The state Department of Transportation’s environmental assessment report on the William F. Cribari Bridge will be released next month.
But Deputy Commissioner Mark Rolfe has told 1st Selectman Jim Marpe that its conclusion — and the DOT’s recommendation — is to replace the bridge with a new structure that meets Federal Highway Administration standards.
Many Westporters — fearing traffic on a bigger, new span — have pushed instead for renovation of the 133-year-old structure.
However, Rolfe offered Marpe an alternative: The state could transfer ownership of the bridge to the town of Westport, and re-route Route 136 (Bridge Street and Compo Road South).
The catch: The town would be responsible for operation, maintenance and repair of the Cribari Bridge.
Is that a bridge too far for Westport?
William F. Cribari Bridge: The debate continues. (Photo/Sam Levenson)
East Norwalk residents — and their neighbors around the corner in Saugatuck — are breathing easier today.
Developers of a 330,000-square foot distribution center proposed for Norden Place have withdrawn their application.
Norwalk’s Zoning Commission was scheduled to discuss the plan tonight. The meeting has been canceled.
Artists’ rendering of a distribution center.
The warehouse and distribution facility included 19 loading docks. It would generate up to 190 truck trips a day, and more than 350 trips by car.
According to “Nancy on Norwalk,” owners promised to keep traffic to the hours of 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. — “to the extent commercially practicable.”
Much of that traffic would spill onto Route 136. In Westport — around the corner from Norden Place — that’s Saugatuck Avenue. A few yards away in Norwalk, it’s called Winfield Street.
Westporters were also concerned about truck drivers mistakenly getting off I-95 Exit 17 — rather than 16 — and becoming stuck under the railroad bridge.
The proposed Norden Place warehouse and distribution center is shown in yellow. Truck routes are also marked.
The proposal generated tremendous opposition, including a petition signed by more than 1,700 people.
Westport 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Planning & Zoning director Mary Young, the full Planning & Zoning Commission and Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce president Matt Mandell were among the most vocal opponents.
In December, P & Z members Cathy Walsh and Chip Stephens presented a letter to Norwalk’s planning board. They said:
East Norwalk and Saugatuck operate as one ecosystem. We share the same air, water, roads and traffic. We have extensive shared service agreements in place for EMS, fire and police.
Both towns have made substantial progress toward increasing our sustainability, walkability and safety by investing in sidewalks, crosswalks and roadways. This project runs contrary to our collective long term goals and will negatively impact the health, safety and welfare of the residents of our community.
(To read more, click here for the “Nancy on Norwalk” story)
At this time in 2020, when 1st Selectman Jim Marpe gave his State of the Town address to a large Westport Library crowd, he was aware of something called “the coronavirus.” But the town was strong, and the 4 challenges he cited were traffic, affordable housing, enhancing town facilities, and the mill rate.
Barely a month later, he led a town-wide Coronavirus Seminar in the library — though some residents stayed home, and watched virtually.
Three days later the schools, Town Hall and all public facilities shut down.
This afternoon, Marpe and Board of Education chair Candice Savin were back at the library. But they delivered the 4th annual State of the Town report to an empty Trefz Forum. The event — like so many others in the past 10 months — was fully remote.
COVID colored nearly all of both leaders’ remarks.
From left: Board of Education chair Candice Savin, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, assistant town attorney Eileen Lavigne Flug (moderator).
Marpe acknowledged that as an early hot spot, Westport “stumbled a little out of the gate.” But — from outdoor dining to the Remarkable Theater; from public and private pivots to new ways of celebrating holidays; in ways large and small — Westport’s response was creative and strong.
The 1st selectman cited these operations:
Live remote work, including all town services
Zoom technology for public and internal meetings
A property tax deferral program.
Flexibility with town rules
Election registration, and primary and general elections, completed using drop-off and mail-in ballots, and socially distanced polling places.
Town officials interpreted often inconsistent governor’s and state guidelines to the public, Marpe said. They used Nixle, social media, video, their website, school contact lists and more to communicate. They coordinated education, compliance and enforcement efforts with the fire marshal and Westport Weston Health District.
Officials also worked with local business owners, leaders and organizations like the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Merchants Association to reopen safely.
1st Selectman Jim Marpe delivered his remarks via the town and library websites, and on Cablevision and Frontier TV.
Marpe noted non-COVID efforts as well:
Launching the “Zero Food Waste Challenge” with Sustainable Westport.
