NORWALK, Conn. – Residents of Norwalk’s swankiest new apartment building will have to find somewhere else to live while Connecticut rebuilds the neighboring railroad bridge, according to Coastal Area Planning Consultant Geoff Steadman.
That type of thing really ought to be included in an environmental impact statement to include social and economic effects of the Connecticut Department of Transportation’s massive project, Harbor Management Commission members said Wednesday, also expressing concern about the work planned for the Yankee Doodle Bridge, part of Interstate 95.
“This is the biggest infrastructure project in Norwalk since the throughway was built,” Steadman said about the rebuilding of the railroad bridge that goes over the Norwalk River, the Walk Bridge. “The impact on South Norwalk and East Norwalk – I don’t think people realize what’s going to happen.”
“I don’t think people in the city have any idea to what extreme destruction this is going to be,” Commissioner Tony Aitoro said.
Concerns listed by the commissioners included environmental contamination – from I-95, the oil pumps in the Stroffolino Bridge and the dismantling of the Walk Bridge – as well as the traffic implications from what Commission Chairman Jose Cebrian called “dueling cranes,” as the state simultaneously does work on the other side of Norwalk as well, on East Avenue.
“There is going to be a major effect on the city, both to water traffic, downtown South Norwalk, anywhere you look in Norwalk is going to be affected because while all of these projects are separate, they are all part of one, all part of the Walk Bridge,” Commissioner Tony Mobilia said.
Mobilia talked of the “ripple effect” of the work, saying, “Do it all at once, it’s one big disaster.”
Work on the Stroffolino Bridge, the Washington Street drawbridge over the Norwalk River, is scheduled to begin in 2017. State officials predict it will take six months; the project includes work on underwater junction boxes and submarine cables, Steadman said.
The bridge won’t be open for “certain periods,” Mobilia said, mentioning periods of one-lane traffic as well.
ConnDOT engineers predict that will be done when they start work on the Walk Bridge in 2018.
The Commission is deeply involved in the Walk Bridge project, receiving regular updates from ConnDOT as it works to coordinate the effects on marine traffic and attempts to safeguard the harbor environmentally.
Steadman spent some time showing commissioners where the state is thinking it will put two temporary railroad tracks in the tight quarters on the Maritime Aquarium’s side of the river. The problem is “swinging it through” because the tracks are only 7 feet from the aquarium, he said.
“They have to remove the fire escape on the Maritime building,” Mobilia said, then adding that there are rumors that the temporary line will actually go on the other side of the bridge, to the south.
The contractor is going to figure it out, Steadman said.
Ironworks, a luxury apartment building, opened across the street from the Maritime Aquarium in 2014. SoNo businessmen have touted its effects on their bottom line, but that bottom may fall out.
Ironworks residents “are going to have to be provided with all-expense paid vacation,” Steadman said, because, “The large cranes that have to work here can’t swing over occupied buildings.”
Rents at Ironworks start at $1,575 a month for a studio apartment and range to $5,000 a month for a 2-bedroom apartment, according to the Ironworks website.
That’s not the only fallout from the planned work. The latest plan is to use Manresa Island as a staging area for the construction, sending equipment and materials both by water and truck, Steadman said. The contractor will deal with NRG, owner of the island, he said.
That will keep Manresa from transitioning to another use for years, as ConnDOT now expects the Walk Bridge project to take three to five years, according to Mobilia.
Nothing was going to happen on Manresa anyway because of the contaminated soil there, Cebrian said, referring to coal ash.
Norwalk found out about contamination from I-95 during the recent dredging of the river, and it was an expensive lesson, Mobilia said.
The soil under the Yankee Doodle was the “most contaminated” of the dredge material, he said. Commissioners tried to find out why and discovered that the bridge’s drains empty straight into the river, he said.
ConnDOT takes no responsibility for environmental damage, commissioners said. Norwalk had to come up with more than $200,000 to dispose of the I-95 dredge material, which was too contaminated to put in Long Island Sound, they said.
It was buried in three CAD cells, Commissioner John Pinto said, explaining that stands for Confined Aquatic Disposal. Good soil is removed from the river bed, the contaminated soil is put in, and then it is “sealed” with the good soil, he said. There are two CAD cells north of the bridge, near the St. Ann Club, and one near Oyster Shell Park, he said.
There’s no room for another CAD cell, meaning that more contamination would be a big problem, and more dredging is planned in the future, he said.
While the Zoning Commission is very careful to monitor the storm water plans of new developments, no one is minding ConnDOT, Steadman said.
“There’s two standards in the state. … DOT is going to do whatever they are going to do,” Pinto said.
The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) is understaffed and unable to monitor things, Steadman said.
“There’s no question to the level of contamination coming off of (the Walk Bridge),” Commissioner Dennis Santella said.
Just dismantling the “fender material,” the superstructure under the bridge, will release contaminants, he said. Creosote and mercury were mentioned in the discussion.
Mobilia had another concern: Removing the center structure under the bridge will change the currents, he said. The new bridge will not have a pedestal beneath it, as the current bridge does.
An environmental impact statement would ordinarily be required before bridge design work is done, but the Walk Bridge has been declared an emergency, Steadman said.
DEEP began working on one in March, he said.
DEEP has requested that the Commission do some research on what might be done to deal with the issues, Steadman said, suggesting that the Commission spend some of the money currently available in its budget to pay a consultant.
The Commission voted to do that.
Last month, the Commission sent a letter to ConnDOT listing its concerns, Mobilia said. The only response was an acknowledgement that the letter was received but, “rumors are that they are causing a little waves with DOT,” he said.
“The intent was big waves,” Pinto said.
With all the work planned at once, the governor’s office needs to appoint a watchdog to look at the big picture, Pinto said.
Although state Sen. Bob Duff (D-25) was disregarded as potential help by Cebrian as being “teflony these days,” Steadman said, “The mayor is really getting on top of this.”