Tag Archives: Westport Department of Public Works

Isiais: By The Numbers

Ten days after Tropical Storm Isaias ravaged our town, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, the Department of Public Works and Westport Emergency Response Team report:

The Westport Fire Department responded to 581 incidents, almost 500% of their normal call volume. WFD also responded to at least 30 carbon monoxide incidents, the first time the department received so many calls of this type. In response, the WFD and the Fire Marshal have been increasing their education and outreach regarding the proper usage of generators.

From 1 p.m. Tuesday, August 4 through 1 a.m. Wednesday, the Westport Police Department logged 230 calls for service. 155 of them came at the height of the storm, 2 p.m.. Over the following 24 hours, the WPD answered 779 phone calls, 284 of them on the 911 line. The department also deployed temporary traffic control signage at around 15 major intersections throughout the course of the storm.

The Department of Public Works cleared 304 tree issues. They continue their cleaning debris from 125 miles of town-owned roadways, in addition to all town-owned Parks and Recreation facilities. The DPW expects to spend 2 weeks cleaning up town property, most of which could not commence until Eversource cleared and de-energized their wires.

DPW’s role is to remove trees and debris from the town’s right of way. DPW is not doing curbside pick-up of yard waste. Residents should not put personal yard waste and debris curbside. The town’s Yard Waste Site at 180 Bayberry Lane is open for personal yard debris. Normal hours are Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Saturday, 7 a.m. to noon. Tomorrow (August 15), the yard waste site stays open until 3 p.m.

The Department of Human Services worked around the clock, in collaboration with emergency personnel, to address storm-related concerns from upwards of 400 households. DHS received over 150 calls and emails, and made over 40 home visits for welfare checks and/or provide food service.

Westport’s Department of Human Services brought food, water (and toilet paper) to elderly residents trapped behind this tree on Rocky Ridge Road.

If you have a vulnerable resident in the home, or know seniors who live alone or whose main caregiver is also elderly, register that individual with the DHS. Call 203-341-1073, so the department can proactively follow up with him or her during future emergencies.

The number of town-wide emails and phone calls received is over triple the normal volume. Town personnel collaborated and triaged those responses as quickly as possible. In addition, emergency and general information was dispersed via Nixle alerts, daily press releases, social media posts and through the town radio station, WWPT 90.3FM.

Residents can stay connected with the town by signing up for emergency alerts and press notifications, and following the town on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Residents are urged to preset their radio to 90.3 FM in case of emergency.

As part of emergency incident standard procedures, the Town Emergency Operations Command Team will debrief and discuss the process, protocols and communications that occurred during Isaias. Each member will make recommendations for improved procedures during future emergency incidents.

Marpe adds: “There were many examples of neighbors helping neighbors and people stepping up to help in the midst of the emergency. Most Westporters came together and demonstrated resilience and an inherent capacity to help those around them. I want to express my deepest gratitude to those residents and town employees who exhibited patience, cooperation and understanding under very trying circumstances.”

The night after 98% of Westport lost power, an impromptu concert popped up on Jesup Green. (Photos/Miggs Burroughs)

Unsung Heroes #155

This one’s a no-brainer.

It’s been 8 days since tropical storm Isaias hammered our homes.

Power is still out in some spots. WiFi, cable and phone service may take longer.

But as we look back on the past week, our town is filled with heroes. If you are …

  • A first responder (police, fire, EMT…) who fielded hundreds of calls
  • A second responder, like the Community Emergency Response Team
  • An Eversource worker — or one that the utility outsourced, who drove for hours to get here — and worked tirelessly, in dangerous conditions, sometimes bearing the brunt of residents’ frustrations with Eversource’s highly paid higher-ups
  • A Department of Public Works worker, who made seemingly impassable roads passable
  • A landscaper or tree guy, who had more work than you ever dreamed of from regular customers, but still found time to help homeowners in dire straits who desperately flagged you down

To the rescue! (Photo/C. Swan)

  • A Human Services Department employee, who did way-beyond-the-job-description things like delivering food and water (and toilet paper!) to stranded seniors
  • Nate Gibbons, the fire inspector who provided sane, soothing and life-saving advice on a continuous WWPT-FM loop
  • The staff of the Westport Library, who made sure the generator stayed on so that (literally) thousands of residents could access WiFi, (literally) 24/7

A small part of the large WiFi crowd. (Photo/Miggs Burroughs)

