Tag Archives: Westport News

“06880” Honored By Journalists

I don’t care much for writing awards*. So I’ve never submitted “06880” for any.

But Fred Cantor and Neil Brickley — longtime readers, and much-longertime friends and former Staples High School classmates — did.

Without my knowledge, they sent 3 stories to the Society of Professional Journalists’ Connecticut chapter Excellence in Journalism contest. All told, there were 842 entries, in 39 categories.

Last night — at the annual meeting in Berlin — one of those stories earned a 1st-place award. It was for “Reporting Series.”

The story — “This is ABC” — was a photo essay done with my sister, Susan Woog Wagner. It explored Westport’s great A Better Chance program, through the eyes of scholars, host families, resident directors, drivers, founders, tutors and others. (Click here for the first story in the series.)

Study time at Glendarcy House — the A Better Chance of Westport residence on North Avenue. (Photo/Susan Woog Wagner)

I’m proud and honored that Fred and Neil did that on my behalf. And excited to have won, for sure.

The one award is nothing compared to WestportNow. The local news site enters the contest every year, and picks up passels of honors. Last night founder/editor Gordon Joseloff, writer James Lomuscio and photographers Dave Matlow, Helen Klisser During and Anna-Liisa Nixon shared 6 first-place, 4 second-place and 4 third-place awards.

Other local winners included Justin Papp (1st place) and Sophie Vaughn (3rd place), both of the Westport News.

Local journalism is alive and well. The awards are nice — but serving Westporters is even better.

*Though the Pulitzer Prize is very impressive.

(For a full list of winners, and more information, click here.)

Dinnertime! (Photo/Susan Woog Wagner)

P&Z Wants You! (To Help Bring Notices Into The Modern Age)

The other day, “06880” highlighted an issue that frustrates many Westporters: the limited ways to find out things like proposals for new developments, zoning changes, and upcoming agendas for regulatory boards.

The P&Z is on it.

A new Planning and Zoning Commission communications subcommittee met last week. On the agenda: how to modernize and improve public notice of P&Z matters.

Some neighbors were surprised to learn of a development proposal for the former Daybreak Nursery property.

Several intriguing ideas were discussed in the areas of site plans, special permits, variances, subdivisions and map adjustments. Among them:

To address the complaint that residents don’t open mailed legal notices because they look like junk mail or solicitations:

  • Notices will be delivered in a brightly colored envelope with a return address showing the Westport Planning & Zoning Department. A separate line on the bottom right of the envelope will note “This notice could impact your property rights or property values”
  • The town will purchase envelopes. Applicants will purchase these from P&Z for a fee, to ensure consistency in delivery of all notices.
  • The mailed notice radius will be expanded beyond the current 250- foot radius of the subject property.

To address the complaint that a single printed notice in the Norwalk Hour is insufficient, and a dated method for notice delivery:

  • All legal notices to be posted on the Town of Westport’s website at the same time as printed in the Hour, preferably under the headline “Planning & Zoning Notices.” P&Z agendas will be posted 1 week prior to the scheduled meeting.
  • A new “Westport Planning & Zoning Notices” Facebook page will be created, including links to the legal notices posted on the town website. No commenting or messaging will be permitted.
  • A physical sign (similar to a demolition notice sign) will be posted on the subject property, as proposed by the Coalition for Westport.

NOTE: These proposals do not relate to text amendments, which will be discussed at the next meeting.

That meeting is next Wednesday (January 17, Town Hall, 7:30 p.m.). They’ll join the RTM’s Planning and Zoning subcommittee to review those ideas, discuss public feedback, and begin improving the process for public notice of text amendments.

And … before that meeting, the P&Z subcommittee is asking — very publicly — for feedback.

Comments posted to “06880” will be added to the public record. You can also email pandz@westportct.gov — and of course attend the meeting, and speak.

“We welcome any and all feedback,” the subcommittee says.

“Our goal is to ensure that all residents can easily inform themselves of P&Z matters affecting their neighborhood and community.”

