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Norwalk harbor keeper questions Eversource plan to tunnel under Norwalk River

Norwalk Harbor Management Commission Application Review Committee Chairman John Pinto talks about plans for the Walk Bridge reconstruction on Sept. 27 in City Hall.

A diagram showing the planned location of transmission lines under the Norwalk River.

NORWALK, Conn. — The planned route for underwater high voltage electrical cables goes right under the newly reconstructed Veterans Park visitor docks, Harbor Management Commission members said.

This will limit how the dock can be rebuilt in the future, John Pinto said, questioning the effect of steel pilings in close proximity to cables carrying 115 Kilovolts. Another concern is the possible effect of magnetic fields on marine flora and fauna in the harbor.

“It may be of minor concern but according to current literature, many marine species not only detect but also respond to electromagnetic fields.  Given our current circumstance, I don’t know whether this would be a good or bad thing or even to what extend an electromagnetic field would be generated,” Pinto said in a Monday email.

The Commission on Sept. 27 discussed the plans developed by Eversource and the city in conjunction with the state’s planned reconstruction of the Walk Bridge, the aged railroad bridge over the Norwalk River, which caused chaos for thousands of commuters when it malfunctioned in 2014.

Before construction can begin, the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) needs to remove the transmission lines that run over the Walk Bridge. Various routes were considered, with Norwalk officials rejecting the idea of running the cables on monopoles from the bridge to Oyster Shell Park, as it was thought to ruin the view of the harbor.

Eversource plans to dig a trench from the Norwalk Police station on Monroe Street, up Elizabeth Street and over to 90 Water St., Pinto and other officials said. The cables will go through that trench and then under the Norwalk River, under Veterans Park, down the road and surface at the railroad tracks at Van Zant Street.

Pinto, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at New York Medical College in Valhalla, N.Y., on Sept. 27 said that there had been a recent discussion with Eversource about this plan.

“The main concern, that certainly we had, was what is going to happen under the harbor,” Pinto said. “The boring is going to have to be more of an art. They are going to go down from the harbor edge… They are going to come up close to the visitor’s dock. The concern that we had was how do we prepare for that? We are going to be limited by what we can do in that area and where their eventual pilings are going to be. Because they are reconstructing that.”

A plan to bore under the Norwalk River.

Pinto expressed admiration for the planned construction techniques, as the cable would be more than 40 feet down in the middle of the river, in a bow-shape. A horizontal directional drill would create a pilot hole, then a larger tunnel would be reamed for the pipe. The cables would be pulled through once the pipe is installed.

There were seven designs considered, Pinto said. The cable needs to go in a straight line.

“There are going to be two conduits side by side,” he said. “The positioning of those pilings are going to be critical. It’s going to be limited to what design we can have there.”

Eversource might say there will be no problems in the future, but that’s what the Harbor Commission was told in the mid-90s when NorthEast Utilities got permission to place three new power lines from Manresa Island to Long Island, in a trench six feet below the harbor bottom, he said.

“They assured us, ‘no problem.’ Now we have a problem,” Pinto said.

On Monday, Pinto explained, “Recently, Eversource, who owns the cables came to the Commission claiming they are having a ‘scouring’ problem caused by shellfisherman scraping their nets over the surface close to where the cables are located.   Eversource has an application pending with DEEP to install marker buoys to warn fishermen of the location of these cable lines.   At the time these cables were to be installed, NorthEast Utilities (owner at that time), assured the NHM Commission that there would be no future problems with these cables once they were submerged under the harbor.   Fast forward to today, now we’re having an issue with them….All be it, a minor one, provided a series of marker buoys are installed across Norwalk Harbor in the Manresa area.”

“I used the previous issue to illustrate a point of them telling us one thing and finding out later there is a problem,” he said. “I think we need to know the future impacts on the harbor and future ability to replace/refurbish the Visitor’s Docks within this area.  High powered transmission lines are one of the major sources of magnetic fields.  I think we need to know the impacts of these lines on the marine flora and fauna in the harbor as well as the impacts on future construction and boating within the area.”

On Sept. 27, Pinto said the Environmental Protection Agency has an issue with high tension wires going underneath the water.

“Hopefully water won’t touch that but there is still a high tension current going through there that very well may affect the environment in that area,” he said.

Pinto described a thick EPA document on the topic; asked about that he provided two smaller documents, including a 2012 study of the effects of high voltage transmission lines on humans and plants.

“The electromagnetic field from high power transmission lines affects the growth of plants,” the 2012 study states.

High voltage lines effect on human and plants 2014

Transmission line EMF interference with buried pipeline 2003

 

Eversource will need approval from the Connecticut Siting Council; Mayor Harry Rilling said Monday that he plans to request a public hearing on the plan.

