Tag Archives: Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection

Sewage Leak: What Happened; What Happens Next

This press release was just issued by the Westport Fire Department:

At approximately 1:30 p.m. today, the Westport Fire Department Marine Unit was preparing for training on the river. Fire department personnel were notified by a person in the area of a reported sewage leak in the Saugatuck River. This leak was in the area of the I-95 overpass.

Engine 4 responded and found what appeared to be sewage flowing up from under the river to the surface. The Public Works Department was immediately notified, and a representative responded. This set into motion other activities aimed at minimizing the impact of the spill and erring on the side of caution.

As is standard practice, the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection was notified. Also notified was the U.S. Coast Guard.

Additional fire department personnel responded to the scene. A joint effort was made between the Westport Fire, Police, Sewer Department, Health Department, Conservation, Selectman’s Office as well as the State Health Department and DEEP to determine a plan of action.

The Sewer Department immediately ensured that the pumps were shut down, and called in multiple vacuum trucks to manually haul the sewage across the river to the treatment plant. Under consultation with the Health Department and Selectman’s Office, it was decided that the beaches would be closed for swimming.

A public advisory was broadcast via the town’s emergency notification system, and the state was advised of the precautions that Westport was taking. The State agreed with the proactive efforts and followed suit. Westport Police and Westport Parks and Recreation notified swimmers to exit the water and remain onshore. Westport Police also made the proper notifications to ensure that no shell fishing occurred. Sherwood Island was closed to swimmers by DEEP personnel.

As of approximately 6:30 p.m. there was still a controlled leak, with additional pumping vehicles on their way. It was determined that town and Sherwood Island beaches would remain closed for swimming until testing verifies the water is safe to swim in. The Health Department advised that testing will generally be performed approximately 24 hours after the spill. Testing is currently scheduled for Monday. Aquarion Water was contacted and they advised town officials that there was no cause for concern regarding contamination of the public wells.

Westport officials identified the need to replace the aging pipe, and took measures to address the issue before it became a problem. First Selectman James Marpe said, “We identified the need to replace the current sewer pipe 3 years ago and were very close to completion. My thanks go out to the town and state departments in their prompt and appropriate response to the incident.”

A new pipe has already been run under the riverbed and pumps were in the process of being installed to handle the increased capacity. According to the Public Works director, the new pipe was scheduled to be put into service within the next 2 weeks. This process will be expedited in light of today’s events. The Sewer Department will continue to work with DEEP as well as state and local health departments to ensure that the safety and health of residents and guests remain paramount.

Bear With Us

The Westport Police report that around 8:30 this morning, a North Avenue resident reported a black bear on his property. Officers tracked it to the area of 300 North Avenue and Tuck Lane.

The bear was not acting aggressively. The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Wildlife Division was notified.

Police note that black bears are becoming increasingly common in Connecticut. Residents should take precautions to prevent negative encounters with bears and nuisance behavior.

In 2013, Cablevision News12 aired this dramatic shot of a black bear in Westport.

Bears have an incredible sense of smell. Secure garbage in sturdy covered containers in a garage or outbuilding.

If you compost, do so responsibly. Do not throw meat scraps or greasy, oily or sweet materials in the compost pile. These foods attract bears and other animals.

Clean barbecues and grills after each use. Do not leave pet food outdoors, and remove bird feeders from your property for the summer.

Keep an eye on pets and small children playing outside.

If you see a bear, do not approach it. The mere presence of a bear does not necessitate its removal. If left alone and given an avenue for escape, the bear will usually wander back into more secluded areas.

Sightings can be reported to Westport Animal Control (203-341-5076).  For more information on bears, click here.

Osprey Nest: Sunday Morning Report

In the wake of yesterday’s removal of the osprey nest between Terrain and Fresh Market, several readers wondered if there was a photo of the actual act.

Staples High School freshman Jaden Mueller took this shot. His parents, Adrian Merri, sent it to “06880.” They said it had no business name on the side.

(Photo/Jaden Mueller)

Meanwhile, “06880” reader (and Connecticut Audubon Society board member) Charlie Stebbins directed me to Miley Bull, Connecticut Audubon Society’s senior director of science and conservation.

