Tag Archives: Cockenoe Island

RTM 101: You Keep Hearing About It. What Does It Do?

The leaf blower ordinance. Wheels2U. Affordable housing.

If you follow those stories, you may know that the RTM has a hand in them. But what is “the RTM”? Who are these people, and what do they do?

Velma Heller knows. For 20 years, she was one of them. And for much of that time, she was its leader (“moderator”).

As Westport gears up for local elections this fall, Velma gives “06880” the DL on the RTM.

As a retired member of Westport’s RTM, would like to share some of the reasons you might be interested in becoming part of this unique experience in town government.

Velma Heller

For me, getting involved in our legislative body was exhilarating, an opportunity to learn and grow as I also formed lasting relationships with my colleagues.

I, like so many before me, became a link in the lineage of town legislators that helped to shape the town we call home.

Westport’s Representative Town Meeting (RTM) became the legislative body of the town in 1949, replacing the historic New England Town Meeting with a non-partisan representative form of government. It was designed to provide effective self- rule for a growing population.

The town was divided into 6 RTM districts. Each member represented 250 electors, and serving for 2 years. Over time the number of districts and representatives per district was modified to accommodate population changes. Today there are 9 districts. with 4 members per district.

To manage its many responsibilities, the RTM formed committees that study issues in depth, then report back to the full body for debate.

Westport citizens developed a form of government that represented the unique character and history of the town. It continues to this date. All Westporters are part of the tradition. What began as a new practice has become a time-honored institution of governance for our town.

Since its inception almost 75 years ago, Westport’s electors have assembled an extraordinary body of dedicated citizens to represent them: farmers, merchants, business people, corporate executives, writers, artists, architects, journalists, engineers, lawyers, educators, stay-at-home moms and dads, doctors, dentists, retirees. People from all walks of life resolve issues facing the town.

In the early years and beyond, local legislators focused on making our town a viable, comfortable community. They created town roads and drainage, and budgeted for school buildings — addressing the challenges of expansion, changing demographics and economic factors.

Over the years they directed attention and debate to funding land acquisition for town purposes such as commuter parking lots, Longshore, Cockenoe Island (to prevent a nuclear power plant off our shore), the Baron’s North property, (Winslow Park) as open space and the Baron’s South property, now the site of the Senior Center.

As the town entered the 21st century the RTM continued exercising its powers: to approve, reduce or restore appropriations; approve ordinances; approve certain appointments, and overturn certain P&Z text amendments.

Always at top of mind has been the balancing act required to address the wide range of pressing town needs that come before the body.

The RTM has shown an ongoing commitment to funding Westport’s excellent educational system through yearly budgets or building projects: conversions, expansions, renovations, reconstruction or new construction through times of contraction and growth.

Funding the town’s infrastructure, services and amenities continues to be a major focus. The RTM approves money to support administrative requests for running the town and its departments, including Human Services, Police, Fire, Public Works, and Parks & Recreation. Those requests fund the Senior Center; equipment and technology for all departments; sidewalks; a sewage treatment plant; recreational facilities at Longshore; town beaches, and much more.

In 1967, Westport’s RTM approved a plan to buy Cockenoe Island for $200,000. The purchase scuttled a plan to build a nuclear power plant a mile off Compo Beach.

In their legislative role, the RTM continues to approve ordinances reflecting the priorities of the times. These include converting the original Saugatuck Elementary School to a moderate income elderly housing facility, creating a Blight Board and TEAM Westport, a ban on retail plastic bags, a ban on smoking in public buildings, restricting infill on athletic fields, the use of fracking waste in town, and recently restricting the use of gas-powered leaf blowers.

When all is said and done, it’s the people that make a difference by participating, sharing their views and adding insight to the decision-making of the RTM. They reflect the views of the town, resonating passion and pride, offering a voice of reason, building community.  Whether serving as elected representatives, as individual members of the public airing their observations at meetings, or running for a seat on the RTM and enhancing the work of study committees, their varied perspectives enrich the discourse. Perhaps you could be one of those who contribute to the process.

In my own experience, together we engaged in hours of discussion and sometimes messy (albeit productive) debate. We built consensus, resolved issues, and at the end of the day (hopefully) agreed to disagree. For me, serving on the RTM in a collaborative, non-partisan environment, and making decisions that impacted the welfare of our town with support from exceptional colleagues was its own reward.

