Sure, half of all Bedford Middle and Staples High School students are not on campus, at any given time.
But with most parents opting to drive and pick up their youngsters — some buses reportedly carry only 1 or 2 kids — traffic on North Avenue and nearby streets has been heavy, at the start and finish of the school days.
It may take a few days to sort out what works. Until then: Avoid those areas at those times if you can.
Bedford Middle School traffic, yesterday afternoon. (Photo/Adam Vengrow)
Ruden — a Staples High School graduate whose website, Instagram and Facebook platforms are the go-to sources for coverage of Fairfield County high school sports — are collaborating on a new project: The Ruden Report Live at the Library.
The show debuts today (Thursday, September 10, 7 p.m.) from the Library’s Forum. Tonight’s topic: the recent decision to cancel this year’s high school football season. Guests include noted New Canaan High coach Lou Marinelli, St. Joseph’s Jack Wallace (2019 Gatorade Connecticut Player of the Year), and Jeff Jacobs, sports columnist at GameTime CT and Hearst Media CT.
Upcoming Ruden Reports will be recorded in the libary’s media studios. Some shows will be streamed live.
Ruden has been a sportswriter for over 35 years. He has written for the New YorkTimes, and worked at ESPN and CBS Sports.
Dave Ruden at work.
Speaking of sports: Staples football players joined hundreds of others from around the state yesterday in Hartford. They protested the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference and state Department of Public Health decision to cancel this fall’s high school football season.
Tonight at 7 p.m., former CNN, NBC Sports and Fox News anchor (and Westport resident) Dave Briggs interviews Wrecker head football coach Adam Behrends on Instagram Live. You can hear the discussion @WestportMagazine.
A small part of the large crowd in Hartford yesterday. (Photo/Dave Briggs)
This Saturday is Local Yarn Store Day. And Westport’s local yarn store — called, appropriately enough, Westport Yarns — is celebrating big time.
The shop across from Fresh Market offers free 45-minute lessons at 11 a.m., 1 and 3 p.m. Three people (12 years old and over) will get yarn and needles, and learn how to knit. At 12 and 2 p.m., there are free crochet lessons. To register, call 203-454-4300.
In addition, there are hand-dyed yarns for purchase. Earlier this year, a similar trunk show sold out quickly.
Rumor has it that Westport’s yarn bomber may stop by. No promises, but hey. You never know.
One of the yarn bomber’s first works, at fire headquarters. Westport Yarns is just a few yards away. (Photo/Molly Alger)
Speaking of cars: After a careful look at COVID requirements and a review with town officials, organizers have canceled the Concours and “Cars & Coffee” events set for October 4, in downtown Westport.
However, the “Tour d’Caffeine” is still on. The socially distanced ride through Fairfield County’s back roads ends with lunch at the Redding Roadhouse. It is limited to the first 25 who sign up. Click here to register.
It’s tough to get anyone, anywhere, to agree on anything these days. And in Westport, a long-running, particularly thorny issue was the North Avenue water tank project.
Area residents worried about installation of big, tall tanks near their property, and traffic issues during construction across from Staples High School. On the other side: the need for upgraded facilities, plus Fire Department concerns about inadequate water supplies in town.
An aerial view shows the North Avenue Aquarion tank site, opposite Staples High School.
But town officials, Aquarion representatives, North Avenue neighbors and the state Public Utilities Regulatory Agency worked together to address water supply, public safety and construction concerns.
Today, the town and Aquarion announced that site preparation will begin Thursday (June 4), with the installation of erosion controls, temporary fencing and limited site clering.
The project itself includes construction of two water tanks (28 and 33 feet tall — lower than the original 40-foot plan); removal of an existing tank, and extensive landscape restoration. Sound dampening equipment will be installed. Work is expected to take 2 years.
Among the conditions of the settlement agreement is appointment of an ombudsman: former assistant town attorney Gail Kelly. She will act as a liaison between the neighbors, town officials and Aquarion, providing weekly construction updates to residents, and meeting with school and police personnel to insure minimal impact on North Avenue traffic. No road closures are planned.
In addition, an independent site monitor will ensure permit compliance.
PURA members and protesters at the Aquarion North Avenue water tower site in December, 2018.
Construction hours are 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, with pre-arranged extensions as required.
First Selectman Jim Marpe thanked all parties for their cooperation, along with state legislators Will Haskell, Tony Hwang, Gail Lavielle and Jonathan Steinberg.
Click here for construction status, work schedules and project updates.
With Staples High and Bedford Middle Schools closed, it may be a while since you’ve driven on North Avenue.
If you have, you’ve noticed construction underway on a new sidewalk. It parallels the old one, from Long Lots Road north to Cross Highway. But it’s closer to the road, with no grass strip in between.
The old sidewalk was separated from North Avenue by a grass strip …
What’s up with that? several readers wondered.
I asked Peter Ratkiewich. The Public Works director said the new sidewalk will be 5 feet wide, elevated above the road by a 6-inch concrete curb. For the most part, it will run along the edge of the road. In certain areas with obstructions, it will deviate from the road edge.