(Click here to see the full minutes of the P&Z subcommittee meeting. How’s that for openness?!)

Good News: No More Minuteman Papers In Your Driveway!

Finally, there’s a fail-safe solution to the scourge of Minuteman newspapers being dumped in Westport driveways — even after repeated requests to PLEASE STOP!!!!!

The publication has folded.

Hearst — which owns virtually every other print outlet in Fairfield County, including the Westport News — pulled the plug on the 23-year-old freebie this week.

You’d be forgiven for not noticing, though. The announcement was made, Orwellian-like, in a letter from the publisher inserted in yesterday’s edition.

It read:

Dear Readers: We have great news!

Beginning next week, we’ll be bringing you the best of local news, journalism, local school sports, and advertising information — right to your home.

Instead of the Minuteman publications you normally received on Thursdays, every Friday you can expect to receive the Westport News — a highly respected newspaper dedicated to your community.

Of course, there’s another reason you may not have noticed that announcement:

No one in history ever picked up the Minuteman, other than to toss it in the trash.


“Save Cockenoe Now”: Still Relevant, 50 Years On

2017 marks the 50th anniversary of some significant events.

1967 was the Summer of Love. Martin Luther King spoke out against the Vietnam War. “Race riots” consumed Detroit, Newark and other cities.

Meanwhile, here in Westport, we debated whether building a 14-story nuclear power plant a mile off Compo Beach was a good idea.

The story is remembered by many — and unknown to many more. It starts with United Illuminating, the statewide utility that in 1965 secretly bought Cockenoe Island, a popular spot for boaters and fishermen.

Cockenoe Island, off Compo Beach. In 1967, it almost became the site of a nuclear power plant.

Another key player was Jo Fox Brosious, editor of the fledgling Westport News. She crusaded tirelessly against the idea.

It was not easy. Although plenty of Westporters opposed the plan, the more established Town Crier was all-in. What a boon for the tax base, the paper said.

Brosious helped rally a coalition of common citizens, conservationists, fishermen, attorneys, Senators Abraham Ribicoff and Lowell Weicker, and Congressman Stewart McKinney.

Local artists Walter and Naiad Einsel created a memorable (and very 1967-ish) poster with the group’s rallying cry:

Under pressure — with national coverage in the New York Times and Sports Illustrated, and thanks to the threat of a bill in the Connecticut legislature that would curb eminent domain requests of power companies — UI agreed to sell Cockenoe.

To the town of Westport.

The deal was struck in 1967. The purchase price was $200,000. When the contract finally closed 2 years later, the Westport News headline read: “Cockenoe Island Safe in Sound.”

Memorabilia saved by Jo Fox includes news clippings, a bumper sticker, a photo of Jo on Cockenoe, and another shot of her speaking in Hartford, as sunlight streams directly on her.

That’s the bare-bones, SparkNotes version. You can read more by clicking here.

Or — this being 2017 (not 1967) — you can watch a YouTube video about it.

The 9-minute mini-documentary comes courtesy of Julianna Shmaruk. A Staples High School sophomore, she created it for a National History Day competition.

The contest theme was “Taking a Stand” — which is exactly what Westporters did.

Julianna tracked down old newspaper clippings. She interviewed 91-year-old Joe Schachter (a boater involved in the battle), and got vintage home movie footage from Ed Stalling (a then 11-year-old who wrote a postcard decrying the sale).

Julianna’s video offers vivid evidence that — as Stalling says — “the people can win.” And that newspapers can rally public opinion.

Those lessons are just as important today as they were half a century ago.

To see Julianna’s video, click below:

Save Cockenoe Now: A “Powerful” Story From Westport’s Past

This Saturday (August 10), Jo Fox will join the Westport Historical Society’s trip to Cockenoe Island.

She’ll walk the 28-acre spit of rock, brush and sand a mile off Compo Beach. For decades it’s been a favorite spot of birders, boaters and campers (and lovers).

Some members of the tour will be regulars. Others will see it for the 1st time.