Negotiating to establish new management at the Inn at Longshore
Initiating the Transit District’s Wheels to You program
Inaugurating “Westport Together” alliance to strengthen the health and well-being of Westport’s youth.
He added, “the murders of George Floyd and other persons of color, along with some racially driven local events, caused all of us to re-examine our commitment to diversity and inclusion.” TEAM Westport, the Westport Library and Westport Country Playhouse have partnered in those efforts.
In addition, Marpe said:
The P&Z Commission amended zoning regulations to create new opportunities for semi-independent units designed for adults with special needs.
He attends P&Z Affordable Housing Subcommittee meetings, with representatives from TEAM Westport, Health & Human Services, the Westport Housing Authority, the RTM and others
P&Z chair Danielle Dobin and he have participated in statewide webinars and panels focusing on affordable housing and racial equity.
The town is committed to focus more assertively on hiring and mentoring a more diverse workforce.
He worked with the Chief of Police, Fire Chief and EMS to establish a Civilian Review Panel to oversee complaints and hiring.
Then came Tropical Storm Isaias. No lives were lost, and property damage was limited. But it was one more test of town government.
Grove Point Road: just one example off Isaias’ devastation. (Photo/John Kantor)
In the aftermath, Marpe worked with state officials to hold Eversource accountable — and updated the town’s emergency plan.
Meanwhile, Marpe said, the “normal work of government” went on this year:
Artificial turf was refurbished at Jinny Parker and PJ Romano Fields; new lighting was at the Greens Farms Elementary School field, and Riverside Park was improved
Public Works paved over 10 miles of roadway
Public Works and Parks & Rec are beginning to use electric leaf blowers
The Human Services Department received $1 million in Community Development Block Grants to address homelessness on a county-wide basis.
Town Assessor Paul Friia and his staff conducted the 5-year revaluation of residential and commercial property.
The 2020 Census was completed. with over 85% self-initiated response rates from
Town Hall was reopened to the public with appointments.
Coleytown Middle School was reopened (“11 months ago, I thought that would be the big story this year,” Marpe said).
Projects that were delayed, but are now underway, include:
A marketing campaign to promote Westport to businesses and potential residents
Pursuing final approvals to dredge the Saugatuck River in collaboration with the Army Corps of Engineers; seeking state and federal funding
Completing Kings Highway bridge work by late spring
Adding plaques to Town Hall and 22 ½ Main Street to acknowledge the contributions of Black and indigenous people to the history of Westport.
Among the items on the agenda for the coming year:
Repaving the Senior Center and upper library parking lots
Burying utility lines from Main Street to Gorham Island.
Completing the site plan for Longshore and Baron’s South
Additional improvements at Riverside Park and Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum.
Initiating a full infrastructure plan that includes bridges, parking lots, sewers and town buildings
Working with a private company to enhance the town’s wireless and fiber infrastructure.
Creating a cybersecurity response plan.
Cybersecurity is one of the 3 items that keep Marpe up at night, he said. The others: vaccine distribution, and COVID’s economic impact on the town.
Marpe concluded by thanking town employees, elected and appointed officials, business owners and residents for keeping Westport “remarkably strong, given the unanticipated circumstances of the past year.”
There is light at the end of the tunnel, he said. And although we are still in the tunnel, the town is “resilient and stronger than ever.”
Marpe was preceded on stage by Candice Savin. The Board of Ed chair lauded teachers and administrators’ “hard work, dedication and creativity” in dealing with the coronavirus crisis, and described educational, health and safety responses to it.
Two highlights of the year, she said, were the reopening of Coleytown Middle School, and the appointment of Tom Scarice as superintendent of schools.
Savin also noted ongoing work at all levels on diversity, equity and inclusion issues, along with a variety of honors, awards and achievements by schools, staff and students.
The renovation of Coleytown Middle School: one of the year’s highlights.
(Today’s event was sponsored by the Westport Rotary Club and Westport Sunrise Rotary, in cooperation with the Westport Library. Assistant town attorney Eileen Lavigne Flug moderated.)
The state of Connecticut is scheduling and vaccinating people 75 and older as part of the vaccine rollout Phase 1b.
People ages 65 to 74 are next in line for eligibility. Information will be posted on the Westport Weston Health District website when the state opens up clinics to this group. More information for frontline essential workers and individuals with underlying medical conditions with increased risk for severe illness will be forthcoming.
Many Westporters are eager to get vaccines. Some have registered themselves into the CDC’s Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS), scheduled their appointments and have received first and, in some cases, second vaccine doses.
