Tag Archives: Aquarion

Watering Holes

In the middle of this very rainy summer, alert — and conservation-minded — “06880” reader Pippa Bell Ader writes:

This spring, Aquarion implemented a water restriction in Westport.

The town of Westport and our Green Task Force held 2 informational workshops. Aquarion sent out postcards to residents (and I assume businesses).

The other day, I noticed this sign.

(Photo/Pippa Bell Ader)

I also noticed some Aquarion trucks driving around town, but that isn’t unusual.

My guess is that this commercial property has an automatic sprinkler system. Aquarion wants the property owner (and anyone who drives by on the Post Road) to know that the system can’t run every day.

But will the property owner notice? Or care?

81-Unit Housing Application Withdrawn; Aquarion Meeting Still On

You know that controversial plan to build 81 units of housing on the small parcel of land between Post Road West, Lincoln Street and Cross Street? The one that was going to draw a huge crowd to tonight’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting?

It’s off the table — for now.

Cross Street LLC has withdrawn its site plan application. P&Z director Mary Young said it will be resubmitted. Public hearings will begin again September 6.

But there’s still plenty of action at Town Hall tonight. The P&Z meeting has been switched to Room 201/201A.

Moving into the auditorium — also at 7 p.m. — is a Public Utilities Regulatory Authority public hearing.

The topic: Aquarion’s proposal to build 2 large water tanks on North Avenue.

 

Public Hearings Next Thursday On Aquarion Water Tanks

Aquarion wants to build 2 big water tanks on North Avenue.

Next Thursday, there will be 2 big meetings about them.

Connecticut’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority will hear public comments at both, in Town Hall. The July 12 2 p.m. session is set for the auditorium. The 7 p.m. meeting is in Room 201/201A. (If you’re wondering why the evening session is in a smaller space than the afternoon one: I am too.)

The hearings are a result of a petition against Aquarion’s proposal, from 9 immediate property owners and 76 other Westporters. PURA may add more hearings after Thursday, if necessary.

Letters will be accepted from the public through the last day of the hearing (Thursday or later). The address is 10 Franklin Square, New Britain, CT 06051.

Click here for all filings made in the case thus far.

An aerial view shows the North Avenue Aquarion tank site, opposite Staples High School.

[OPINION] Westport Deserves Better From Aquarion

The battle between Aquarion and North Avenue residents — over the proposed construction of 2 large water tanks — drags quietly on.

“06880” Robert Harrington provides this view of the ongoing battle:

Behind the scenes, things has been busy. Since December, we have been trying to gain a better understanding of the reasons for the increase in water capacity and work with Aquarion on a compromise for the proposed water tanks on North Avenue.

To date, we have not reached agreement. Aquarion has rejected our compromise plan, committing only to extra landscaping.

After a months-long campaign, North Avenue residents have removed road signs opposing the water tanks. They hope to foster a better relationship between Aquarion and the community.

Our plan proposed removing the 9-foot dome roof, and a modest 5-foot reduction to the planned 31-foot side walls. (The current tank side wall is 11 feet).

Piping upgrades alongside this project would deliver the fire department more fire flow and pressure than the current plan.

It is nearly impossible to shield 2 40-foot giant tanks. Last August, Aquarion’s CEO promised Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission that the tanks would be “fully shielded within a few short years.”  This will not be the case. Under our plan, two 25-foot tanks would be much easier to screen. Nowhere in Connecticut has anyone successfully screened 40-foot tanks.

Twin tanks in Trumbull are unscreened.

The 3-acre North Avenue site is very different from other Aquarion properties. They are typically located on 20 to 30-acre lots, surrounded by thick woodland.

The Westport project is currently on hold, pending an appeal at the state’s Public Utility Regulatory Authority. Yet neighbors may be denied an opportunity to present their arguments.

Limited talks with Aquarion are ongoing. However, Aquarion’s legal stance is to stop the neighbors by filing motions to block them.

The neighbors’ action group has an important message. 1,200 residents signed a petition requesting an independent water study, and lower tanks.

We support a major water infrastructure upgrade, but the new tanks need to fit better within the residential environment.

An aerial view shows the North Avenue Aquarion tank site, opposite Staples High School.

The problems are not just related to how they look.

During low usage periods, (i.e., during the fall/winter months), water will have to be drained off to prevent water quality issues. The tanks are too large.

More worrisome, 73% of Westport’s key fire hydrants will still have “deficient” fire flow and pressure.

11 of 15 test hydrants will not be compliant with Insurance Service Office standard. As the P&Z is sworn to uphold public interest and welfare in town, we have formally asked them to investigate this.

A peer review, paid for by Aquarion, cited both issues.

What the study did not highlight is the biggest single opportunity to increase our ISO rating: annual inspections of fire hydrants. Aquarion won’t commit to annual inspections. They should.