While COVID temporarily changed the venue of meetings to a remote format, once again in-person meetings are held at Town Hall. I encourage you to attend upcoming meetings the first Tuesday of each month. There’s something about “being in the room where it happens.”

I hope you too will be inspired to get involved, to run for a seat representing your district on the RTM. For further information on the RTM, click here. For details on running for the RTM, contact the Town Clerk’s office jdunkerton@westportct.gov or 203-341-1105. Petitions and applications for those planning to run are due in mid-summer.

(“06880” covers the RTM frequently — and all other town bodies. Please consider a contribution to help our work. Click here — and thank you!)



Alicia Mozian Leaves Mark On “Wet Westport”

If you’re a Westport homeowner, there’s a 40% chance you live on wetlands, or in a floodplain.

If you’re part of that 40% and have moved here since 2001, you’ve received a letter — and fat informational packet — from Alicia Mozian, telling you what that means, and how to care for your property.

And advising you to call her, before beginning any work on the land.

That’s just one of the proactive approached Mozian has brought to her job as Conservation Department director.

Alicia Mozian

Low-key but intensely passionate, her blandly named office oversees nearly every aspect of Westport’s environment. Shellfishing, Cockenoe Island camping, the Sherwood Mill Pond Preserve, single-use plastics, the plastic bag ban — all are in Mozian’s domain.

But most important may be protecting the town’s wetlands and watercourses.

We have 13 named waterways. We sit at the bottom of several watersheds, which feed into Long Island Sound. Our groundwater table is very high.

“Westport is very wet,” Mozian says simply.

On Saturday, her 2-decade career as Conservation director — and 36 years of service to Westport — come to an end. She’s retiring — kayaking off into the sunset, you might say.

The Westport she leaves is much different than the one the Pennsylvania native found, soon after graduating from Nasson College with a degree in environmental studies.

Westporters are much more aware now of the effects of water on our properties, and our lives. At the same time, larger houses — and the construction they entail — impact things like runoff and silting.

Large homes and tree-cutting affect water tables and runoff.

Mozian has been the right person to manage the interactions between residential and business property owners, builders, neighbors, politicians, environmentalists, and everyone else with a stake in Westport.

Her first job here was in 1986, as an aide to Planning & Zoning director Mel Barr. She moved on to conservation analyst; earned a master’s in resource administration management, and was named assistant zoning planner.

In 2001 she succeeded Fran Pierwola, as only the second Conservation director in our history.

Mozian had already made an important mark. In the 1990s she helped Westporters get a 10% discount on flood insurance — a reward for town-wide flood hazard mitigation that continues today.

Flood insurance is important to homeowners in flood-prone areas like Compo Cove. Westporters are eligible for discounts.

As Conservation director, she spends much of her time talking to people. Mozian answers questions, and educates property owners about upcoming work.

A lot of that entails “managing expectations. People don’t always know what they bought, or design their project to meet the land. They want their land to meet the project, not the other way around. That can lead to problems.”

During Westport’s booming construction decades of the 1950s and ’60s, many wetlands were filled in. The federal Clean Water Act of 1972 slowed that, but the damage was done.

Now those homes are being torn down. Their replacements are larger — and their high basements sink into groundwater. Nothing in the state building code prevents that, Mozian says.

“Where does the water go? In other directions — on other people’s properties,” she says.

“You’re supposed to capture runoff from driveways and roofs. But you can’t do a lot about groundwater.”

Above ground, large-scale tree-cutting also affects where water goes.

Fortunately, Mozian says, Westporters are environmentally conscious. Her small office is augmented by a host of volunteers, from the Conservation and Shellfish Commissions to Sustainable Westport and the Sherwood Mill Pond Committee.

Fortunately too, she is not stuck in Town Hall. Mozian says her favorite days are “picking up garbage on Cockenoe Island, or the Mill Pond. That’s when I get instant gratification. I can see I made a difference.”

Alicia Mozian picks up garbage at Sherwood Mill Pond Preserve.

It’s harder to see the effects of educating a variety of constituencies about the environment. Still, Mozian says, “I think I’ve done pretty well, balancing what people want versus what they need. I want their plan to be better when they walk out the office than when they walked in.

“I don’t love all the teardowns. But I’ve learned to work with them, and make them as environmentally sound as possible.”