Construction is expected in late 2018, according to an Eversource document.

Eversource cable Norwalk River 17-0927

“Regarding the placement of piles to secure the visitor’s docks, we need to know what distance these pilings (which will be steel construction, not wood) have to be away from these buried cables,” Pinto wrote Monday. “If they list or move as a result of wind and wave action or as a result of unforeseen dock movement, we should know what the impacts would be. … As always, to be continued.”

16 comments

Debora Goldstein October 10, 2017 at 7:22 am

The full analysis of the impact of these issues was avoided by not including this plan to underground the line in the Environmental Assessment for the Walk Bridge project. Now they will apply for a declaratory ruling that no separate environmental review be done because the Walk Bridge is causing the need to underground the line and is an “emergency” project.

Check the records, and you may find that this undergrounding plan has been around for a while.

As for the aesthetics, it is laughable that the City is worrying about the view of the harbor, given the warehouse presence of the ice rink in the park and the prison watchtower-like design of the new bridge towers.

Prediction: somewhere down the line someone is going to propose putting gaudy, color-changing lighting on this bridge to pretty it up. Please, just say NO!

Mike Mushak October 10, 2017 at 10:00 am

Good article, and great questions that the HMC is asking.

I was one who opposed the giant monopoles over SoNo and Vets Park. Bad idea! I am happy to see the wires go underground and I hope all the conflicts get resolved.

With all due respect to my friend Deb Goldstein, I would like to propose eventually having color-changing LED lighting of the new bridge, like the Kew Bridge in New Haven which cheers me up every time I go over it, or see it in the distance as I approach it. I say we should make a memorable landmark and conversation piece out of it, since we have to get used to the fact that it is coming and we will have to live with it for a long time.

It is easy to jump on the “just say no” bandwagon especially for political purposes as some are doing, but anyone with any sense and who has been paying attention to the experts can see right away that the crumbling obsolete bridge needs to be replaced.

According to the project engineers, the steel is well past its age limit, and the main center abutment is shifting and someday may lead to a complete catastrophic failure, costing the national and local economy billions more in lost revenue and disruption not to mention the risk to public safety.

It would be irresponsible and unethical to delay this project pretending that the old structure can remain indefinitely, as it wobbles on its old stone base every time it opens, and is prone to periodic failure as has happened in the past, stopping all trains service on the east coast on the busiest rail line in the country.

I suspect if a catastrophic failure should happen to the bridge, and Norwalk suddenly found itself at the end of the main line between Boston and DC for years, all the petty naysayers would disappear fast as Norwalk becomes strangled with shuttle busses and traffic and property values and businesses collapse.

We need to work with the state and federal officials on this one, to minimize disruption and for the maximum benefit to Norwalk when this project is done. Certainly the Maritime Aquarium is seeing this as an opportunity to implement major elements of its master plan including a new theater and displays, and new main entrance opposite the Maritime Garage entrance.

Replacing an historic railroad bridge that is sandwiched between buildings in a dense downtown area, while maintaining full service of over 200 trains a day carrying a quarter million people, is probably one of the great engineering challenges of any project in the country right now. It will be expensive and disruptive, this we know. One of Norwalk’s great assets is its access to this train line, but on the flip side it means we have to deal with the aging infrastructure including replacing this bridge.

I applaud all the folks including those in the current administration who are working so hard to make sure this project provides as little disruption as possible, and in the end, to ensure that we have an iconic structure that we will be proud of for the next 100 years. In my opinion, that includes making it an attractive iconic centerpiece of SoNo and the region.

Lastly, I like Bruce Beinfield’s latest design proposal, with historic references to the industrial waterfront structures that existed here in the past. With good lighting, this could be a great new addition to the city skyline, without the ugly monopoles flanking it that the underground transmission line solves.

Nancy Chapman October 10, 2017 at 12:40 pm

DPW Director Bruce Chimento said in June that he thought the new Walk Bridge would benefit from LED lighting, as with the Q Bridge in New Haven. “It’s a very subtle thing,” Chimento said. “It looks very nice and I think they can do the same things for these towers. … as long as it makes it look nice and it fits in with the character.”

Donald October 10, 2017 at 2:53 pm

First, let me say the last thing we need to do is put different color lights on the bridge and make it a freak show. Actually what we need to do is weld the bridge shut and buy out the one business that opening the bridge serves and call it a day. Heck we could even keep things just as they are considering the bridge has only broken down twice in many many years. On the other hand, the car bridge over the river seems to break down monthly and at time weekly. However no conversation of replacing that.
We need to keep in mind that Rilling will be out of office in a few weeks and we will have a new Mayor. I hope that the new Mayor will stand up to Malloy and not kiss up to him as Rilling has done.