  • A Westporter who helped a neighbor (or stranger) in any way: offering charging or a hot shower; clearing brush; providing food or shelter or a shoulder to cry or vent on — or anything else
  • A restaurant, deli or market owner, who somehow saved or scavenged food, kept it cold or heated it up, and somehow found a way to serve or sell it
  • A Parks & Recreation Department staffer, who got our parks and recreation facilities cleaned up quickly — a take-your-mind-off-your-woes lifesaver for many, especially over the weekend
  • A town official who fielded countless urgent calls, pleas and requests, along with tons of demands and questions; dealt with impossible-to-deal with utility representatives; got the ear of the governor, senators, our congressman and state legislators; kept everyone as safe as possible — and did it all during a pandemic, while also planning for (hey, why not?!) a primary election

… then you are our Heroes of the Day.

I know I’ve missed plenty of categories. Apologies in advance. Feel free to add your own Heroes; click “Comments” below.

Leaf It By The Curb

Westport’s curbside leaf collection program begins this Monday (November 4). It runs through December 2.

During this period, Public Works will collect leaves placed in biodegradable paper bags on the curbside. Leaves placed in plastic bags will not be picked up. Residents living on private roadways must place their bagged leaves at an intersecting town roadway.

DPW crews will pick up bagged leaves several times during the collection period. A final pass begins December 2, 2019, and takes about a week.

Only Westport residents with valid proof of residency may bring their leaves directly to the yard waste site at 180 Bayberry Lane. Leaves transported in plastic bags must be emptied from them.

The yard waste site is open weekdays and Saturdays, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Westport residents with valid proof of residency may dump up to 6 30-gallon bags or containers full of leaves without a fee. Any van, pickup or tag-along trailer exceeding the 6-bag limit will be charged $40 per load. Any vehicle or trailer larger than a conventional pickup with a 4-foot by 8-foot bed will be charged $90 per ton.

Any vehicles with a 9-foot body or vehicles changed to significantly enlarge their factory design size will be charged $90 per ton, estimated at 2 tons without weigh slip ($180). Dump tickets must be purchased at Town Hall, Monday through Friday between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., or by writing Department of Public Works, 110 Myrtle Avenue, Westport, CT 06880.

NOTE: For ease and cost savings, Public Works urges homeowners to consider backyard leaf composting. For details, call the Conservation Department (203-341-1170) or Earthplace (203-557-4400).

Pics Of The Day #684

Westport’s Department of Public Works was out early this morning, making sure town roads were safe for everyone. (Photo/Jimmy Izzo)

When the snow stopped, this was the scene, looking westbound at the Saugatuck train station (Photo/Max Stanger)

Remembering Dale Wehmhoff

The Town of Westport lost a hard worker, and the sports world lost an avid competitor, when Dale Wehmhoff died last week.

The 1979 Staples High School graduate was 57.

Dale’s family moved to Westport when he was 6 years old. He played basketball, baseball and ice hockey.

Dale Wehmhoff

The ice was his particular passion. He became an assistant coach at Staples at age 18. A few years later as head coach, he took Norwalk High to the state final. He later coached again at Staples, as well as with youth and junior teams.

Dale was an avid softball player too. He played on local teams, and traveled around the country to tournaments.

Dale spent 31 years with Westport’s Department of Public Works. He also managed his own landscaping business, employing many friends and high school students.

Dale’s father Ralph was well known in Westport. After his death, Dale took over his popular role as “Santa” in the holiday season. He spread warmth and happiness to less fortunate area residents.

Dale was especially proud of his children’s success. His daughter Kelcie is head cheerleading coach at Brien McMahon High School, and in youth sports. His son Kyle is assistant hockey coach for the Connecticut Junior Whalers.

In addition to his children, Dale is survived by his wife Cheryl Anderson; his mother Marlene of Westport; his sister Marilyn Gula of Delray Beach, Florida; his brother Wayne of Westport, and several nieces and nephews.

Calling hours are this Sunday (November 18, 2 to 6 p.m., Harding Funeral Home, Westport). Services take place on Monday (November 19, 11 a.m., Saugatuck Congregational Church).

In lieu of flowers, scholarship donations can be made to Kelcie or Kyle Wehmhoff, c/o Wells Fargo Advisors, 450 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880.

 

Plowing Ahead

There’s no major snow in the forecast (though it will be c-c-c-cold!). And director of public works Steve Edwards is retiring.