None would be there, though, without Jo’s herculean efforts nearly 50 years ago.

Cockenoe Island.

Cockenoe Island.

In 1967 Jo Brosious was the editor of the Westport News — a fledgling newspaper, challenging the established (and establishment) Town Crier.

A newcomer from the West Coast, Jo and her husband enjoyed taking their small boat out to Cockenoe (pronounced kuh-KEE-nee), to fish and clam.

One day, they heard a rumor. The island would be sold. On it, a power plant would rise.

Jo started a campaign to keep Cockenoe in the public domain. Readers quickly responded.

A couple of months later, the Bridgeport Post ran an enormous headline: “UI Plans A-Plant in Westport.”

United Illuminating — a statewide utility, and the new owner of the island that had long been privately held — would not just build a power plant. They planned a nuclear power plant. A 14-story nuclear power plant.

With a causeway, linking the island to shore.

The Westport News swung into high gear. Jo wrote news stories and editorials decrying the idea. She published letters to the editor, and editorial cartoons.

The Town Crier, meanwhile, supported the plan. It would be good, the paper argued, for the town’s tax base.

Memorabilia in Jo Fox's basement includes news clippings, a bumper sticker, a photo of Jo on Cockenoe, and another shot of her speaking in Hartford, as sunlight streams directly on her.

Memorabilia in Jo Fox’s basement includes news clippings, a bumper sticker, a photo of Jo on Cockenoe, and another shot of her speaking in Hartford, as sunlight streams directly on her.

An RTM hearing drew an SRO crowd. The legislative body voted unanimously to acquire Cockenoe. They’d use federal, state and — if necessary — local funds to keep the island as open space.

Save Cockenoe Now — a grassroots group — met often at Jo’s house. They enlisted the help of a Westport Library research librarian. In those pre-internet days, she struck gold: a Life Magazine editorial about ways in which municipalities could curb eminent domain requests of power companies.

Jo’s group decided to challenge UI’s eminent domain, through a pair of bills in the state legislature. One would enable the town of Westport to use eminent domain in this case. The other would allow all Connecticut towns to have pre-eminence  over all utilities, in all eminent domain cases .

That was huge. Case law was unsettled over who had 1st rights in cases involving eminent domain: utilities or local governments.

Ed Green ran for state representative, on a “save Cockenoe” platform. He became the 1st Democrat in 50 years elected from Westport.

Democrats pressed the issue. They rented buses to take Westporters to Hartford, for committee hearings on the 2 bills. Green introduced the 2 Cockenoe bills in Hartford. They were co-sponsored by Louis Stroffolino, a Republican representing the Saugatuck area.

Westport’s arguments were not against nuclear power, which — before Chernobyl and Three Mile Island — was considered safe and clean. The argument was for saving a valuable recreational spot; the power plant could be located elsewhere.

"Save Cockenoe Now" posters were displayed all over Westport.

Naiad Einsel’s “Save Cockenoe Now” posters were seen all over Westport.

Under pressure — including national press like the New York Times and Sports Illustrated; Senators Abraham Ribicoff and Lowell Weicker; Congressman Stewart McKinney; conservationists, fishermen, thousands of citizens, and even other utility companies that feared the omnibus bill — UI offered to sell the island.

There was, however, one condition:  Westport would drop the proposed legislation.

In 1967, the deal was done.

The town paid approximately $200,000 for Cockenoe Island — UI’s purchase price. State and federal funds covered 75% of the cost. Westport now owns Cockenoe — in perpetuity.

Jo trumpeted the accomplishment with this Westport News headline: “Isle Be Home For Christmas.”

When the deal closed — on December 23, 1969 — she wrote this head: “Cockenoe Island Safe in Sound.”

The next summer — and for every summer thereafter — area residents have enjoyed Cockenoe. But each year, fewer and fewer know that, without a crusade led by one woman, the island — if not the entire area — would look and feel far different today.

In July 1970, Life Magazine called it one of 7 significant environmental victories in the nation.

Jo Fox today.

Jo Fox today.