The old sidewalk — parts of which were over 30 years old — will be removed entirely. That area will be restored with topsoil and seed.
… while the new one will not be. (Photos/Michael Fleming)
The new construction will facilitate maintenance (including winter, when it must be plowed or shoveled).
This is the same method of construction used all over town. The North Avenue sidewalk will look very similar to the one on Imperial Avenue, built about 6 years ago and hailed by many residents.
North Avenue resident Michael Fleming is not pleased, however. He started a petition asking the town to retain the sidewalk buffers.
The Imperial Avenue sidewalk.
In other sidewalk news, Public Works has nearly completed a new sidewalk on Maple Avenue North. They’ll start the Myrtle Avenue project soon.
Ratkiewich is still waiting for word from the state on the Riverside Avenue reconstruction project. It will include some sidewalk replacement.
The Main Street sidewalk project has been submitted to the state for final review. He hopes to have that project underway before fall.
Next year, Ratkiewich hopes to rebuild the Hillspoint Road sidewalk from Old Mill Beach to Greens Farms Road, and the Compo Road South sidewalk from the Post Road to Bridge Street.
The North Avenue project was scheduled before COVID-19. And yes, the lack of traffic has made the work easier.
Tim Fielding says: “This fella made it across North Avenue onto my property yesterday. He seems to have come from the wetlands by the Aquarion water tanks, and is heading toward the ones in back of Staples. Very purposeful and surprisingly mobile!”
You’ve seen the yard signs up and down North Avenue.
On Thursday, members of the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority did too.
They came to Westport last week, on a site visit to the proposed location of 2 concrete water towers. Aquarion hopes to build them — as replacements and improvements on the one current, much smaller facility — directly opposite Staples High School.
Jennifer Johnson joined several other opponents at the regulators’ site visit.
She was not impressed.
PURA members and protesters at the Aquarion North Avenue water tower site visit on Thursday.
“Aquarion didn’t mark out the rough location of the proposed tanks, or mark the trees that are coming down, and/or float a balloon so people could visualize the tanks’ height (squished into a small site),” she says. “Isn’t that the point of a site inspection?
Johnson reports that a few non-Aquarion attendees tried to mark the location of one of the new tanks by standing in the woods at the proposed center, then walking 50 feet in each direction. “It was only partly successful,” she says.
Johnson and her group hoped to convey some of their opposite to the PURA members. They printed out their main objections, part of a fact sheet originally compiled by Save Westport Now:
● As currently planned, the new tank will not solve the water pressure problems in Westport. Even if the new tanks are built, the majority of ﬁre hydrants in town will still be deﬁcient.
● The new tanks will allow Aquarion to “push” more water to other parts of Fairﬁeld County, begging the question: Can’t they ﬁnd another site for the second tank, in a less residential area?
An aerial view shows the North Avenue Aquarion tank site, opposite Staples High School.
● During the proposed 2-plus-year construction period, trucks and industrial excavators will clog North Avenue and streets around Staples. Combined with traffic from Bedford Middle School and the loss of the sidewalk, it’s a disaster waiting to happen. Yet Aquarion remains delinquent in providing a basic construction plan.
● The real problem is not just the size of the tanks, but the obsolete and undersized water mains that run beneath our roads.
● To make matters worse, the new tanks are likely to create bigger problems. The large increase in water capacity can lead to stale water.
● Aquarion has ﬁnally acknowledged the problem with the water mains, and agreed to minor upgrades. It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough. (Aquarion is a for-proﬁt monopoly. Its interest in rewarding shareholders does not necessarily align with residents’ or customers’ interests.)
● Westport could wind up with 2 extremely ugly tanks, more expensive water—and still have a water pressure problem.
A photo shows the height of the proposed new water tanks.
Opponents ask PURA to require a “full independent review and comprehensive plan for upgrading Westport’s water infrastructure.”
They also want Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission to have the authority to revoke the permit for this project. That way, they say, “Westport and Aquarion can move forward with a workable plan for rebuilding our water infrastructure for the next century.”
Several town officials, including the fire chief, have testified that the towers are necessary for safety.
PURA will hold a public hearing on Thursday, December 20 (9:30 a.m., 10 Franklin Square, New Britain), to consider Aquarion’s proposed towers.
Jennifer Johnson is a former member of Westport’s Parks & Recreation Commission, RTM representative and Westport Transit District director. As the mother of a Staples High School sophomore, she is very familiar with North Avenue. Jennifer writes:
This could be the last autumn for over 150 trees at the entrance to our flagship school, Staples High School.
That’s because Aquarion hopes to begin construction of 2 massive water towers on North Avenue this coming spring.
North Avenue trees near the entrance to Staples High School.
It would be the largest public works project in town history, likely to last severalyears. The constant flow of construction trucks will exacerbate already crippling traffic caused by the closure of Coleytown Middle School.
Does this site make sense for 2 towers? Why is the town continuing to make this a neighborhood issue rather than a community-wide issue? How will we survive years of construction ahead?
There are alternatives. They may cost more. But maybe the cost of moving forward at this site is too great to bear.
