Tag Archives: Stefanie Lemcke

[OPINION] Aquarion’s Diversionary Tactics

Dr. Stefanie Lemcke is a technology entrepreneur. She moved to Westport in 2012, and is an immediate neighbor to the Aquarion property. She, her husband Marc and several other Westporters started Smart Water Westport, to educate the community on water issues. She writes:

Aquarion is the only water provider in Westport. and many towns nearby.

Water prices are proposed by Aquarion, and set by the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority. As Westporters might suspect from watching their water bills, prices always go one direction: up.

Though Connecticut has plenty of water, only residents of Hawaii and Alaska pay more.

Over the past few years, Aquarion filed for a special permit to dismantle the existing water tank on North Avenue, and replace it with 2 much larger tanks that would quadruple the water storage capacity.

PURA members and protesters at the Aquarion North Avenue water tower site visit in 2018 …

At meetings and through petitions, residents requested lower height of the tanks. Neighbors formed Smart Water Westport to argue for better management of our water, and smaller tanks.

The group raised 2 main arguments:

  • The North Avenue property was not zoned for such a large facility in a residential neighborhood (according to town zoning, water tanks are only allowed in AA neighborhoods if they served the immediate neighborhood)
  • The amount of water wasn’t needed for our town. The population had not increased, so why would we need 4 times the storage capacity?

Our state senators and First Selectman Jim Marpe wrote to Aquarion, supporting our request to decrease the tanks’ size.

Danielle Dobin, now chair of the Planning & Zoning Commission, wrote a personal appeal to Aquarion’s CEO to reconsider construction in this location.

Aquarion countered that Westport indeed faced a water shortage: Water usage was skyrocketing, and the company had implemented an irrigation schedule here to save water.

The company even bought television ads to convince us that without these tanks, we would face a terrible shortage of water.

In the end, a settlement granted Aquarion the right to build the tanks at a reduced height of the roof. The total price tag: $10 million, and a 2-year construction period.

… and the current tank.

Curiously, almost immediately after winning approval to build the tanks in the middle of a residential neighborhood, Aquarion applied to divert water from the Westport system to lower Fairfield.

The amount is unbelievably high. The permit asks to divert more than 14 million gallons per day.

Aquarion is telling us that we have more than enough water in our region, and we can easily divert some to Darien, New Canaan and Greenwich. Aquarion even sells water to Westchester and New York City.

All the arguments for building the tanks are suddenly flipped. There will be no shortage. There is plenty of water here: The Westport wells are actually not for Westport, but for Lower Fairfield.

On average, more than 60 million gallons per day is available (a number the company did not disclose during the water tank hearings).

The town of Fairfield and environmental agencies have filed for intervenor status, asking Aquarion to be transparent with their analysis and reasons regarding the need for this substantial increase in the volume of water diversion, as well as its impact on water quality, the environment, water usage and conservation.

Watch your water bills. Refurbishing the old tank would have cost just $1.5 million. Now, customers are paying for more than $10 million.

To make matters worse, we are paying for water that is diverted elsewhere, and sold to New York City.

Please email our town and state representatives, and our local P&Z chair. Ask them to get involved in the diversion petition, and to question Aquarion’s practice.

Also, register for May 4 (3 p.m., Zoom): the last discussion around Aquarion’s water diversion permit. Every citizen should have a say in how one of our most prized assets is being used — and the price we pay for it.

GoKid! Get This Carpool App!

Like many New Yorkers, Stefanie Lemcke started looking outside the city for schools for her children.

She and her husband took day trips here. When they realized “wow, people actually live in Westport!” they made the move.

Like many new arrivals, she loved the town. And — like many — she had to adapt to becoming a chauffeur. “No one told me I’d do so much driving!” she says.

Like no one else, however, she turned that mind-numbing chore into a flourishing business.

Stefanie Lemcke

On the Upper West Side, Lemcke walked her kids to school. Here, she had to learn to navigate carpools. Emails, Excel spreadsheets, texts — there had to be a better way.

Having worked for years with companies like Uber and Lyft, she thought instinctively of an online platform. She had not been involved on the tech side, but she became “obsessed” — her word — with her idea.

Her solution: a secure website that allows families to connect easily with others in their school, and identify carpool opportunities. She called it GoKid.

Lemcke hired 2 freelancers in California to write the initial code.

Techstars — a Detroit-based startup accelerator — accepted GoKid. That helped her raise over $1 million in funding.

She hired the best people she could find — wherever she found them. Lemcke’s team includes 3 developers in New York; 3 Argentines; a London COO, and one guy who travels in a truck.

Despite very little marketing, growth as been explosive. Over 50,000 carpools have been organized, in more than 25 countries.

But GoKid — which works on a desktop, smartphone and other devices — is very much a Westport company. Its official address is here, and visitors to the site see photos taken all around town.

Many of GoKid’s promotional photos were shot in Westport. This scene is at Staples High School.

GoKid fills a clear need. For budget and other reasons — one bus route averages $37,000 a year — over 50% of all school districts no longer use buses, Lemcke says. In California, just 17% do.

Of course, Lemcke notes, “Kids still have to get to school” — and their many other activities. GoKid allows users to organize carpools by neighborhood, grade, even kids’ interests. It’s a way to find trusted drivers beyond a small group of friends.

Last week, GoKid rolled out advanced features, like “recent participant” and “recent location”; the ability to set up return carpools with different participants, and customized alerts and notifications. It’s now available on Android devices. And it’s making its first marketing push.

The screenshot on the left shows text messages regardiing a carpool event. The one on the right shows a carpool map.

Lemcke knows the carpooling problem first hand. She lives on North Avenue — a few feet from Staples High and Bedford Middle schools. “Everyone drives their kids, even though we have buses,” she notes.

But the founder of an app that makes carpooling easier is not convinced that’s the only solution in her home town.

“It would be nice to create an initiative here around walking and biking,” she says.

“This is a progressive community, with great schools. But we’re backward when it comes to transportation.”

Of course, parents will continue to drive their children. That’s a fact of Westport life.

“Given the traffic and congestion, we welcome the opportunity to work with  Westport schools to help parents save time and reduce traffic,” Lemcke notes.

(For more information about GoKid, click here.)