Tag Archives: North Avenue water towers

[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.