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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Awash in Concerns, Water Tanks Decision Moved to September

By James Lomuscio

The Aquarion Water Company’s plan to replace a failing 1.5 million gallon North Avenue water tank with two 2.5 million gallon ones drew concerns from neighbors and commissioners at tonight’s Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) hearing.

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Work was recently completed on a new pump station at the North Avenue Aquarion site. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

Neighbors argued that Aquarion had not given them adequate notice, just three weeks, about a project that could negatively affect their home values and quality of life.

“I do want you to know that we feel as though we’ve been hit in the gut a little bit, and I want you to be aware,” Jodi Hardin of 58 North Ave. told Aquarion officials.

She and others said North Avenue already is busy because of Staples High School, which sits across from the current, 1956-built tank, and nearby Bedford Middle School.

Because of that, Aquarion officials present agreed with P&Z Chairwoman Catherine Walsh’s suggestion that the matter be continued to commission’s Sept. 7 meeting.

“You really should take this time to work out some plans with the neighbors,” she said. “We’ll see you in September.”

The water company proposal, however, did have support from two town officials. Fire Chief Rob Yost lauded the plan, saying it would make the town safer.

“Homes are getting larger and larger and using synthetic building materials,” he said, which creates the need for a greater water supply.

Yost said that in high demand times, such as summer when water levels are down, firefighters can run the risk of hydrants running dry.

“I’m very much in favor of this project, anything to increase the safety of our town,” he said.

He said if the fire that heavily damaged the Saugatuck Congregational Church in November 2011 had occurred in the summer time, it would have been lost due to inadequate water.

Planning and Zoning Director Mary Young also painted a positive picture of Aquarion.

She said company officials have tried historically to be good neighbors, such as when the utility built a pump station to look like a house decades earlier on Wilton Road.

Young also said Aquarion listened to her suggestion not to install a high dome on each of the tanks because neighbors would object. Instead, the company proposed using more costly, lower profile ones, she said.

Young also said Aquarion engaged local landscape architect Kate Throckmorton, who created designs of layers of trees, some 30 feet high, to shield the tanks from neighbors.

Still, some P&Z members supported residents’ concerns about short notice after a sparsely attended Aquarion meeting in the Town Hall auditorium June 28.

“This is not how we treat Westport residents,” P&Z member Paul Lebowitz said about neighbors learning late about 39-foot high tanks he said devalue their homes and quality of life.

Commissioner Chip Stephens worried the total 5 million gallon capacity create infrastructure leading to expanded development in town

“I share with Chip that we would be creating infrastructure for development we don’t want,” said P&Z member Danielle Dobin.

Andrew Kobetitsch, who lives at 69 North Ave. next to the current tank, talked about the loss of open space since a one-acre water company buffer next to his home would be used for the new construction. 

He asked the water company to explore alternative sites, “smaller sizes and deeper tanks.”

“I think 3 million, doubling the size, would be more than adequate than this monstrosity,” he said, adding that he did not know the current tank existed when he bought his home because of the acre buffer.

“In the future, people are going to know me as the person who lives next to the tanks,” he said.

A number of neighbors complained about a just completed pump station project at the North Avenue site, which under state regulations did not need town approval.

They said Aquarion promised the project would take six months and ended up taking 18 months. In addition, they said the company had failed to inform neighbors about the work and its progress.

For that, company senior engineer Mark Fois apologized. “We recognize we did not communicate a lot to the neighbors,” he said, promising to do better this time.

Aquarion officials explained that the current tank receives water from the Hemlock Reservoir seven miles away in Fairfield and is then distributed to Westport residents.

They said, however, that peak usage is summertime often results in water going out faster than it is coming in. Thus the need for increased tank capacity.

Under the current plan, the first 2.5 million gallon tank would be constructed in the spring and fall of 2018. Then the current tank would be demolished and the second tank built in its place in 2019.

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Posted 07/20/17 at 11:06 PM  Permalink



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