The low point of her career was the protracted fight with the Westport Weston Family Y over its proposed, and largely untested, Fixed Activated Sludge Treatment (FAST) sewage system at the Mahackeno site.

There are many more highlights. Mozian is proud of her Wetlands Community Leader Award from Washington’s Environmental Law Institute. It was presented for her work improving water quality, through the Sasco Brook Pollution Abatement Committee.

Alicia Mozian, with her Environmental Law Institute award.

She’s also proud that none of the Conservation Commission’s decisions have ever been overturned by a court challenge. She’s been sued by developers, homeowners and neighbors — sometimes more than one group, for the same project.

She has done it all with a staff of just 5.25 people. That quarter employee — the sediment and erosion control inspector — is shared with Planning & Zoning.

“We used to have complaints about sediment from construction sites getting into waterways,” Mozian says. “But not now.”

She does not know of any other community that funds such a position.

Overall, Mozian says, Westport is in “pretty good” environmental shape. It can be measured by metrics — which the Board of Finance demands every year at budget time.

She prefers a different measure: “If you can swim in the water, drink the water and eat shellfish, we’re doing our job.”

Low tide clamming at Compo Beach is part of Alicia Mozian’s portfolio too. (Photo/Ferdinand Jahnel)

Next week, Colin Kelly takes over that job. He’s spent 18 years with the Conservation Department, first as compliance officer and now analyst.

“It’s time for the next generation. He knows things I don’t know,” Mozian praises. “He has good rapport with builders and others. He’ll deal with violations quicker. The department is in very good hands.”

It’s been in great hands for the past 21 years, for sure. Now Alicia Mozian looks forward to seeing her 92-year-old mother more, and her niece’s upcoming baby.

She will visit friends across the country, hike, and go to concerts. (She was a DJ in college.) Perhaps she’ll teach; she’s interested in subjects like citizenship, and helping realtors understand wetlands, aquifers and floodplains.

She will not miss the daily commute from Orange. But Westport will miss Conservation Director Alicia Mozian very, very much.

(“06880” covers all things Westport. Please click here, to support your hyper-local blog.)

Roundup: Chief Foti, Mark Blake, Food Inequality …

The other day, Police Chief Foti Koskinas took CNN’s Alisyn Camerota for a spin.

The footage wound up yesterday on the network’s “Champions for Change” segment.

Foti was cited for his innovative community involvement, including helping the department handle demonstrations calmly and respectfully. He spoke candidly about the state of American policing, noting that he would take a knee with George Floyd protesters in solidarity, prayer and against police brutality — but not against police or the flag.

TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey praised Foti’s ability to listen. “There was some change in his position” during discussions after the Michael Brown incident, Bailey said — “and change in ours as well.”

The piece will be rebroadcast this Sunday (September 25, 8 p.m.), as part of a CNN special hour-long “Champions of Change.”

Click here to see the segment. Spoiler alert: I’m on camera for a few quick seconds. And I provide the voice-over intro, conclusion and other thoughts.

It was an honor to be included.

Screenshot from CNN: Alisyn Camerota and Chief Foti Koskinas.


Autumn arrives tonight at 9:04.

This morning, Westport said goodbye to summer with a quick thunderstorm. Andrew Colabella captured this dramatic lightning strike over Cockenoe Island:

(Photo/Andrew Colabella)


The Westport Police Department and Emergency Medical Services mourn the death of Mark Blake. The popular and generous EMS crew chief died Tuesday.

He was hired in May of 1990, and had a long, rewarding career serving Westport. He was a representative for the Southwest EMS Council for over 10 years, and was most recently its president.

Blake was a certified child safety seat instructor, and organized many car safety seat clinics throughout Fairfield County.

Blake also volunteered with Weston’s fire department and emergency medical services, for over 39 years. He was the department’s vice president, and earned the rank of lieutenant.

Westport Police and EMS say: “Those who knew Crew Chief Blake quickly realized that his passion was to help any way he could. Whether organizing a safety clinic, treating a sick patient or helping at the scene of a fire in Weston, he  was there.  His dedication and passion will most certainly be missed.

Deputy Chief Sam Arciola oversees Westport EMS. He says: “Mark was an incredibly dedicated public servant as well as a widely respected EMT. He never hesitated to put the needs of others above his own.”

First Selectwoman Jen Tooker adds, “I was saddened to hear of the passing of Crew Chief Blake. On behalf of the town, I want to extend my condolences to his friends and family as well as express how appreciative the town is for all his years helping our community.”

