Tag Archives: Peter Ratkiewich

Water, Water Everywhere …

There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

But a few homeowners inside Longshore Club Park enjoy free water.

I heard recently that the town — not individual property owners — inside Longshore paid certain water bills.

(If you don’t know — and not many people do — there are 3 roads, with a dozen or so homes, within Longshore. Vista Terrace, Waterside Terrace and Glen Drive form a semicircle. These beautiful, hidden lanes start near the 2nd tee, at the entrance road bend, and exit into the parking lot near the Parks & Recreation Department office.

(Rumor has it that when the town of Westport bought the property from a failing country club in 1960, they had no idea they were also buying the roads. It was not until after the closing, when 1st Selectman Herb Baldwin and his staff walked the land, that they realized exactly what they owned.)

Vista Terrace, Waterside Terrace and Glen Drive all begin off Julian Brodie Drive (the official name of the Longshore entrance road). (Screenshot courtesy of Google Maps)

I asked Public Works director Peter Ratkiewich about the arrangement. He says:

“When Longshore was purchased, there was one meter for the entire property, by the Compo South entrance.

“The water line into the park was actually a private main line. That remains the condition today.

“The meter was installed presumably when there was only one owner of the property, prior to the town purchasing it. Our understanding is that the owner periodically sold off lots within the property prior to the town’s purchase, perhaps to make ends meet.

“When the owner sold off lots, they simply extended laterals from their privately owned water main to the houses that were developed, but did not meter those laterals. When the town bought the property, it also bought the water system in it’s existing configuration .

“There is a compelling reason that the owner probably did not want to meter the new laterals. In Connecticut, if you own a private water main and then sell the water that comes from the private main, you become a water company, and are subject to regulation by the regulatory authority. If you give away the water for free, then you are not a water company.

“The only way to avoid becoming a water company would be to extend a new main from Compo South, before the meter, in to the individual properties that are getting unmetered water.

“This was an expensive proposition in the 1960s. It remains expensive today — way more expensive than paying for the unmetered water. It is probably the reason the former owner did not do it, and it is the reason the town hasn’t done it to date.

“At some point however, the town will have to replace the existing water main.  When that happens, the town main will be separated and a new Aquarion main will be extended to the private residences. Those residents getting unmetered water will then be connected to a metered lateral.”

Right now, Ratkiewich says, 5 or residences get unmetered water off the town main. How’s that for a selling point! (Even better for them: An aerial view of the roads shows several with swimming pools.)

Three more are on private wells. The cabins and Inn at Longshore are all fed off the town main too. However, the cost of water is built into their rent,

Hillspoint Road Work: Help Is On The Way

Alert “06880” reader, RTM District 4 representative and frustrated driver Andrew Colabella writes:

The condition of Hillspoint Road left by Aquarion was subpar. Dipping and diving while driving along the roadway, I thought that after digging up the entire road, they would come back and either repave what they had previously dug up to be smoother, or mill the entire road or lane.

The last 2 weeks, only certain areas were dug up and repaved.

Hillspoint Road has looked like this for a while …

Hal Kravitz, Chris Tait, Robin Tauck, Jenny McGuinness, myself and many other members of the public were deeply upset. Even 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and Director of Public Works Peter Ratkiewich were displeased by the work.

However, good news came in a letter from Peter Ratkiewich. He wrote:

Due to the condition of the asphalt, Mr. Marpe has authorized me to place a sacrificial cover of pavement, about 1” thick, over the entire road to make it acceptable for the summer. This will buy us some time and make the walking surfaces safe for the summer months.

We will do this from Compo Road South to Lamplight Lane, which is the worst of the worst. This takes away the Optimum problem too, as they can install their trench any time (it’s only for a couple of services, not the whole length like the water line).

We will use FGB Construction to do the work. They will try to get started next Tuesday, Wednesday at the latest. The work should only take 2 days or so, then everyone should be out of there.

We will eventually end up milling this up and putting down a full 2 inch mat, but the temporary pavement could possibly give me a one year window so that I might be able to fix the sidewalk too.

… and this. (Photos/Andrew Colabella)

This is a road many of us drive every day. I want to thank everyone who spoke out and politely objected to the current condition of the road.

The importance of speaking up when there is an issue or question should always be addressed with haste, and no hesitation.

Residents who live in town and have issues with primary or secondary roads can call Town Hall: 203-341-1000.

If there’s a pothole, damaged curb from a snowplow, dead animal or issues with town infrastructure, email publicworks@westportct.gov or call 203-341-1120.

Also, never hesitate to reach out to your RTM representative about any town issues. We are all here to help you.

Here’s to a smoother future, as we come out of hibernation from the pandemic.

The Sidewalks Of Westport

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.

 

“Asphalt Is Asphalt. Snow Is Snow.” Steve Edwards Has Seen It All.

There are 2 things Steve Edwards dislikes: snowstorms, and talking to the media.

Last week — on the eve of the winter’s first snow — he sat down with “06880.”

But it could be the last time for both events. Westport’s public works director retires December 31. He’s spent 32 years in the department — 25 in charge — and is leaving just as he came in: low-key, steady, ready to tackle any problem, fully committed to his job and town.

Edwards calls himself “a farm boy from Easton.” After Joel Barlow High School he double majored in biology and chemistry at Bethany College — with a minor in physics.

He headed to the University of  Connecticut for grad school. Edwards planned on being a researcher. But he realized he liked “actually getting things done.” His early jobs as an engineering consultant involved site work for power plants, with an emphasis on lessening environmental impacts.

He traveled constantly. When a public works job in Westport opened up, he knew his background fit well.

Edwards joined the department in 1985, as Jerry Smith’s deputy. Five years later, he succeeded Smith.

