, east of Burying Hill Beach and Harvey Weinstein’s former home.

All 5 are occupied, and have 2 or 3 hatchlings each. They’re practicing flying and fishing prior to their late summer migration to South America for the winter.

A local osprey nest (Photo/Jen Greely)


Staples High School 2003 graduate Justin Paul has gone on to fame (and many honors) for his off-the-charts songwriting (“Dear Evan Hansen,” “La La Land,” “The Greatest Showman”).

But he has not forgotten his home town. He recently volunteered as a judge for the Norwalk-to-Bridgeport Project Census Throwdown contest, encouraging high school students to write creatively and educationally about the 2020 Census.

Justin was very impressed with the winning rap submission, from Elijah Atkins of Bridgeport’s Bridge Academy. He encouraged Elijah to further explore his gift for lyrical structure and creativity.

Congratulations, Elijah — and thanks, Justin!

Justin Paul


A few spots remain for the Earthplace Summer Teen Volunteer Club. Daily activities include animal care, special event preparation, and maintaining the Earthplace private preserve.

Sessions run July 17-August 7, and August 10-21. For information, click here.


The Westport Downtown Merchants Association has decorated the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge downtown with summer-color lights: blue, green and white.

Pretty lit!


And finally … Happy 72nd birthday, Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam). There are so many songs to pay him tribute. Here are 3. What’s your pick? Click “Comments” below.

Beach Alert: Closures Expected; No Drop-Offs Allowed

1st Selectman Jim Marpe says:

Due to the extreme heat forecast for this weekend, increased vehicular and pedestrian traffic is anticipated at Westport beaches.

In an abundance of caution and to insure public health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the beach reaches a capacity where it is deemed impossible to maintain social distancing, it will be closed to additional beachgoers. S

Signage at key intersections on local roadways will inform drivers if the beach is closed, and traffic will be diverted from the area. Drop-offs will not be allowed.

These types of crowded conditions start from mid to late mornings. We advise residents who wish to spend the day at the beach to arrive before 10 a.m.

The beach may re-open mid to late afternoon, provided safer conditions relative to crowds and social distancing are observed at that time.

The goal is for everyone to enjoy Compo — and obey the rules. (Photo/Tom Cook)

The town will make every effort to inform residents of conditions throughout the day via the Town of Westport and Parks and Recreation Department website home pages, and the Town and Parks and Rec Facebook pages.

At Compo Beach you are reminded to wear masks on the boardwalk, using the restrooms or sidewalks, or any other time when you are unable to maintain a 6- foot distance from others.

Your cooperation, patience and understanding with the town staff and police who will enforce and maintain traffic and crowd control during these unprecedented times is appreciated.

I have utmost confidence that town health and safety officials have only the best interests of residents and guests in mind when making difficult decisions. I also know that Westporters understand and accept the gravity of the current health crisis. I am grateful that we are at a point where our town amenities may be open and thriving. But now more than ever, we must enjoy them in a safe and responsible manner while respecting our family, neighbors and friends.

Solar Project Application Withdrawn

Earlier today, “06880” reported that tonight the Planning & Zoning Commission would consider a text amendment, special permit and site plan application for “solar-based electric generating facilities” on the Bedford Middle School campus.

Less than 4 hours before the meeting, Public Works director Peter Ratkiewich advised P&Z director Mary Young that the plans — submitted by Greenskies Clean Energy, on behalf of the town — were being withdrawn.

“The Administration has decided not to pursue this project at this time,” Ratkieweich said.

The site plan for Bedford Middle School. The proposed solar panels

P&Z Hears Solar Energy Request Behind BMS

The Planning & Zoning Commission usually takes August off.

But before they do, a solar energy project is on the docket. Today (Thursday, July 16, 5 p.m., Zoom meeting) they’ll consider a text amendment, special permit and site plan application for “solar-based electric generating facilities” on the Bedford Middle School campus. They’ll be mounted on the ground (not canopies).

Greenskies Clean Energy has been granted a town lease to produce electricity there. The firm seeks a variance to mount 20-foot solar panels in the grassy area behind the school, and remove 10 trees.

The project includes modules in both corners behind the school.

One section of the site backs up to property on Woody Lane. The other part backs up to High Point Road.

The site plan for Bedford Middle School. The proposed solar panels are indicated by hatch marks near the center of the map. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

The meeting will be livestreamed on http://www.westportct.gov, and shown on Optimum channel 68 and Frontier channel 6020.

A close-up view of the work proposed. Click on or hover over to enlarge.