Mark Blake


One more police item: Local departments were recognized recently, in a ceremony at Beth Israel Chabad in Norwalk.

Westport was represented by Police Chief Foti Koskinas, Weston by Police Chief Ed Henion. The event included plaques of appreciation, music and brunch.

Among the officials at the Beth Israel Chabad ceremony: Rabbi Yehoshua Hecht (far left), Weston Police Chief Ed Henion (4th from left), Westport Police Chief Foti Koskinas (5th from left) and Westport 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker (6th from left).


The state of Connecticut will help fund replacement sidewalks near Greens Farms Elementary School, and renovations at the Weston Police Department.

The sidewalk project includes $250,000 from the state, and $100,000 in town funds. The police building includes $500,000 in state funds, and $264,926 from Weston.

State grants come from the Small Town Economic Assistance Program.

A sidewalk replacement project is coming soon to Greens Farms Elementary School.


Up Next Teens is a Staples High School student-founded and run organization. They’ve just launched a new project: #FeedFairfield County.

The goal is to raise $25,000. That would supply meals for nearly 10,000 hungry residents.

They asked Wakeman Town Farm for help. The result is a great partnership.

On October 6 (6 p.m.), WTF hosts an intimate chef’s dinner. Marcia Selden caters; Greens Farms Spirits supplies the wine and bubbly — and UpNext Teens will serve.

They’ll also speak to guests about their goals and projects. Click here for tickets, and more information.


Massimo Tabacco — the former owner of Bar Lupa, and other restaurants — has a new venture.

He’s partnered with lifelong Westporter Matthew Balk to open Il Pellicano, at 1460 Post Road in Fairfield.

The Italian restaurant features classic and contemporary dishes, including small plates, steaks, fish and piadina (an unleavened thin bread with delicious fillings).

There’s an extensive cocktail menu too, with experienced mixologists.

Il Pellicano opens tomorrow (Friday, September 23). A roof patio has just been approved, and will be ready soon. Click here for more information.


The Westport Library’s Verso Studios are leading-edge.

So they’re a perfect spot for a new education initiative. The Fairfield County-based LiveGirl non-profit will co-host a 9-week Leadership Lab for high school girls there. Sessions start October 3, and run each Monday through December 14.

Founded in 2014, LiveGirl’s mission is to “prepare the next generation of diverse, brave female leaders with the skills, community, and connections so that all girls may thrive and make a positive impact on the world. LiveGirl’s vision is to contribute to a world free from both gender and racial inequality.”

Utilizing state-of-the-art Verso Studios media facilities, the LiveGirl Leadership Lab will focus on creative arts empowerment, multimedia expression and training. Participants will develop storytelling skills through creative channels like video, music and podcast production.

The program is free. Spots are limited, and pre-registration is required.


The next Amy Simon Fine Art show is “Slow Motions,” with Liz Barber, Christopher Jeffries, Carolanna Parlato and Paul Shakespear.

It runs September 24 through November 5, at 123 Post Road East.

“Summer Fold 2” — mixed media on canvas (Liz Barber)


Longtime Westporter and former Planning & Zoning Commission member Michael Stashower died yesterday. He was 96 years old.

The Cleveland native attended Hobart College as part of the US Navy’s V-12 Officer Training program, then received BA degree and MBA degrees from Cornell University.

After retiring from a long and successful career in corporate finance, Michael continued used his expertise as an overseas volunteer with the International Executive Service Corps, and to help with New York City’s 2012 Olympic bid.

In more than 50 years in Westport, he was actively involved in the community. He was elected twice to the town’s Planning & Zoning Commission. He was a past president of the UJA/Federation of Westport-Wilton-Norwalk, treasurer of Temple Israel, and served on the board of directors of the Council of Jewish Federations and the Jewish Home for the Elderly.

He loved sailing, tennis, and playing clarinet with the Westport Community Band.

Michael is survived by Gloria, his wife of nearly 72 years; their Susan (Paul Milbauer), Debby Missal (Michael) and Jon (Allison), and grandsons Jordan, Scott and Matthew.

A service is set for tomorrow (Friday, September 23, 10 a.m., Temple Israel). Shiva will be observed tomorrow from 1 to 5 p.m. at 321 Lansdowne.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests consideration of a donation to Temple Israel of Westport.

