Westporters seek concessions over North Avenue water tanks

WESTPORT — A group of North Avenue neighbors say they accept Aquarion Water Company will build two water tanks on their street, but are seeking concessions about the design of the tanks.

In October, nine residents whose property abuts Aquarion’s property on North Avenue filed an appeal to the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) regarding Aquarion’s plan to build two 40-foot tanks on the property that currently houses one, 31 foot high, 70-year-old, water tank.

The neighbors and other interested residents voiced their appeal July 12 at a public comment hearing in front of PURA officials, who expect to decide the case sometime in the coming weeks.

“If you want to come to town, you need to do better by the neighbors,” Ana Bicalho, a resident of Terhune Drive who’s property abuts Aquarion’s property, said at the hearing in Westport Town Hall.

Several of Bicalho’s neighbors and members of Smart Water Westport, an organization created by residents to advocate their interests in discussions about the water tanks, echoed her concern that Aquarion, which was acquired by Eversource last December, has not adequately listened responded to the neighbors about their issues with the tanks’ design.

“Aquarion, aka Eversource, needs to be a better corporate neighbor. You need to respectfully work together with concerned community leaders that know their community best and work to understand their needs,” State Sen. Tony Hwang, R-28, said.

Several other state representatives and candidates also spoke in favor of the neighbors’ concerns, including Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-136, and Will Haskell and Greg Kraut.

Resident Robert Harrington spoke on behalf of Smart Water Westport saying the group is not fighting that the tanks be built on the North Avenue property, but asks Aquarion install a flat, as opposed to domed roof on the tanks, reduce the sidewalls by 5ft, install trees to screen the tanks, and upgrade the many water mains and fire hydrants in town that are not up to standard and that if fixed, could improve the water pressure and flow in Westport.

The need for greater water pressure, flow, and capacity is at the heart of why Aquarion Operations Vice President John Walsh said the company needs to build the new tanks, which would add a capacity of 4.3 million gallons to Westport.

Constructing the tanks on the current Aquarion property is the least cost and least disruptive option because Aquarion already owns the land and the property is near water mains, Walsh said, adding the tanks will be used to support not only Westport’s water needs but also the water needs of the region.

Town Fire Marshall Nathaniel Gibbons spoke in favor of the new tanks as designed saying, “They provide a significant improvement in public safety here in town in terms of firefighting capabilities and potentially in terms of the economic savings regarding insurance rates down the line.”

First Selectman Jim Marpe said the Aquarion tanks pose a difficult situation in which the town must weigh the legitimate concerns of the neighbors against public safety.

Marpe called on Aquarion to include a flat roof on the tanks despite the extra cost of doing so compared to a domed roof and said the cost of the roofs should be born by all Aquarion ratepayers in the region as the tanks, based in Westport, will provide a regional benefit.

svaughan@hearstmediact.com; 203-842-2638; @SophieCVaughan1