Jo has been out to Cockenoe a few times since 1967 — but never in summer.

This weekend — 85 years young — she looks forward to seeing the birds, clams and boats. (Though perhaps not the lovers.)

Thanks to Jo Fox, the water there is also a lot less warm than it otherwise would be.

(This Saturday’s trip to Cockenoe begins at  11 a.m. at Longshore Sailing School. In addition to kayak rentals — available there — the cost is $18 for Westport Historical Society members, $20 for non-members. Click here for details.)

As If Newspapers Don’t Have Enough Problems…

Yesterday I went to the Merritt Country Store — next to Coffee An’ and Crossroads Hardware — to buy my Westport News.

(Yes, I’ve written for them since Ben Franklin set type. And I still have to pay for it.)

I plunked down my 55 cents. An odd price, yeah, but that’s what it costs.

“65 cents,” said the guy behind the counter.

“No. It’s 55 cents,” I told him. I should know — it’s my paper.

“65,” he repeated. “That’s what my boss says. I just work here.”

“What about other papers?” I asked. “Do you charge more for them than you’re supposed to, too?”

“Yes,” he said. “Except the New York Times.

He paused. “I just work here,” he repeated.

I know, I know. It’s not the biggest markup I’ve ever seen.

But it’s definitely the weirdest.

Merritt Country Store

Westport Arts Center Eyes Jesup Green

You may have missed this, because the Westport News story came out during schools’ February vacation.

While you were off in Aspen or Anguilla, Paul Schott wrote that the Westport Arts Center wants to move from its 3,600-square-foot Riverside Avenue home, to a 10,000-square-foot building next to the Westport Library.

Where exactly?

To the only space available there: Jesup Green.

The gallery and classrooms would create “a cultural campus” downtown, on the river. The WAC has hired architect Henry Myerberg, who is also designed the library’s “transformation” renovation.

The arts center would like a 99-year lease of Jesup Green, Schott reported. The project would include “burrowing” Taylor parking lot into part of the green. That current riverside lot would be replaced with “greenery.”

The new WAC — which officials hope to begin constructing in 2015 — would cost between $5 million and $7 million. Three donors have already pledged several million dollars, Schott reported.

In the summer, the Westport Public Library lends croquet, bocce and badminton equipment, for use on adjacent Jesup Green.

In the summer, the Westport Public Library lends croquet, bocce and badminton equipment, for use on adjacent Jesup Green.

It’s an exciting concept — and it comes at a time when major redevelopment plans are afoot for the entire downtown area.

But a number of questions have been raised.

  • Aesthetically, how will the area change? Will a new “green” on the flat current parking lot look as nice as gently sloping Jesup Green — with mature trees — does now? What happens when a 10,000-square-foot building — and “burrowed” parking — gets added to the mix?
  • How about traffic flow? What happens to parking when the library and WAC have big events simultaneously?
  • Speaking of the library, where will its major fundraiser — the Summer Book Sale — go?
  • What other options has the WAC looked at? (I already know what certain commenters will say: “Winslow Park!”)

This is the 1st major change to Jesup Green in years — since the library moved next door, in fact. (And eliminated a road that sliced directly through the green — who remembers that?)

Once upon a time, Jesup Green was bordered by a Little League field — and the town dump. Controversial landfill — and construction of the library, Levitt Pavilion and Riverwalk — have enhanced that area immeasurably.

Will a new Westport Arts Center do the same?

Let the debate begin.

Westport’s Warden: Not A Tree-mendous Job

Between school vacation and the news story’s placement on an inside page (below the fold), many Westporters may have missed a very interesting Westport News piece on Wednesday.

Jarret Liotta described Westport’s Tree Board — a 3-person body “hoping to plant the seeds of renewal for its role in town government,” in areas ranging from education and outreach to political action.

Westporters are very protective -- but also ambivalent about -- our trees.

Westporters are very protective — but also ambivalent about — our trees.

Trees are on every Westporter’s mind these days. We don’t like them toppling power lines whenever the wind blows. But we also were upset when a number of them suddenly disappeared from Main Street just before Thanksgiving.