Others have found technical challenges, a lack of information and guidance, or difficulties getting their first or second doses scheduled. Currently, vaccination dates are not being scheduled sooner than 3 weeks out. The process is moving slowly. Frustrations are high.
Additionally, the supply of vaccines is not keeping up with the demand. A total of 1.3 million Connecticut residents are eligible for the vaccine during Phase 1b. The state must ration the 46,000 doses it receives each week. At this rate, it will take months before all eligible residents are vaccinated. There is a national vaccine shortage, and it impacts us locally.
The WWHD staff have consistently ordered more vaccines than it they receive. The WWHD runs up to 3 vaccine clinics per week at the WWHD on Bayberry Lane, and the Westport, Weston and Easton Senior Centers.
With a limited supply of vaccines, the WWHD advises eligible Westporters not to wait for an appointment at a Westport clinic. Rather, go to the first available appointment and plan to schedule your second vaccine immediately after. The state’s 211 line now includes a public vaccine clinic directory to search for local clinics.
We are aware that some have found success bypassing VAMS and registering through hospital portals in the surrounding cities. These third party VAMS sites appear to be more direct and do not require waiting for confirmation emails and codes. For links to some local participating vaccination centers, please see further below.
We are also aware that some residents do not have the mobility to obtain a vaccine in another nearby community, or might not be able to leave their homes. Once supplies are available, the town plans for a larger-scale local vaccination site, as well as a traveling clinic for those who are most vulnerable and homebound.
The state’s long-term distribution plan focuses on 5 or 6 large vaccination clinics set up across Connecticut, and with neighborhood CVS and Walgreens pharmacies as potential local options. However, there are multiple challenges with distribution, administration and the vaccine supply itself that must be overcome at the state and federal levels first.
Keep in mind that neither the Westport Department of Human Services nor the Westport Senior Center has access to the VAMS portal, nor can they schedule a vaccination on a resident’s behalf. Human Services staff is working diligently to answer questions and offer resources to help.
Vaccine line outside the Westport Senior Center. (Photo/Ted Horowitz)
Ultimately, the state’s official helpline (211) is the best option for registration by phone or to have your technical questions answered.
Do not be discouraged as the inevitable complications and delays occur. Your patience is needed during these trying times. Please remember to continue to wear a face covering, social distance and maintain good hygiene.
1st Selectman Jim Marpe and the Westport Weston Health District pass along important information about the COVID-19 vaccine:
Right now, only people eligible under Phase 1a or 1b may register for the vaccine. Click here for the form to register with the Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS).
Healthcare Personnel: All paid and unpaid personnel serving in healthcare settings who have the potential for direct or indirect exposure to patients of infectious materials.
Long Term Care Facility Residents: Adults who reside in facilities that provide a range of services, including medical and personal care, to persons who are unable to live independently.
First Responders at risk of exposure to COVID-19 through their response to medical emergencies, such as emergency medical technicians, police officers, and firefighters.
Individuals 75 and older (proof of age required at the clinic).
NOTE: The state Department of Public Health is still finalizing its definition of Phase 1b eligible residents.
To register (see above), full name, date of birth, zip code, occupation (including “retired”), and email address are required.
The information entered will only be used for purposes of scheduling a vaccination and will remain confidential.
Once submitted, a confirmation email will be sent from the Department of Public health/VAMS, followed by another email that approves or denies the registration.
Approved registrants may then register in VAMS and select a vaccination appointment.
Every individual must have a unique email to be registered and vaccinated. Someone using their personal email to register an elderly parent may not be able to register or be vaccinated using that same email. The Westport Department of Human Services’ vaccination helpline (203-341-5037) can help.
VAMS is the only way right now for an individual not in a congregate setting to register for and receive the vaccination in Connecticut.
This is a state program. Westport residents do not need to be vaccinated in Westport. VAMS may suggest vaccination appointments in nearby communities based on the supply of available vaccinations.
(For more Connecticut vaccine information, click here.)
In response to yesterday’s insurrection at the US Capitol, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe said:
As the chief elected officer of Westport, to watch the behavior and the blatant abrogation of responsibility by the Chief Elected Officer of the United States was discouraging and disgusting.
I am embarrassed for our country. Thankfully, as a community, our local elected officials regularly participate in a civil and respectful process that gives me hope and confidence that our democracy can and will survive.
In addition, Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice wrote to parents:
I watched the events at the Capitol today with utter disbelief and abject sadness. By now I’m sure you’ve read countless comments and reflections about the lawlessness and violent attack on our democracy incited by the reckless behaviors and comments of some of our elected officials, including our sitting President. All I can add to this commentary is my condemnation.