I called Miley this morning. He said that on Friday afternoon, the contractor for property owner Terrain — he’s not sure of the contractor’s name — called. He said they’d be taking down the nest the next day, as part of a parking lot project. The contractor said they wanted to remove the nest before the ospreys laid eggs, because then it would be an “active” nest. If the ospreys abandoned the nest then, the contractor might be liable under Connecticut law, the contractor knew.

Miley told the contractor that the adults were already back. He told me, “I have no control over private property.” But he called Brian Hess, wildlife biologist for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

Miley said he told Brian, “I’m not sure of the best thing to do. I told the contractor that there’s a lot of activity there already. The birds might be habituated to noise, and not affected by construction.” He told me there are ospreys living on poles near stadiums, with all that activity.

Miley said, “Brian called the contractor. I don’t know what he told them.”

Ospreys in 2016. (Photo/Jo Ann Davidson)

However, Miley said, “When the workers were there yesterday, and people got all upset, the workers ducked and hid. They said ‘the Audubon Society said it was okay.’ That’s bullshit. I don’t have control over that.”

I told Miley that — according to several “06880” readers — the ospreys are apparently covered not only by state statute, but the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. And that the law refers not just to nests with eggs or chicks in it, but to any “active” nest. With birds living in it, readers say, this was an active nest.

Miley said of the state DEEP, “They know the statutes and laws.”

That’s the latest information.

Reader Charlie Stebbins also noted last night:

The key issue now is, where do the osprey alight and build a new nest? Before Terrain, they built on a utility pole that caught fire and killed the chicks. Hence the new pole at Terrain.

With that pole now removed, Audubon is using its nest monitors (aka Tina Green and other expert Westport birders) to track where the osprey relocate. They will pick a new local site in the next week or two. When they do, we will know if it’s safe or not…and act accordingly.

US Cities Stop Recycling. What Will Westport Do?

On Sunday, the New York Times published a front-page story:”As Costs Skyrocket, More US Cities Stop Recycling.”

It turns out that because China — our former number one customer — no longer accepts used plastic and paper, because it’s mixed with too much other trash, towns and cities across our country have seen collection bills rise steeply. The result: They’ve ended their programs, or now burn or bury more waste.

Many readers’ first thought was: “Holy smoke!” 

Their second was: “I wonder what my community is doing?”

To find out the 06880 answer, I contacted 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. He responded:

Pete Ratkiewich, our Public Works director, has been addressing this issue for several years.

The situation described in the Times article is also a reality here in Westport. In the recent past, international companies would buy US recyclables for reuse and repurpose abroad. As such, the town of Westport received compensation for its recyclable materials.

Recycling takes place all around Westport. This is the Farmers’ Market.

In 2018, China determined that US recyclables are too “contaminated” to be reused or repurposed, so that market has since ceased to exist (as well as in other countries such as India). So what was once a revenue generator here in Westport is now a cost to us.

The good news is that the town’s focus on recycling for several decades has “trained” all of us to think about what should be recycled and how best to do it.  Many of us still have and use our blue bins.

Up to the end of the fiscal year that ended July 2018, the town of Westport was realizing revenue from our recycling programs. But the cumulative cost effect for this fiscal year, and the next one we are budgeting for, is a total of $300,000.

We saw this coming, and have actively pursued alternative approaches along with a number of neighboring communities. Westport is in a consortium with approximately 14 other communities called the Greater Bridgeport Regional Recycling Interlocal Committee.

The GBRRIC — also called “the Interlocal” — aggregates all of our municipal recyclables, thereby increasing our purchasing power with private haulers. The GBRRIC recently negotiated a contract with Oak Ridge Waste and Recycling, and determined that the GBRRIC cost of recycling is now $75 per ton. As recently as 2017, that same recycling yielded a revenue of $25 per ton.

Annually, Westport residents generate 3,300 tons of recyclable waste. The total trash generated is approximately 10,000 tons from residents and 6,000 tons from commercial entities.

The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection sets guidelines on what materials should be recycled. We believe that glass products should be removed from the list of recyclables and set aside from the other materials, given their high level of contaminants. We have found that glass has become one of the most frequently rejected recycled commodities for that reason, and also a major contributor to our tonnage total.