Bigger tanks alone cannot fix the problem. Piping upgrades are needed too. This is critical to properly protect Westport.  Aquarion’s own data shows this clearly.

Residents can get lower tanks. Fire Department can get significantly better fire flow. This costs money — although both tank and piping upgrades could be paid for over the life of this 50+ year project.

This appeal matters. Our voices should be heard. Aquarion is trying to ensure that doesn’t happen. Elected officials have our backs.

First Selectman Jim Marpe has written to PURA requesting our appeal be heard,

State elected officials have followed his lead. Senators Toni Boucher and Tony Hwang, and State Representatives Jonathan Steinberg and Gail Lavielle have written to PURA Secretary Katie Dykes that they support the rejection of Aquarion’s motion to dismiss.

Save Westport Now and the Coalition for Westport have shown strong support too.

Water quality issues, deficient hydrant data and a proper look at alternatives were not fully discussed at the P&Z.

Eversource/Aquarion, the state’s largest electric/water utility, need to rethink. Our plan would protect Westport and avoid going to PURA altogether — if agreement can be reached beforehand.

Westport deserves better.

Coalition: Let’s Notice P&Z Proposals

The North Avenue water tanks. The Daybreak property. The excavation behind Compo Acres Shopping Center.

All 3 proposals — and many others — were legally noticed by Westport’s Planning and Zoning Commission.

But not many Westporters read the teeny-tiny, buried-in-the-back legals in newspapers like the Norwalk Hour.

Or subscribe to email notifications from the town.

Or open the letters that get sent to the nearest neighbors.

Some neighbors were surprised by excavation work done in 2014 behind Compo Acres Shopping Center.

The P&Z knows this is an issue. They’re exploring additional ways to spread the word about upcoming applications.

The Coalition for Westport hopes to push them along.

The ad hoc, town development-focused group has filed a proposed text amendment with the P&Z. It would require posting a physical sign on any property subject to upcoming debate. It would be similar to the signs erected by restaurant owners when they request a liquor permit.

The P&Z will discuss the Coalition’s idea on February 1, at Town Hall.

You’re reading about it here because it’s not yet law. Also, because you don’t read the Hour. 

Plus, there’s no property on which to put a sign about it.

Closing The Barn Door On Aquarion’s Water Tanks

Back in the day — before Bridgeport Hydraulic built a water storage facility, and Staples High School moved in across the street — North Avenue was farmland.

A couple of decades ago, the Rippe farm and orchard was replaced by Greystone Farm Lane. Developers tossed a bone to the past, designing parts of some of the houses to look like silos.

Which may provide one solution to a controversy now roiling the road.

Aquarion — Bridgeport Hydraulic’s successor — wants to build 2 water tanks at the site it owns. Their 39-foot height concerns neighbors.

Pete Romano has an idea.

The LandTech principal knew that on Wilton Road at Newtown Turnpike, Aquarion used a facade to “hide” some of its equipment.

The Aquarion facility on Wilton Road.

He asked Peter Wormser — an architect at his engineering firm — to design something similar for North Avenue.

The result: 2 “barns.”

LandTech’s rendering of the barn structures for North Avenue. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

“I know Wilton Road is not as big,” Romano says. “And maybe Aquarion needs access on all 4 sides. But it’s an idea. It might get people talking.”

North Avenue will not go back to apple orchards and onion farms.

But perhaps — even with 2 big pumping stations — it can look that way.

 

Aquarion Douses Daily Watering

It was a weird time for Aquarion’s announcement: a rainy day, a week or so before winter begins.

But the water company chose today to say that due to an “ongoing precipitation deficit,” it will introduce permanent 2-day-a-week water limits on in-ground irrigation systems and above-ground sprinklers.

The program will take effect “during the 2018 watering season.” Residents may continue to use drip irrigation, soaker hoses and hand-held watering devices at any time.

Aquarion will also ask golf courses to reduce water use by 10%.

The Westport restriction is similar to those in place in Darien, New Canaan, Greenwich and Stamford for the past 18 months.

Aquarion says that the 4 other localities where restrictions are in place have already saved 860 million gallons of water. The company adds that lawns and gardens thrive on reduced watering. Roots grow deeper into the soil, absorbing more moisture and nutrients — even during dry spells.

Beginning next month, Aquarion will conduct public presentations in Westport to provide the rationale and expected benefits, and describe the actual process.

Westport’s water consumption is “well above average,” Aquarion officials say.

The restrictions come as some North Avenue residents oppose the utility’s proposed new water tanks across from Staples High School.

First selectman Jim Marpe says:

Aquarion must be clear on its agenda for Westport. I know that Westport residents will be willing to do their part to conserve water if our local supply is truly vulnerable. However, if we are looking at 2 new water tanks that take into account an increase in water usage, Aquarion must be forthcoming with its calculations. We need to understand the relationship between having another public utility structure in town with the requirement to reduce water utilization.