Michael Stashower


Staples High School Class of 2010 graduate Keith Gelman moved back to Westport with his wife, in June.

The other evening he saw this barred owl, in his front yard. Classmate Stuart Schmerzler snapped this stunning “Westport … Naturally” photo. Follow @schmerzlertakesphotos on Instagram, for more great shots.

(Photo/Stuart Schmerzler)


And finally … in honor of the great “Westport … Naturally” photo above, I had to include this song, by this band.

Get it?

(“Who” is going to support “06880”? Please click here to help!)

Roundup: Straight White Men, Jewish Teenagers, Martha Stewart …

There’s something new at the Westport Country Playhouse: hosts for the evening.

And they don’t look like anything you’d expect:

Ashton Muniz, one of the Westport Country Playhouse hosts. (Photo/dan Woog)

Ashton Muñiz(above) and Akiko Akita are proud non-straight, non-white non-men. So why are they welcoming guests (with big smiles and ear plugs) to the current production of “Straight White Men”?

As they explain before the curtain rises, it’s because the audience needs to get out of its comfort zone.

And why are those ear plugs necessary? Well, the music that plays as the audience finds its seats is not what you’d normally hear at the historic, near-100-year-old theater.

The show itself is quite funny and unsettling — sometimes simultaneously. Playwright Young Jean Lee is the first Asian-American woman to have a show on Broadway.

She’s not the type of person you’d expect to write “Straight White Men.” But  she — and Ashton and Akiko — are happy to welcome you to it.

(For more information and tickets, click here.) 


In an annual ritual, parents gathered this morning at 5:30 a.m., to set up a wider slide at Kings Highway Elementary School.

Their kids did not see them at work. But a few hours later, they’re sure enjoying it.

(Photo/Frank Rosen)


Merkaz is a place for Jewish students from area high schools and congregations to learn, socialize, explore and strengthen their religious identity.

This fall (Mondays from 7 to 9 p.m.), Merkaz offers a Westport location.

Courses include:

  • Merkaz Mahjong
  • Choices on the College Campus
  • Jews in the News
  • Denial and The Holocaust
  • Jewish Humor
  • Superheroes
  • Judaism and the Environment
  • Outstanding Jewish Women
  • Jewish Cooking
  • Broadway and the Jews
  • Jewish Songs and Songwriters
  • Yoga, Meditation and Mindfulness
  • College Bound
  • Making Local Change

Click here for more information. MerkazCT.org. Questions? Email Merkaz@JewishPhilanthropyCT.org.


Eve Potts writes:

“There is a new Optimum store in the Fresh Market plaza. We noticed the sign this week. We have questions about billing, so we decided to pay a visit.

“An incredible, bright and knowledgeable young man named Alex answered all our questions quickly and completely. it was a very different experience from our visit to the Norwalk office.

“Alex said they’ve been in town since December, but the sign just recently went up and nobody knows they are here. I want to let Westport  know that Optimum is here, and has a really great guy on board.”


Speaking of (relatively) new businesses: More than a year after opening — in the middle of COVID — The Porch @ Christie’s held its official ribbon-cutting yesterday.

It was a quick, informal and friendly ceremony — just like the Cross Highway deli itself. The icing on the cake: free cookies, from the Porch’s partner Sweet P Bakery.

Cutting the Porch ribbon (from left): consultant Mark Moeller..2nd Selectwoman Andrea Moore, owners Bill and Andrea Pecoriello, 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker, marketing director Betsy Weissman, Sweet P Bakery head pastry chef Terri Cahn, manager Iby  Rivera. 


Beach-bound traffic was diverted yesterday afternoon, when a moving truck snagged a low-hangiing wire on Hillspoint Road, after pulling out of Edgewater Commons.

The road was reopened a few hours later.

The cause of the Hillspoint Road closure. (Photo/Andrew Colabella)


“The Great American Tag Sale with Martha Stewart” aired last night.

ABC previewed it: “Martha Stewart, known for turning everyday living into an art form, is ready to part ways with pieces from her vast collection of furniture, art and housewares in this new 1-hour special. Over the years, Martha has amassed an assortment of items that ranges from fine art to knickknacks.

“During the special, she will regale viewers with fond memories of how these beloved items were acquired and offer expert advice on how to execute a successful tag sale. Alongside her team of event planners, Martha will host a series of tag sale events including an exclusive cocktail party for celebrities and neighbors to preview the sale.”