In 1985, Edwards recalls, public works was “the wild west. There were not a lot of controls in place.” It was an old boys’ network.

Now, every employee needs a commercial drivers’ license. Standards are high. Locators on each truck record the speed, and tell where it is.

“When I got here, you sent a guy out to plow and couldn’t find him for 6  hours,” Edwards says.

Westport’s Public Works guys, in action a few years ago. (Photo/Luke Hammerman for Inklings)

“In this town, everyone’s looking at you. People take us to task if we don’t do our job. And they should.”

He praises his highway, building maintenance and sewer treatment supervisors. They help him lead his 55-person department.

Another change involves meetings. In the beginning, Edwards went to one night session a week. Now there are three.

“Back then we’d go to the Board of Finance for money, then to the RTM to okay it. Now there are grant meetings, informational meetings, charettes.

“Westport has a very educated population. They all want their opinions heard. Employees sift through a lot of information. It takes time to listen to everyone.”

That’s true across town government. “Poor Jen (Fava),” he says. “She’s got even more: Boating Friends, Tennis Friends, Golf Friends. I don’t have any friends.”

But in other ways, his job has not changed.

“Asphalt is asphalt. Snow is snow,” Edwards notes.

“Most everything people take for granted comes through us: town roads, and dead squirrels on them. The transfer station. Sewers and clogged drains. Snow removal. Beach repairs. You name it, we do it.”

When disaster strikes, Westport’s Public Works Department responds.

Sometimes, Westporters expect public works to do everything. “A lot of people now come from New York. They’re used to concierges,” Edwards says.

“We’re their concierge. They don’t know who to call, so they call our department.” Sometimes he must explain that a road belongs to the state — not the town.

Edwards does what he can. Edwards gets great satisfaction from helping those who can’t fend for themselves. He has less patience with people who call in the middle of the storm “from an 8,000-square foot house with a generator, but they can’t get their favorite cable channel.”

Edwards has worked for 7 first selectmen. They’re all different, he says. But all recognize that Westport’s department heads are professionals. And “all of them realize that a lot goes on in public works.

“Quality of life comes through here,” Edwards adds. “We should be like a good referee: No one knows we’re there. If I’m in the press, it’s usually because I’ve done something wrong. I want to stay under the radar.”

Sometimes that’s hard. Six months after coming to Westport, Hurricane Gloria hit. His boss Jerry Smith was on leave, after a heart attack.

“I was wet behind the ears,” Edwards admits. “I had my hands full. Back then it was every man for himself.”

These days, he says, “the town is much better prepared. There’s so much more training and support.”

After Hurricane Sandy, Public Works took care of a section of boardwalk that ended up far from home. In emergencies they coordinate with other departments to keep Westport safe.

During Hurricane Sandy, he notes, “the amount of interdepartmental and inter-municipal coordination was phenomenal.” Public works, police, fire — even human services — all work together.

Edwards is retiring while he still feels good.

His wife wants to travel. “But I’m a homebody,” he says. “I’ve got my dog and my bike. I can hike. I’m happy.”

He’ll miss the people he’s worked with. Every employee now is someone he’s hired.

Edwards will stay on as a contract employee, consulting on projects like the pump station underneath the Saugatuck River. He started it, and wants to see it finished.

Next month, town engineer Pete Ratkiewich takes over. He knows the ropes: He’s been a town employee for 26 years.

Still, I asked: Does Edwards have any advice for his successor?

“You can’t take anything personally. We’re all professionals,” he said.

“We make recommendations. But at times things are way beyond our control.”

One example: during tight economic times, Edwards’ paving budget was once cut by $1 million.

“I went home, and I went to bed. I didn’t lose sleep over it.”

He found a way to pave the roads.

And — a few months later — to plow them.

That’s what he’s done for 32 years. Thanks, Steve, for doing it very, very well.

Spying On Your Neighbor Just Got A Whole Lot Easier

One of Westporters’ favorite hobbies — finding everything about someone else’s property — just got a hell of a lot easier.

According to the Westport News, Esri — the company providing the software that enables anyone to find maps and aerial photos of every property in Westport, along with information on zoning data and permits — has changed its platform.

“It’s similar to when Microsoft said, ‘We’re not going to be doing DOS anymore; we’re moving to Windows,” notes town engineer Peter Ratkiewich.

And just as Microsoft engineered a paradigm shift, so too does this represent a huge step forward in projecting GIS (Geographic Information System, duh) data.

No, it's not a QR code. It's a map of Westport. Drill down, and you'll see much more.

Last week, Ratkiewich gave a demonstration to a dozen or so people, mostly town employees. He showed them how to zoom in and out of properties; pull up information on them; find estimates of square footage; determine parcel lines, rights-of-way and easements, and see rough contours the land.

The “public viewer” provides great aerial views showing how close a property line is to a house.

The News noted that “layering” the maps can show wetlands, flood zones and zoning classifications. (Layering is different from “lawyering,” which some of the info may lead to.)

Users can combine properties to see, for example, how much land is available for a subdivision.

The News says that permit information — from 1990 to now — is updated daily. It shows active, approved, closed and voided permits, as well as certificates of occupancy. Parcel information (such as the owner’s name) is updated quarterly.

Users can search for a specific property by address, owner name or parcel ID.  They can even get mailing labels for residents within a 250-foot radius, in case they have to contact them for some, um, zoning issue.

(Click here to use the public viewer. Computers should have Internet Explorer 8 or better, and pop-up blockers must be turned off. Tutorials on using the new public viewer are set for Thursday, March 1 [9 a.m. and 1 p.m., Town Hall auditorium.])

I can see my home too, via Bing. No, it's not a mansion -- I live in a condo.