 

The irrigation schedule will be based on the last digit of street addresses. Even- numbered homes — and those with no number — can water on Sundays and Wednesdays; those with odd numbers can water on Saturdays and Tuesdays. All watering is restricted to before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m.

Variances are available in certain circumstances — for example, if new plantings or sod have been installed.

For more information — including how to landscape and garden with less water — click here.

Balloons show the height of Aquarion’s proposed water tank on North Avenue.

Thanksgiving Balloons

Many Westporters enjoyed Macy’s 91st annual Thanksgiving Day parade yesterday. Some ventured into New York. Most watched from the comfort of their homes. The main attractions — as always — were huge balloons.

Others headed to North Avenue, for the annual Staples-Greenwich football game.

Along the way, they were treated to balloons that looked nothing like Superman, Snoopy and Scrat.

This balloon shows the location and 38-foot height of 2 proposed water towers Aquarion hopes to build opposite the high school. A smaller tank now sits on the property.

Accompanying the balloons were signs opposing the project. Among them: “If you think traffic is bad now, 5 years of industrial park construction across from Staples HS.”

Aquarion Water Towers: P&Z Member Responds

On Monday, Chip Stephens saw an “06880” post announcing that 1st selectman candidates Jim Marpe and Melissa Kane would meet with North Avenue residents concerned about Aquarion’s plan to build 2 water tanks on North Avenue.

As he read it, the Planning & Zoning Commission member saw red.

In an email to “06880,” Stephens responds:

The North Avenue water tanks are not a campaign issue. To say they are shows little respect for the hard work to date addressing needs and concerns, and no attention to facts.

The P&Z spent 4 months reviewing and working on this. We came to our conclusion based on facts from Aquarion, neighbors and public safety officials. For example:

The current steel tank dates back to the 1950s. That was before Staples High School was built on North Avenue, back when we hosted Nike missiles in town, and before many large housing developments — including the the current tank’s neighbors — were built. Homes are now bigger, and there are  more of them. Multifamily housing complexes did not exist then. They do now, and they are increasing.

The current tank is way past its freshness date. Steel rusts, and degrades. The tank needs to be replaced. That is a given.

The Aquarion water tank, during recent pump station construction.

As part of a gravity feed system,, the tank needs to be at its current elevation or higher. Different locations, including Bayberry or Bedford Middle School, were looked at. But that would entail new piping, and other neighbors being offended.

All the numbers calculated in the needed capacity were scrutinized, revised, reviewed and argued over. The fire chief, water experts and all other experts agreed that with Westport’s growth and larger schools, businesses and multi-family complexes, and the safety of Westport, these volumes of water must be served.

Westport’s water come from Fairfield. The needs are ours. Norwalk has its own water authority, not linked to Aquarion. Weston has no public water (which is scary, with failing wells and tainted quality).

Any decision by P&Z could be overturned by the state utility regulators, and most likely would have been if the application was denied. Water utilities are required to work with towns, but ultimately have broad power to locate their resources. Phone, electricity, rail all do what they want, with no requirement to listed to affected neighbors (though sometimes they do).

The neighbors have valid and pressing concerns. They got much attention from Aquarion, with multiple meetings. Many of their issues were heard. Not all were fully addressed — but Aquarion did try to accommodate higher plantings, color of tanks, very slight lowering of height, and promises to consider traffic and noise better than the previous pump project.

Remember, this is a public utility. Relocation, reworking and/or rebuilding the distribution system pipes and pumps — or any other major change — would involve major costs. These would be carried by Westport public water users, resulting in significantly higher water bills. And good luck finding that location with high enough elevation, and where all neighbors welcome the tanks with love and understanding for the greater good.

P&Z and local officials tried to hard to do our best, working with the parties. Regulatory, financial and logistical issues are hard to fight. And when it comes to the water system, there is no way to alter the laws of gravity and physics.

1st Selectman’s Race Heads “Home”

Tip O’Neill said that all politics is local. On North Avenue, it doesn’t get more local than water tanks in your neighborhood.

In what may be the only time this year the Democratic and Republican candidates for 1st selectman speak in the same home on the same day — though not together — Melissa Kane and Jim Marpe meet tonight with residents concerned about the planned expansion of Aquarion’s water towers.

The events take place at 66 North Avenue — opposite the Aquarion site.

Last month, Westport’s Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously to approve the 3- to 5-year-construction project. Located directly across from Staples High School, it will more than triple the current water capabilities. Two new 40-foot tanks will replace the one current 12-foot tank.

Aquarion cites fire safety and increased daily usage as reasons for the new tanks. The fire department supports the proposal.

Over 200 residents have signed a petition opposing the project, and a legal challenge is underway.

A photo shows the height of the proposed new water tanks. Since the photo was taken, taller trees have replaced those in the photo.