If the the RTM, and all of our leaders and town staff join in, hopefully we can find a solution before it’s too late.
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.”
For nearly 2 years, on-again, off-again construction of a new water pump directly across from Staples High School slowed traffic and disrupted neighbors.
Now a group of North Avenue residents is alarmed at the next project. Aquarion wants to build 2 storage tanks — each holding 2.5 million gallons of water. They would replace the one current 1.5 million gallon tank, built in 1956.
Aquarion says the tanks are necessary to address future town growth. Fire chief Robert Yost supports the proposal.
Opponents disagree. Their petition to the Planning & Zoning Commission says:
We, concerned neighbors surrounding and adjacent to the area of the proposed water tank construction project on North Avenue, hereby urge you reject Aquarion Water Company’s Special Permit Application #17-043 to allow the installation of two 2.5 million above ground concrete water storage tanks at 63-67 North Avenue, Westport.
We believe that Aquarion’s construction of the tanks, along with their permanent siting on this property, will have a deleterious effect upon our quality of life, neighborhood safety, North Avenue traffic, visual landscape, and home values.
Our objections are as follows:
1) The proposed 39 foot above-ground height of the two tanks far exceed the 24 foot height of the one existing tank, as well as the heights of all homes in the surrounding area. This will have a significantly negative impact on the character and quality of the residential neighborhood surrounding it, effectively changing its appearance from residential to commercial.
2) As proposed, construction of these tanks will take 2 years but is very likely to take longer, based on Aquarion’s previous record of construction of its pump station, which was projected to take 6 months but actually took 18 months. During that time the ensuing noise of construction activity, all-night presence of high intensity construction lights, debris and operation of construction equipment had a severely negative impact on the peaceful enjoyment and quality of life of our neighborhood. Additionally, landscaping besides 6-foot trees, has never been restored since then. With the proposed project we expect this impact to be magnified due to its much larger scale, and Aquarion’s lack of concern for the neighborhood be repeated.
The Aquarion water tank, during recent pump station construction.
3) Construction activity will severely exacerbate traffic conditions on North Avenue which already suffers from chronic traffic backups and congestion due to the daily volume of cars and school buses traveling to and from Bedford Middle School and Staples High School. This will make travel to and from the schools virtually impossible for both staff and students, and guaranteed to result in school delays.
4) We are very concerned about the impact on the safety of this residential neighborhood, where so many children live and commute to school, due to the siting of two huge water tanks at this location. When at the June 28 informational meeting Aquarian was asked precautions have been taken regarding the storage of five million gallons of water in a residential neighborhood, Aquarion’s response was “nothing will ever happen.” We find this response irresponsible and unacceptable.
5) It is highly objectionable that Aquarion did not adhere to the Site Plan and Special Permit requirements, as follows:
a) Aquarion informed and invited only 13 neighbors to the June 26 informational neighborhood meeting, instead of all 27 neighbors in the 250 feet radius from their property.
b) The neighbor list was not distributed to the neighbors in that invitation, as required.
c) Important details were not communicated during the meetings, such as the fact the application had already been filed.
6) Siting of these highly visible, unsightly structures in our neighborhood will be unpleasant and will adversely affect our property values to a significant extent.\
7) Given that Aquarion filed the Special Permit Application only on June 21, the last week of school when many families are involved in graduations or traveling, insufficient time has been given to neighbors to review and weigh in on the proposed project. Aquarion has thus far failed to provide answers to our questions including:
What is the basis for the project?
Capacity: Why is there a need to increase the current tank capacity by almost 400%, from 1.5 million gallons to 5.75 million? Population in Westport has been relatively stable since 1970, during which time we have not been made aware of any serious water shortages in our area.
Why situate two huge tanks next to each other in a residential area?
a) Alternative sites: What other options have been considered?
b) Can the second tank (if need has been proven) be situated on a different piece of land?
c) Why is such a large (62.5%) increase in tank height necessary?
A photo in the position shows the height of the proposed new water tanks.
Finally, we are dismayed and concerned that the Planning & Zoning Commission has agreed to review and presumably rule on this Special Permit Application along such a rushed time frame, with so little consideration given by Aquarion to neighbors who wish to review and weigh in on the application. Thus far, few of our questions have been answered to our satisfaction, and few of our concerns addressed. We would expect that in your roles as advocates for us, the Town’s residents, Planning and Zoning Commissioners will not allow this process to be rushed. We are counting on you to insure that our concerns are addressed and alternatives proposed.
In conclusion, we once again respectfully urge the Planning & Zoning Commission to reject Aquarion’s Special Permit application pending further review, consideration of alternatives, and input by Westport citizenry and other public officials.
Thank you for consideration of this very important matter. Yours truly,
North Avenue Neighbors including: Dr. Stefanie and Marc Lemcke; Michael and Kusumarn Fleming; Jennifer and Andrew Kobettisch; Claudia Steinman, Alfred and Mirian Popkin; David and Dawn Chaskin; Jodi and Russel Hardin; Jennifer and Jeffrey Watzman; Jennifer Stein, 12 Terhune Drive, and many concerned neighbors of Westport.
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