But — in one of his last acts — he offered this information for the next big snowfall.*

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123 miles of streets in Westport are maintained by the Department of Public Works. Snow removal can cost up to $2,500 per hour. It is important that the town use its resources wisely. Cooperation from residents can help minimize cost.

PLOW ROUTES. Streets are plowed and sanded in order of priority. Main (collector) roads are addressed first, with special attention to steep hills and difficult intersections.

Side streets are done next; then dead-end streets. A single pass is made on side streets to keep them open, but primary emphasis is placed on main roads until the storm has stopped. This may not seem fair to the residents of side or dead-end streets, but main roads must remain open.

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

BLOCKED DRIVEWAYS. All snow plows angle the same way: to the driver’s right. They can’t avoid pushing snow in front of driveways. Each homeowner is responsible for access to his driveway. The only way to avoid extra shoveling is to wait until DPW crews have completed their final cleanup on your street.

SIDEWALKS. Per town ordinance, property owners located within the business district are responsible for keeping all sidewalks along their property clear of snow and ice.

MAILBOX DAMAGE. The town repairs or replaces only mailboxes and/or posts that are actually struck by a plow blade. Usually a paint mark or tire tracks supply evidence of a mailbox strike. Westport does not repair or replace mailboxes and/or posts that fall from the force of plowed snow. Mailboxes and supporting posts must be installed to withstand the rigors of snow removal, including the force of snow pushed from the street onto the roadside.

TOWN RIGHT OF WAY. Belgium block, landscaping, dog fences, sprinklers, lights, etc. within the town right-of-way are subject to damage during winter operations. The town does not repair or replace any such items installed within the town right-of-way.

PRIVATE PLOWING. The Town of Westport prohibits plow contractors from pushing snow from driveways or parking lots onto town streets. This practice is dangerous, and impedes the town’s snow removal efforts. If there is no other alternative to pushing snow into the street, the plow driver must plow off the windrow left across the street by re-plowing until the road is safe. This may not necessarily mean bare pavement, but it should be no worse than when the driver began work.

Residents with questions or complaints should call Public Works: 203-341-1120.

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*Which, we all know, is a matter of when. Not if.

In this scene, no one had yet cleared Main Street — or the sidewalks. So you know what? Enjoy the snow! (Photo/Katherine Hooper)

“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.

A Beautiful Bridge — If You Can See It

Every day, alert “06880” reader Jane Sherman drives over the small North Avenue bridge that crosses the Saugatuck River.

And every day she is dismayed to see the weeds and grasses that have grown up along it, since its reconstruction last year.

The North Avenue bridge. (Photo/Jane Sherman)

The North Avenue bridge. (Photo/Jane Sherman)

She called Public Works. They told her there is no money available for maintenance. They’re busy trimming trees on Easton Road, and doing other jobs to protect public safety.

Jane says, “I’m distressed. I feel like stopping and weeding the area myself.”

But she knows they’ll just grow back. Weeding is not a one-time job.

“This bridge is beautiful and new,” Jane says. “What a shame that Westport intends to let the site deteriorate.”

A Taxing Question Is Answered

On Thursday I got my “sewer use charge and benefit assessment” bill.

Last year I paid $257.

This year, the charge was $5,487.00

First, I chewed some aspirin to stave off the heart attack I figured was coming.

Then I wondered: If this is my sewer bill, what will my property tax look like?

But after I did a quick calculation, I realized the increase was 20 times last year’s charge — and there are 20 units in my condo. Obviously, the tax collector charged me for all 20 owners.

Yikes!

Yikes!

Town Hall was already closed for the July 4th holiday. No biggie. I figured I’d call on Monday.

But a simple tax bill mistake is not what makes this story “06880”-worthy. Here’s the great part:

On Saturday I got an email from my upstairs neighbor, cc-ed to every unit owner.

At 12:13 a.m. Friday, she told us, she’d emailed the “Water Pollution Control Authority Coordinator” at the Department of Public Works — the contact for appeals listed on the sewer bill — with the same question I had: Had she been assessed for every owner in our building?

Yes, replied coordinator Bryan Thompson. It was a system error. New bills were being printed, and would be mailed out Monday.

What’s incredible is that Bryan responded less than 8 hours later — at 7:54 a.m.

On July 4th.

“I’m pretty sure no one in the history of the universe has ever gotten back to me that quickly,” my neighbor replied to Bryan.

And, I’d add, I’m pretty sure no one in the history of government, at any level, has ever replied that quickly to any tax complaint on a national holiday.