My purpose for addressing the school community is to reassure parents that our team will be ready to receive our students Thursday and serve them in the most professional manner. This is our calling, among the noblest of professions.
Our team is working this evening to make certain that faculty and staff have resources assembled to support their work tomorrow and beyond. Each building principal will meet with faculty and staff to prepare them for the day. Highest among our priorities is to assure each child that they are safe in the school environment.
Thomas Scarice (Photo courtesy of Zip06.com)
Each level will work to maintain an age-appropriate approach. The elementary level will not initiate group discussions on this topic but will be responsive to individual students as the need arises. We cannot make assumptions about how parents prefer to approach such topics with our youngest learners. As a result, we will be responsive in nature. If conversations and questions persist, and an elementary teacher needs to briefly address the class, parents will be informed so that they can appropriately follow up with their child.
The middle school level will address the events of the day in their social studies classes, primarily with a civics lens. It is likely that middle school students have encountered a good deal of unfamiliar historical and political language today related to the process of certifying the election, and the manner in which the behaviors at the Capitol have been characterized by the media, and also social media.
Additionally, the natural inquisitive nature of early adolescence typically sparks dialogue about current events. Our social studies teachers are being provided with tools and resources to facilitate discussions while providing context for our students to comprehend the events of the day, and the implications as we move forward. Any student in need of additional intervention will be addressed through our support staff at the middle school level.
The high school level will also address these events in social studies classes. Teachers will facilitate the discussion as students generate the questions. Our high school students are close to voting age. Among the relevant topics for classroom discussions are the process of elections, the constitutional role of Congress in presidential elections, and the idea that the events that transpired today are more about our democracy than politics. Alternative spaces will be provided for students during lunch waves and throughout the day to provide support when needed on an individual basis.
This is an emotional time and there will be a range of strong feelings from anger to sadness and fear. There will also be a great deal of confusion on the part of our students. Our high school community is just beginning to grieve the loss of a beloved classmate and the lingering emotional impact of the pandemic remains. We will aim to validate our students’ feelings and questions, while doing our best to work through some very complex issues.
These strong feelings will be experienced by both students and adults. In my experience, these are the times when the humanity of our work intersects with our professional responsibilities. We are an organization composed of people and we bring all of our strengths and imperfections to our work every day. We will not be perfect, but we will answer the call and bring our professional best to serve your child tomorrow and beyond.
This is Peter Gold’s report on the January Representative Town Meeting. He is an RTM member writing for himself, and not in an official capacity.
No votes were taken at January’s RTM meeting, which saw the announcement of a new special RTM committee, the first reading of an ordinance to establish a civilian police review board, and the announcement of a new town clerk to replace the retiring Patty Strauss.
While RTM rules already require RTM members to conduct themselves in a manner above reproach, Velma Heller, RTM moderator, noted that the start of a new year is a timely occasion to take a step back and review RTM practices. She appointed a special committee of 7 RTM members to see if there is room for improvement, and to clarify expectations regarding conduct at public meetings and in written communications.
The committee is charged with developing a Code of Conduct that articulates desired behaviors that embody the RTM’s values and principles as an organization. The Code of Conduct will cover topics such as Freedom of Information Act issues, the general use of email and social media, and commonly accepted standards of decorum for participation in public discourse, whether in person or on line.
A proposed ordinance was introduced to establish an elected civilian police review board. It would receive, investigate and make recommendations on complains regarding the police. The ultimate decision on any complaint will remain with the chief of police.
Click here for the full text of the proposed ordinance (immediately following the list of upcoming RTM meetings).
The proposed ordinance will be reviewed at upcoming public meetings of the RTM Public Protection and Ordinance Committees. It will be debated and voted on at a subsequent RTM meeting, most likely in February or March.
If the proposed ordinance is adopted, the elected civilian police review board would replace the civilian review panel recently appointed by First Selectman Marpe. That panel reviews and provides feedback on documented complaints regarding the police that are investigated by the Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards. Unlike the proposed ordinance’s review board, it can not investigate complaints. Also unlike the proposed ordinance’s review board, Marpe’s panel also reviews complaints regarding the Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services.
Marpe also announced that Jeff Dunkerton, the assistant town clerk in Danbury, will replace Patty Strauss who recently retired as Westport’s town clerk.
1st Selectman Jim Marpe and the Office of Emergency Management say:
A significant winter storm is forecast for tonight, with heavy snow hitting our area. Travel is not advised tonight through Thursday afternoon. We ask residents to have all storm preparations complete. and stay off the roads this evening.