Westport’s Tree Board is seeking ways to influence public discussion of trees — and to get the public interested in the board itself.

But perhaps the most interesting info in Jarret’s story was buried near the end: the fact that Westport has only a 1-day-a-week tree warden.

Also of note (though not mentioned in the article): The tree warden lives about 20 miles away.

First Selectman Gordon Joseloff’s proposed 2013-14 budget includes $170,000 “to create a full-time tree warden position and to increase the town’s overall tree work,” Jarret wrote.

But right now — today, as we all love and fear them — there is almost no money for monitoring, removing, planting and pruning trees.

Or for anyone to oversee them.

Plowing Policy

As Hearst Connecticut’s media editor, John Schwing sends out interesting info coming directly from — or supplemental to — Hearst papers (including the Westport News).

John (@SchwingPost) just tweeted this “Snowplowing Policy.” Posted on WestportCT.gov, our town’s official website, it says:

There are 123 miles of streets in Westport maintained by the Department of Public Works (DPW). Snow removal can cost up to $2500 per hour, therefore, it is important for DPW to use its resources wisely with cooperation from the residents to provide the appropriate response while minimizing the cost.

PLOW ROUTES – The 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 deadend streets. A single pass will be made on side streets to keep them open, but primary emphasis will be placed on main roads until the storm has stopped. This may not seem fair to the residents of side streets or deadend streets, but main roads must remain open.

A plow crosses the Post Road bridge, early in Friday's blizzard. (Photo by Paul Schott/Westport News)

A plow crosses the Post Road bridge, early in Friday’s blizzard. (Photo by Paul Schott/Westport News)

BLOCKED DRIVEWAYS – All snow plows angle the same way – to the driver’s right. When going by they cannot avoid pushing the snow in front of a driveway. The 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 clean up on the street.

SIDEWALKS – Per town ordinance, businesses 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. The town 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.

PRIVATE PLOWING – The town 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 certainly it should be no worse than when the driver began work.

Residents who have a question or complaint should call Public Works at (203) 341-1120.

Living In A Westport Down Under

The “06880” tagline is “Where Westport Meets the World.”

You can’t get much further from Westport in this world than New Zealand.

But wait! What about Westport, New Zealand?

Vin Donnelly

Vin Donnelly counts as a very alert “06880” reader. The other day he was in China — also very far from Westport.

He was on business, missing his Westport greatly. Searching online for something hometown-related, he stumbled on our hometown.

Hey, any port in a storm.

Vin’s Westport is also on the coast, on South Island.

And a river runs through it.

But that’s not where the similarities end. For a while, Vin said, he thought “06880” was a blog about his Westport.

For example, the local paper is called…the Westport News

Recent headlines include:

  • “Fitness centre tops 400 members”
  • “Bakers battle for perfect pie”
  • “10 drink drivers in court” (They ranged in age from 20 to 75. One was “almost three times the legal limit.” Click here for details.)

Downtown Westport. The tall building on the left is the Municipal Chambers. I could not tell whether the stores on the right are chains, or mums-and-pops.

Westport is also — according to a New Zealand website — “home to world-class painters, sculptors, potters, wood carvers and other artists.”

Galleries, studios, workshops and craft co-operatives dot the area. Artists use high-quality, locally sourced tree burls for wood turning.

For all I know, there was even a Fine Arts Festival in the other Westport last weekend. On second thought, I doubt it. It’s mid-winter.

Vin asked me about life in our Westport. He’s never been to the US. The only Americans he knows are those he picks up as they hitchhike around New Zealand.

Another connection! I pick up hitchhikers too. Although the last one was back in the Carter administration.

So, for all those wanting to see more of Westport, New Zealand — whether here in “06880” or, like Vin himself, stuck in China — here are a few more photos.

Westport’s beach. This was taken early in the day, before the New Yorkers arrived.

We have hills. They have cliffs.

Westport, New Zealand has a bit more open space than Westport, Connecticut.