Protect the Partrick Wetlands
and our Community

F.D. Rich Plan (Partrick Wetlands) Stalled by Sewer Request
By Don Casciato
Printed in the Westport News

During a Wednesday meeting of the Board of Selectmen, the attorney for the developer that wants to build on the F.D. Rich property reported that test drillings for a sewer on the site had been done.

Acting on the advice of the town attorney, the board delayed a decision on the request for sewers at the site.

The disclosure by Larry Weisman, the attorney for ARS Partners, the firm that wants to build houses near Exit 41 of the Merritt Parkway, is the most recent annoyance for the neighbors in the Newtown Turnpike and Partrick Road area who have been fighting against the project for more than a year.

"It's all done, the sleeve is in, the hole has been dug," said Weisman, who also pointed out that the cost will be totally paid for by the applicant and bonds will be posted.

Weisman also claimed that the town's regulations require a sewer and not a septic system at the site. Opponents claim that a septic system as well as a sewer would harm the ecology at the Rich property.

Matthew Mandell, a leader of the group against ARS approval, said: "This proves ARS can't be trusted. ARS has to be watched very carefully. They were drilling without permission. ARS seems to do things on its own."

Weisman and others claimed that Mandell's remark was typical of the misinformation disseminated by opponents of the project.

If the board doesn't approve the sewers, Weisman said he would prefer to see the property sold to the town. When Farrell asked about a septic system, the attorney said if you do that you've bought the site.

Peter Romano, engineer for the project, said a septic tank system could be placed on the property, but it would create a greater environmental risk. If approved, the sewer would be private at the site, which also is known as The Reserve at Poplar Plains. The sewer line would flow from the Westport site to Norwalk, where the city's sewer treatment plant has the capacity to handle the discharges. Norwalk residences in the area also could plug into the line.

The acrimonious battle between ARS Partners and residents of the area near the F.D. Rich property where the developer wants to build reached the Board of Selectmen Wednesday because it is required under the Town Charter, acting as the Water Pollution Control Authority, to rule on a request for a permit for a sanitary sewer.

The hearing lasted for about 90 minutes and resembled the confrontations of cats that hiss at each other slashing and quarreling but never actually fighting.

Both sides got upset when there were interruptions and several times First Selectwoman Diane Goss Farrell had to ask for order. However, both groups continued to interrupt each other when they were talking to Farrell, and selectmen Carl Leaman and John Izzo.

Town Attorney Ira Bloom advised the board not to vote on the request because two intervenor briefs had been received prior to the meeting. Both briefs cited environmental concerns if the project of 24 or 25 houses becomes a reality.

Acting upon his advice, Farrell and Leaman decided to keep the hearing open until a later date.

Izzo, a Republican, said after the meeting that he preferred voting instead of delaying a decision. He said he already had decided against the ARS development because of environmental concerns. In addition, a usually reliable source said Izzo had offered to talk with some of the opponents of the project.

The sewer approval by the selectmen is needed in order for the Planning and Zoning Commission to review the proposed project.

In the past, during sessions with the Conservation Commission, opponents of ARS questioned the town's liability if the project is approved and also asked who would own the sewer once the project was completed.

The issue arose again Wednesday and when Weisman said that it would be in the deed and owned by a home owners association, critics claimed that the town could end up paying if there is a sewer problem.

The tensions mounted during the part of the meeting in which residents near the site voiced their objections.

"My only goal is to protect wetlands," said Mandell of Partrick Road. He also said that he saw no benefit to the project other than the fact that Norwalk would take the project's waste water. "If this is approved it will be a detriment and a disaster," he said. "There is no benefit to Westport on its citizens." Mandell also claimed that regulations don't deal with private sewers.

Adam Stolpen, of Spring Hill Road, reminded the board that its decision isn't made in a vacuum and that the environmental impact has to be considered.

Wilton Road resident Chet Harlow cautioned that the selectmen shouldn't assume that it is a done deal. He noted the Conservation Commission decision is being challenged in court and the Planning and Zoning Commission still has to review the project. "Any decision would seem premature and ill-advised," he said.

The last part of the meeting was less acrimonious, and most of it dealt with technical questions by Farrell and Leaman, such as deed restrictions, escrow accounts, the drilling by ARS and a comparison of sewers and septic systems.

The board is scheduled to meet on Jan. 22 at which time the main topic will be speed humps. A date for the continued hearing on the sewers wasn't decided upon.