I did not watch the show. In fact, there are 27,298.331 things I would have done before I’d even think of watching it.

But — as someone who remembers when the lifestyle guru/ businesswoman/wrtier/television personality/chef/inmate lived in Westport (and the stories that circulated here) — I wonder how many of of items (both fine art and knicknacks) have a Westport back story. (Hat tip: Betsy Pollak)

How much of Martha Stewart’s tag sale started on Turkey Hill?


Last month, “06880” reported that Great Island — the 60-acre property off the Darien coast with a stable, riding rings, “grand house,” and whiskey and wine cellar with contents dating back to Prohibition, all once owned by the Steinkraus family of Westport — was for sale.

It was called “the largest private island ever to be offered for sale on the East Coast.”

Now, the Wall Street Journal reports, the town of Darien is in negotiations to buy the island for “more than $100 million.”

Granted, Cockenoe is no Great Island. And 1969 money is not the same as 2022.

But we got our island for just $200,000. (Hat tip: Adam Stolpen)

Great Island …

… and Cockenoe Island.


Congratulations to May’s Staples High School Students of the Month: jnior Jordyn Goldshore, sophomores Michael Blishteyn and Kervin Joseph, and freshmen Jonah Bernstein and Davi Da Silva.

Principal Stafford Thomas said they were chosen for helping make their school “a welcoming place for peers and teachers. They are the ‘glue’ of the Staples community: the type of kind, cheerful, hard-working, trustworthy students who keep the high school together, making it the special place it is.”

Staples High School Students of the Month (from left): Michael Blishteyn, Jonah Bernstein, Davi Da Silva, Kervin Joseph. Missing: Jordyn Goldshore.


Relaxing recently for their “Westport … Naturally” closeup at Wakeman Town Farm were these 2 beauties:

(Photo/Lauri Weiser)


And finally … in honor of a TV show I would never watch, even though it stars one of Westport’s most famous ex-residents (see story above):

Fishin’, Not Fission: Paddlers Celebrate Cockenoe Purchase

It took years of protests, high-level negotiations, and the help of the state legislature.

But on December 23, 1969, a real estate deal closed. The town of Westport bought Cockenoe Island for $200,000.

The seller — United Illuminating, a utility company predecessor of Eversource — would no longer follow through on plans to build a 14-story nuclear power plant on the island, a mile off Compo Beach.

The next day’s Westport News carried a memorable headline: “Cockenoe Island Safe in Sound.” Life magazine called it one of the 10 most important environmental victories in America that year.

Cockenoe Island was saved, in perpetuity.

Exactly 52 years later, a group of area residents — many of whom had not been born when Westporters saved Cockenoe — commemorated the event.

Twelve canoes, kayaks and paddleboards headed out from the Compo Beach kayak launch to the island, and around it. They braved 33-degree weather and 11-knot winds.

After circumnavigating, everyone went ashore. They made a fire and sipped celebratory cider. Two bald eagles greeted the group.

Cockenoe paddlers celebrate.

Organizer Sefra Alexandra cherishes winter paddling. A leader of BOATanical Expeditions, she leads trips to raise awareness of the biodiversity and resilience of our ecoregion. Most take place on the Connecticut River.

But Alexandra — also a member of the Explorers Club — wants to popularize “backyard expeditions.”

“We all have a role to play in stewarding the re-wilding the lands and waters around us,” she says.

BOATanical Expeditions was joined as host by 2 other groups. The Readiness Collective is a social club offering emergency and daily life training. Riprour is an outdoor adventure community that leads excursions throughout Fairfield County, while raising funds for organizations like Aspetuck Land Trust and The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp.

Among the paddlers: Jesse Levin, Danielle Roberts, Sefra Alexandra and Rocky Progano.

Though fishin’ replaced fission long ago, Alexandra knows that keeping effluent out of the Sound is an ongoing battle. So she asked paddlers for donations from the Cockenoe paddlers. Funds go to East Norwalk Blue, a free bilge pump-out program run by Norm Bloom of Copps Island Oysters.

Bloom also provided the safety boat for the Cockenoe paddle.

Last week — half a century after its purchase by the town of Westport — Cockenoe Island was once again “safe in Sound.”