Our Green Task Force, currently being rebranded as “Sustainable Westport,” is leading the charge to find alternate solutions that either cut our recycling expenses, or reduce the amount of waste that gets generated here in Westport.  Efforts underway include a composting program at Greens Farms Elementary School, which will roll out to other schools and hopefully other entities as the pilot proves the value of composting.

Also, we plan to lobby the state to allow glass to be placed in a separate recycling stream, and to change related recycling regulations.

The immediate challenge is that the Town’s fiscal year 2020 budget will need to reflect the increased cost of the recycling process.

Free Sherwood Island!

Overlooked in the blizzard of news following the passage of our state’s last-in-the-nation budget is this:

Starting January 1, Connecticut residents will no longer pay for admission to 24 state parks and 3 state forests.

It’s covered through a new Department of Motor Vehicles charge: $10, paid every 2 years.

If you’re like me, and fail to see a connection between the DMV and the Department of Environmental and Energy Protection, look at the bottom line: The new charge will raise $16 million of the $18 million needed for annual operation of the parks.

Fees collected will be kept separate from Connecticut’s general fund.

Shewood Island State Park: 232 acres of prime real estate, right here in Westport.

What does that mean for Westport?

For one thing, Sherwood Island — the often-overlooked 232-acre gem right inside our borders — might get a few more town visitors.

For another, I’m sure someone will suggest that the solution to our Compo Beach crowds is to shunt more out-of-towners to the state park.

Of course, free admission applies only to Connecticut residents. Whether at Sherwood Island or Compo, New Yorkers still have to pay.

Annual Beach Replenishment Project Washes Away

Alert “06880” reader — and longtime Westport observer — Chip Stephens writes:

Those of us who have been around a while remember that not so long ago, Sherwood Mill Pond neighbors had the sand in front of their houses replenished once a year. A barge would recover sand washed into Compo Cove from their beaches by storms and high tides. Big Kowalsky front-end loaders spread it out, recovering private beaches up and down the cove.

In recent years, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has restricted that activity. You can see what’s happened by not replenishing the beaches from Hillspoint Road. Landowners see it more painfully from their windows.

Old Mill "Beach." (Photo/Chip Stephens)

Old Mill “Beach.” (Photo/Chip Stephens)

We’ve long been told that the reason the sand washes away is that the Army Corps of Engineers made errors when they replaced reefs and stones on Sherwood Island and Compo Beach. That caused misdirection of natural currents, sweeping away sand on those local beaches into the Mill Cove flats.

Now the landowners face difficulties with DEEP and local boards in placing erosion controls, walls or reefs to save their beach, their land and their houses.

DEEP’s answer is to plant the beach with grasses and plantings. Unfortuantely, even modest storms wash them away.

What will happen? Well, time and tide wait for no man…

Bear With Us

A big black bear’s weekend ramble through Westport elicited plenty of chatter. There were blog posts,  Facebook photos, some bad puns (see headline above), and predictable jokes about what bears do in the woods.

But lurking behind all the heh-heh-I’m-not-worried comments are serious issues.

An “06880” reader — who has had extended conversations with the Merritt Parkway Conservancy and state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection — emailed me with several concerns.

“State urban forest experts have suggested that deforestation of the Merritt Parkway, and clear-cutting for large developments like the new YMCA at Mahackeno, will result in more wildlife venturing into residential areas from previously forested areas.

“And a black bear appears in backyards soon after.”

The bear, on Tupelo Road.

The bear, on Tupelo Road.

“Although a bear may be categorized as a singular public safety issue, it should be considered in context with other issues,” the reader continues.

“Reduction of urban forest  in suburban communities ultimately results in other public safety issues. For instance, Westport is wedged between 2 significant diesel fume corridors. Particulate matter from both the Merritt and I-95  corridors is filtered by the urban forest.” Increased levels of asthma may result.

Clear-cutting dangerous trees on the Merritt Parkway solves one problem. But traffic jams -- due to tree work, accidents or just plain rush hour -- brings other environmental problems.

Clear-cutting dangerous trees on the Merritt Parkway solves one problem. But traffic jams — due to tree work, accidents or just plain rush hour — brings other environmental problems.

The reader also worries that after large parcels of land are deforested, they are paved with conventional asphalt — not modern “pervious paving,” which reduces runoff, traps suspended solids, and filters pollutants from the water.

