Settlement sought for North Avenue water tanks

WESTPORT — The North Avenue water tank saga could soon have a resolution.

The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) could soon vote on a settlement between town residents and Aquarion Water Co. The vote was initially scheduled to take place in New Britain at the department’s state office building on Wednesday at 10 a.m., but has been rescheduled. A new date has not yet been announced, but PURA officials said the vote could come in the next few weeks.

In September 2017 the Planning and Zoning Commission approved two water tanks proposed by Aquarion, which the company said were necessary to replace the one nearly 70-year-old tank which currently sits on the property. The new tanks were proposed to help meet Westport’s growing water demands and meet fire protection standards.

However, in October 2017 neighbors submitted an appeal to PURA challenging Aquarion’s plan stating the planned construction could pose traffic and safety hazards to the surrounding area. A petition opposing the construction also garnered over 800 signatures.

Peter Fazekas, Aquarion’s Director of Public Relations, said Aquarion and residents have since continued to talk in hopes of reaching an agreement.

“We all set down at the table and listened to each other and tried to come up with an optimal decision that provides adequate water for the town of Westport,” Fazekas said.

Robert Harrington, one of the residents who appealed Aquarion’s tanks, said with the support of elected officials residents have worked to draft a potential settlement. Harrington said this new settlement includes six provisions and addresses concerns many of the neighbors had.

“Of the six changes the most significant is a change to the roof structure that would reduce the height of the tanks by seven feet,” Harrington said, adding this would not affect water storage.

The tank roof would change from nine feet in height to two feet, he said.

“This gets us a 20 percent reduction of the tank’s height, but it still gets the fire department 100 percent of the water (the Planning and Zoning Commission) signed off on,” Harrington noted.

Another key element in the settlement would see that Aquarion agrees to another landscaping review of the area.

“What this settlement is, is an additional six steps by Aquarion to make this project move forward,” Harrington said. “The settlement on the neighborhood side is we do realize there’s a clear need for increase in water storage.”

This need for increase would be a major factor for Harrington and neighbors in pursuing a settlement. Harrington said he learned throughout the process Westport’s need for improved water storage.

“It will be a big relief because Westport needs an upgrade to their water infrastructure,” Harrington said.

As part of the settlement, he said residents also expect to receive better communication from Aquarion throughout the project. The settlement has also garnered support in the community. According to Harrington eight of the nine neighbors whose property abut the project support the settlement. He added 31 out of 36 Representative Town Meeting members have shown support as well as the selectmen.

However, the settlement is contingent on the fact all six steps are approved. If not, Harrington said the residents retain their right to appeal.

“I’m quietly optimistic that PURA will acknowledge and fully incorporate these steps into their final decision,” Harrington said.

With a possible end in sight to a two-year saga, Harrington said he hopes the process has allowed for a better working relationship between the water company and residents.

“I think it’s been a healthy process for Aquarion as well,” he said. “I truly hope the Westport community and Aquarion will work together in a better partnership than what was done on previous projects.”