Pic Of The Day #1587

As the sun rose the other morning, Staples High School 1983 swim team co-captain Caroline Sherman checked off a bucket list item: a swim to Cockenoe Island. (Photo/Alex Sherman)

Friday Flashback #257

Last week’s Friday Flashback featured a 1967 poster It advertised a rally at Town Hall, to “Save Cockenoe Island” (from an electric utility, which wanted to build a nuclear power plant there).

This week’s Flashback also features a poster. It too references an August event — almost exactly 30 years ago today. And — go figure — it too has a strong Cockenoe connection.

(Poster and photo courtesy of Andrew Estey)

Well, check out this video:

There’s a lot of bizarre stuff on YouTube. But this ranks right up there.

In tones befitting Marlon Perkins on “Wild Kingdom” — or, this century, an endangered-species documentary on the National Geographic Channel — a narrator breathlessly describes what seems to be a very odd tradition in our coastal community.

“Just another lazy day along the river in Westport, Connecticut,” the 1977 video begins. “Except that this is the day of the Great Race.”

After describing the event — a 1-mile run, a 3-mile row or paddle out to Cockenoe Island, picking up 1 pound of garbage, then rowing or paddling back for a 1st-place prize of $1,000 — the narrator declares that on Great Race Day, Westport is the center of “high international drama.” (Cut to an interview with an Australian guy.)

Just a couple of Great Racers being interviewed.

Just a couple of Great Racers being interviewed.

There are classic quotes — “We run to the liquor store to get our bodies in shape” — interspersed with vintage shots of downtown, and the not-sure-if-it’s-tongue-in-cheek-or-not description of a team that trained “in a handmade aluminum craft for an entire year, just for this race.”

In fact, I’m not sure if the entire video is serious, a satire, or just a goof. When you see 2 teams fighting over a piece of garbage on Cockenoe, you’ll wonder too.

Running down Taylor Place, to the start at the Post Road bridge.

Running down Taylor Place, to the boat launch at the Post Road bridge.

But — as the narrator notes — “constant seamanship and vigilance” were keys to winning the Great Race.

And, at the end, “the townspeople have come together with their picnic lunches to cheer and debate their favorites. The memories will keep for a whole year.”

Paddling ...

Paddling …

...and partying at a house on the river, as the racers go by.

…and partying at a house on the river, as the racers go by.

It was a tradition that lasted from the ’70s into the ’90s. If you participated in the Great Race — as a boater, a spectator or the guy who delivered the kegs — we’d love to hear what you remember. (If, of course, you remember anything.)

Click “Comments” below. Ahoy!

(Hat tips: Jack Whittle, Ted Friedman, Rich Stein)

Bonus photo: Schlitz sponsored the Great Race. The guys dressed up as Schlitz cans were high school students (the drinking age in Connecticut was 18 back then). They did not win the race — but they did win the Best Costume award.

Friday Flashback #256

Many Westporters are familiar with the iconic “Save Cockenoe Now” poster:











Created by Walter and Naiad Einsel, it helped spur citizens — who then pressured town officials — to purchase the island from United Illuminating.

In a move that sounds unfathomable today, the utility wanted to build a nuclear power plant right there, a mile off Compo Beach.

There was plenty of opposition. But UI had a good deal of support, too.

The Einsels were not the only ones rallying Westporters with artwork. Almost 54 years ago to the day, this was the scene:

(Courtesy of Marian Sawyer)

The campaign worked.

The town paid approximately $200,000 for Cockenoe Island — UI’s purchase price. State and federal funds covered 75% of the cost. Westport now owns Cockenoe — in perpetuity.

Want to know more? Click here, for full details.



Remembering John Kemish

Former First Selectman John J. Kemish died April 25 in Boca Raton, Florida. He was 93.

Kemish served three 2-year terms as Westport’s chief executive, from 1967 to 1973. Prior to his election, beginning in 1958 he was the town’s first professional controller (now “finance director”). He improved Westport’s credit rating from A to AAA by establishing the town’s first Capital and Non-Recurring Expenditure fund. As controller he also played a pivotal role in the purchase of Longshore Country Club, under First Selectman Herb Baldwin.

John Kemish

Kemish earned a bachelor’s degree from Hillyer College (now called the University of Hartford), and a master’s degree in public administration and municipal finance from the University of Connecticut.

Woody Klein, in his book Westport Connecticut, The Story of a New England Town’s Rise to Prominence, called Kemish “a personable and highly competent public servant.”