“Certainly we cannot solve everything instantly,” the reader acknowledges.

“The bear is not the primary issue. But it could be an example of cause and effect specific to Merritt Parkway and Mahackeno deforestation. We need to identify issues as they arise, and together plan viable strategies for urban forest management.”

Important Info — Floodplain Damage

The following information — from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection — was sent to all municipal officials. It was forwarded to “06880” by Cathy Walsh, chair of the Westport Planning & Zoning Commission, on behalf of the entire P&Z.  She says:

The highlights are the 100-year flood plain, 3-foot substantial damage clause and the $30,000 grant.  The key for homeowners is “document everything.  Photos of high water/high water marks are invaluable. So are photos of pre-existing sea walls.”

The P&Z staff are discussing the options internally as to how to stream line the process for homeowners to rebuild.  I’ve asked them to come up with recommendations as to how best streamline the process for homeowners. We will put this on the agenda for the November 8 P&Z meeting.

The other important issue concerns seawalls.  Larry Bradley is working with the DEEP commissioner to streamline that process also.  We want the public to know what’s going on but at the same time please allow us to do our leg work.

The DEEP memo follow:

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, many structures have been damaged by coastal flooding, high winds, fire from downed electrical wires, or fallen trees.

All Connecticut municipalities participate in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Under the NFIP, structures located in the mapped 100-year floodplain that have sustained substantial damage must be brought into compliance with your community’s floodplain management regulations or ordinance as if it is new construction when they are repaired or reconstructed, including the requirement that lowest floor be elevated to or above the base flood elevation.

The NFIP defines substantial damage as damage from ANY origin sustained by a structure whereby the cost of restoring the structure to its before-damaged condition would equal or exceed 50 percent of the market value of the structure before the damage occurred. Work on structures that are determined to be substantially damaged is considered to be a substantial improvement, regardless of the actual repair work performed. The definition of market value is included in your local floodplain management zoning regulations or flood ordinance. Usually, market value is defined as the appraised value of the structure, excluding land value.

Before issuing permits for repairs, local permit officials must determine whether damage to a structure located in the 100-year floodplain qualifies as “substantial damage”. Community officials often have difficulty determining whether buildings are substantially damaged. This difficulty is magnified after a disaster where a large number of buildings have been damaged and there is a need to provide timely substantial damage determinations and issuance of permits so that reconstruction can begin.

In coastal areas that experience tidal surge, a general rule of thumb is that if 3 feet or more of flood water has entered the first floor living space (not the basement), the structure has likely hit the substantial damage threshold. The Substantial Damage Estimator Manual listed below contains helpful damage category spreadsheets in Appendix E. While doing field inspections, it may be helpful to do a preliminary assessment using spreadsheets using a “stoplight” screening for each structure (green – not substantially damaged, yellow – borderline, red-substantially damaged). More detailed calculations can be done in the future before the structure is repaired.

There are many Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) publications that can assist local officials with the topic of substantial damage. Below is a list of these resources and link to website.

Substantial Damage Estimator (FEMA P-784 CD) and User’s Manual and Workbook http://www.fema.gov/library/viewRecord.do?id=4166

Answers to Questions About Substantially Damaged Buildings (FEMA 213) http://www.fema.gov/library/viewRecord.do?id=1636

Substantial Improvement/Substantial Damage Desk Reference (FEMA P-758) http://www.fema.gov/library/viewRecord.do?id=4160

Managing Floodplain Development through the NFIP, Unit 8 (IS-9) http://www.fema.gov/pdf/floodplain/is_9_complete.pdf#nameddest=sub-damage

When buildings undergo repair following a substantial damage determination, it is an opportunity for the community to reduce future damage to these vulnerable structures through compliance with community floodplain management regulations.

If a local official determines a structure is substantially damaged, Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) coverage is part of most standard flood insurance policies. If eligible, ICC provides for up to $30,000 to help property owners who have been substantially damaged bring the home or business into compliance with community floodplain regulations or ordinances. This can include elevation, demolition or relocation of a residential structure, or flood-proofing a non-residential structure. Claims for ICC benefits are filed separately from your claim for contents or building loss. Below is a link to FEMA’s website with more information in ICC. http://www.fema.gov/plan/prevent/floodplain/ICC.shtm