WINTER STORM WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT FROM NOW THROUGH 1 PM THURSDAY
Heavy snow expected, with snow accumulations of 12 to 16 inches and winds gusting as high as 40 mph. Travel could be very difficult and dangerous. The hazardous conditions could impact the evening and morning commutes. Near blizzard conditions and near whiteout conditions are possible overnight into early tomorrow morning.
COASTAL FLOOD ADVISORY IN EFFECT FROM 11 PM WEDNESDAY TO 2 AM THURSDAY
Minor to locally moderate flooding is expected in the most vulnerable locations near the waterfront and shoreline. Expect 1 to locally 2 feet of inundation above ground level in low-lying, vulnerable areas. Some roads and low-lying property including parking lots, parks, lawns and homes/businesses with basements near the waterfront will experience shallow flooding.
If travel is essential, keep an extra flashlight, food, and water in your vehicle in case of an emergency. Allow extra time as some roads may be closed. Dangerous travel conditions may exist. Do not drive around barricades or through water of unknown depth. Take the necessary actions to protect flood-prone properties including moving vehicles to higher ground.
Sign up for local emergency alerts: text 06880 to 888777, or click here.
Okay, so maybe you didn’t win the town’s 4th of July house decorating contest.
Or the Halloween one.
Hey: The 3rd time’s the charm.
Westport’s Parks & Recreation Department is sponsoring its first-ever Winter Holiday House Decorating Contest.
People can decorate the outsides of their homes to show a winter theme, or any holiday they celebrate.
Registration must be done first (click here). Then submit no more than 5 photos or videos of your decorations to firstname.lastname@example.org by December 20. Prizes will be awarded for the top 3 entrants.
And if you don’t win this time, maybe they’ll do a Presidents Day house decorating contest …
One of the first houses decorated in Westport this year. (Photo/Andrew Colabella)
Congratulations to Westport’s newest grandfather: 1st Selectman Jim Marpe.
He announced before last night’s RTM meeting that his daughter Samantha gave birth hours earlier at Greenwich Hospital. Charles James Sandor weighs 6 pounds, 13 ounces — and brought his grandparents great joy.
Jim and Mary Ellen Marpe, with their daughter Samantha in 2017.
And finally … happy 59th birthday to Def Leppard guitarist Rick Savage.
Westport is a place where we live by, and teach our children, the values that we cherish — values that embrace equality, inclusiveness, open-mindedness, and mutual respect.
This Thanksgiving, we reflect upon these qualities in light of a tumultuous year that has, quite frankly, brought heartache, anxiety, and turmoil. There are many among us who are isolated and alone. Emotions and situations brought about by an unseen virus and other national events have caused all of us to re-think how we behave and how we react as a society. No doubt, it has taken its toll and has caused significant adjustments in how we live our lives.
However, recent news and guidance from scientists and health officials is very promising. If we continue to stay aware and respectful, actively follow the protocols in place such as wearing a mask, keeping distance and avoiding gatherings, we can see a path to where we can once again enjoy a way of life without fear of harming our neighbors, friends and family.
Masked up, at the Westport Y’s child care program.
And I would like to echo Governor Lamont’s request to please keep your in-home Thanksgiving celebrations to immediate family and to 10 persons or fewer.
Besides COVID, there were other events that caused upheaval, unrest and concern in this country and on the local level. Westporters have historically been leaders in social movements, and this year was no different. We will continue to have the difficult dialogues about social injustice while encouraging and setting an example of mutual respect for all humankind. We remain grateful and thankful for those in our community who have led the way in standing firmly against hate and intolerance, and for those who protect our health and safety.
Thanksgiving reminds us to be grateful for our freedoms and our good fortune while recognizing that there are others who are less fortunate. I am personally thankful for our extraordinary teachers, civic leaders, clergy and volunteers of all kinds. They, along with many other residents, work tirelessly and diligently to care for and help meet the needs of those who require additional emotional, family and economic support.
Religious, civic, educational and other institutions are more important than ever. (Photo/Anthony Evans)
COVID has caused us to adjust the manner in which their work is accomplished, but they remain steadfast in their commitment to helping. I want to acknowledge their contributions – they are valued and appreciated.
I wish all the residents of Westport a safe and healthy Thanksgiving Holiday. Thanks to all of you for your ongoing contributions to making Westport an inclusive place where all feel welcome. We are proud to call it “home.”
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