At the time of his election, Westport “was about to face one of the most defining moments in the Town’s history.” United Illuminating Company, a statewide utility, had just announced its intent to build a 14-story nuclear power plant on Cockenoe Island, less than one mile offshore from Westport’s Compo Beach…. Kemish would soon become one of the key figures in the Cockenoe campaign.”

UI’s announcement galvanized the town, and sparked a “Save Cockenoe Now” campaign spearheaded by Jo Fox Brosious, editor of the Westport News.

The First Selectman’s Committee began a year-and-a-half environmental battle, with national coverage. The solution involved the purchase of the Island by the Town. MrKemish engineered the financing that made the purchase possible, and recouped 75% of the money from the federal government. Westport now owns Cockenoe Island in perpetuity.

Cockenoe Island. Thanks in part to John Kemish, it remains pristine.

MrKemish also spearheaded construction of the first solid waste transfer station (the current site of the Levitt Pavilion), effectively ending sanitary land filling of garbage in Westport. This was a landmark for Connecticut, and culminated in the formation of the State Resource Recovery Authority.

Among other important contributions to the quality of life in Westport, Kemish created Westport’s Beautification Committee. Chair Claire Ford and her organization gained the support of the Planning & Zoning Commission.  Significant changes included plantings and the restriction of signage along the Post Road.

Kemish was also responsible for the acquisition of the 38-acre Wakeman Farm, acquisition of the Nike Site on Bayberry lane, and a similar one on North Avenue (providing additional land adjacent to the Staples High School property, now the location of Bedford Middle School).

Bedford Middle School, on the site of a former Nike Missile Site.

During his years as first selectman, Kemish succeeded New York Mayor John Lindsay as president of the Metropolitan Regional Council, which was instrumental in improving services of the Metro-North railroad.

In addition, Kemish worked with Union Carbide and American Can Company on expansion of their municipal resource recovery and solid waste processing systems. In retirement he traveled extensively with his wife Gloria, and enjoyed family time in his homes in Connecticut and Florida.

He is survived by his wife Gloria Kemish, her family, and sons James and Steven.

Marpe Notes Death Of Former 1st Selectman John Kemish

First Selectman Jim Marpe says:

It was with deep sadness that I learned of the passing of former Westport 1st Selectman John Kemish on April 25, at the age of 93. John served three 2-year terms as Westport’s 1st Selectman from 1967 to 1973.

Prior to his election, John served as the town’s first professional controller (now the finance director), where he improved the town’s credit rating from A to Aaa. As controller, he played a pivotal role in the purchase of Longshore Country Club for the town under then-1st Selectman Herb Baldwin.

As 1st Selectman, John played a major role in the town’s campaign to save Cockenoe Island from United Illuminating Company’s plans to erect a nuclear power plant at that offshore site. Under John’s leadership, the agreement to sell Cockenoe Island to the town and eliminate the plans for the power plant proved successful. The town owes John a debt of gratitude, along with many others involved in that environmental fight to save the natural beauty and landscape of that island over 50 years ago,

First Selectman John Kemish (tie) is flanked by veterans at the Memorial Day parade.

According to Woody Klein in his book, Westport Connecticut: The Story of a New England Town’s Rise to Prominence, John is credited with the “acquisition of the Wakeman Farm as open space; he led the town’s effort to acquire the Nike Site on Bayberry Lane for the Westport-Weston Health District and Rolnick Observatory; he was responsible for the acquisition of the North Avenue Nike Site, providing additional land adjacent to the Staples High School property, (which became Bedford Middle School); he established the first major town beautification program by creating the Beautification Committee; and he played a role in the creation of the Transit District and the subsequent introduction of the Minnybus.” He also played an important role in the development of the original Levitt Pavilion.

Those accomplishments notwithstanding, I understand that John was a dedicated public servant who placed the issues and concerns expressed by many Westporters first. I know that generations of Westporters have and will continue to benefit from his due diligence, calm demeanor and leadership capabilities.

On behalf of the Town of Westport, I want to express my sincere condolences to his wife Gloria,  his sons James and Steven, and his entire family.

1st Selectman John Kemish (far right) with Westport YMCA director Matt Johnson (standing) and (seated from left) YMCA president George Dammon, and CBS News anchor (and Weston resident) Douglas Edwards.