Aquarion refuses independent study in water tank project
WESTPORT — The dispute between residents and Aquarion Water Co. over two water tanks on North Avenue set for construction this spring is still far from resolution, residents say.
Following a large public meeting last month, local and state officials, residents, and representatives of Aquarion vowed to form a smaller working group to hammer out a solution to the dispute.
In a meeting closed to the press, the working group, composed of about a dozen people, gathered Jan. 11 and, according to members of the advocacy group Smart Water Westport, agreed on very little.
“We are very frustrated,” Robert Harrington, of Old Orchard Road, a working group member and Smart Water Westport advocate, said. “This was not a working group. It was a two-hour presentation by Aquarion.”
Aside from concerns about the amount of time Aquarion representatives spent describing their plans for the tanks, residents in the working group said their primary complaint was Aquarion refusal to agree to pay for an independent water study to verify the calculations underlying the tanks’ size.
North Avenue resident and Smart Water Westport working group member Kuku Fleming said her group wants Aquarion to hire an independent consultant to study whether two 40-foot tanks holding a collective 4.3 million gallons of water is truly necessary to meet Westport’s water needs. One 70-year old tank which sits at Aquarion property on North Avenue — 12-feet high with a capacity of 1.5 million gallons of water, is much smaller than the proposed two tanks.
Fleming said Aquarion representatives at the meeting “flat-out rejected” the residents’ request for an independent water study.
“What do you have to hide? What are you afraid of that a consultant would find? They could not wrap themselves around that, which was troubling,” Fleming said of the Aquarion representatives thoughts on the water study.
First Selectman Jim Marpe attended the meeting on behalf of the town and had a more positive view of Aquarion’s presentation, but echoed Fleming’s call for an independent water study. “They talked a lot about the background information and their decisions that related to putting in the new tanks and their rationale for it. We continue to push for an independent peer review of their data and expect to have a subsequent meeting with them in the next couple of weeks and will continue to push for that,” Marpe said.
State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-136, also attended the meeting and said he favors a third-party review “to take the whole thing apart from scratch,” but understands why Aquarion is resistant to the idea of an independent study, which he said would be “expensive and an affront to the work of Aquarion engineers who they (Aquarion) said did a good job” on the first water study.
Another critical aspect left unresolved by the working group meeting was a commitment by Aquarion to investigate alternative options to the size, location and kind of tanks Aquarion plans to build.
“What we were trying to do was explore the alternatives. Does this one neighborhood have to bear the brunt of the entire town’s water needs,” said Valerie Seiling Jacobs, who attended the meeting as a representative of the political party Save Westport Now.
Jacobs said she and other residents asked Aquarion for a written narrative of the pros and cons of the plan, which according to Jacobs, Aquarion refused to provide.
Peter Fazekas, Aquarion’s director of public relations, did not attend, but spoke in response to the residents’ complaints about the meeting and Aquarion’s refusal to conduct an independent water study.
“Regarding the independent evaluation, we do not believe an independent evaluator is necessary at this time, but we will continue the discussion,” Fazekas said, adding, “Overall, we felt it was a valuable and productive discussion. We listened to their concerns and answered their questions.”
The working group plans to meet again in the next several weeks at a yet unannounced date to further discuss the tanks.