Donna Smirniotopoulos October 10, 2017 at 3:25 pm

Even elegantly executed LED displays cannot dress up a bridge design ripped from Stalag 17. Maybe the “temporary” ice rink can be used for a refuge crisis, as it already looks like an encampment. @Mike Mushak, call the skeptics riding the “just say no” bandwagon (for political purposes) “petty naysayers” if you must. I am not deeply familiar with the project. But I appreciate those who are, and those who continue to strive for a project that makes economic sense for Norwalk and that does not saddle the harbor with a 100 year eyesore. The environmental impact of burying Eversource cables under the harbor should have been part of the Walk Bridge study.

Hopefully, the design train has not already left the station, though it sure sounded that way at the last CDOT meeting. Meanwhile plenty of people have lingering questions about the moveable versus fixed bridge option. I’m one of them. Maybe we’re just unethical and irresponsible. Or maybe we simply want a billion dollar, disruptive, multi-year project to make sense from every angle.

Cindy October 10, 2017 at 4:37 pm

Weld the bridge shut? Its over a 100 years old and deteriorating. It needs to be replaced whether it moves or not.

New Mayor? If Lisa actually wins its going to take her 2 years to figure out whats going on.

Let’s stop the madness while we’re ahead.

Donald October 10, 2017 at 4:53 pm

Cindy
Tell us are you a bridge engineer?
How have you determined that it needs to be replaced?
Simply because of its age?
I have news for you we have plenty of bridges in this country that are 100 plus year old and are just fine. Maybe you are not aware but CT is broke. Since you seem to think the cost is no issue, will you be writing the check to pay for this waste.
Let me guess you are a supporter of the former Mayor Rilling.
Too Funny.

Patrick Cooper October 10, 2017 at 6:02 pm

@Cindy, your point about the age of the bridge notwithstanding – at least Donald is thinking creatively about the issue. In fact – if the result of some fixed-bridge negotiations is that we get dollars to buy out the up-steam business – sad – but that might pave the way for a totally different Wall Street development. Imagine the local experience, including a “River Walk” area built around a train station, and a newly vibrant city center. Might that be worth it?

As for Lisa – that’s absurd. She doesn’t need 2-years – she needs two meetings. Everything she needs to know is all but already known. In fact, this “Walk-Bridge” issue is a microcosm – unprofessional but highly political city leadership unconcerned about outcomes and primarily concerned about which side looks best in the press.

The state is treating Norwalk like an expected obedient child – but we alone absorb the disruption and – outside of investment – bear the risk related to the project. But Harry isn’t going to fight for Norwalk – he’s going to be a “Good Democrat”. Forget words, see actions. Our mayor was happy to be part of several staged political events urging our governor to veto a bill that would have left Norwalk essentially whole, and as such – he is complicit in any shortfall of state funds. So is Bruce Morris, Duff, and Perone. Is anyone in this city upset about 10 million less when we fork over 10 times that to the state (maybe less, but hey – as of this post the democratic lead state still didn’t have a budget – the only state in the union) ????

We need a leader who has no outstanding “you-owe-me’s” with Hartford to negotiate a pro-“Norwalk-Bridge” strategy, including the design, the plan, the future service and support, and the total result. This is a 1x per generation event. There is no “we’ll get em next time”. We have far more leverage than we are using. @Cindy – you need to know that Lisa can and will get us a far better deal – no question. Stop the madness – damn right!

Donna Smirniotopoulos October 10, 2017 at 6:06 pm

@Cindy, it’s not clear to me that repairing the bridge in a fixed position was ever on the table at the state DOT. The options they considered were a) build a new moveable bridge and b) build a NEW fixed bridge high enough to maintain the waterway. They seem to have boxed themselves in fairly early in the process. If there is compelling evidence against repairing the existing railroad bridge in the fixed position and closing off the waterway to boats that can’t fit under the bridge (and there are tug boats that will fit), I have not heard it, nor have I heard that the bridge was beyond repair. If the Walk Bridge were to break down now, for example, they’d have to repair the it. It’s obviously been deemed safe and reliable enough for repeated daily use. Also the FRA is planning high speed rail connecting Westchester to New Haven as part of their Northeast corridor improvement, which should make us wonder if the timing of the Walk Bridge project isn’t off kilter. DOT officials deny that existing MTA rail will be decommissioned. But I’m not sure we have all the answers, or maybe I’m just not sure we’ve been given all the answers.

Also before you dismiss Lisa Brinton on the grounds that it will take her two years to get up to speed, go to Lisafornorwalk.org and norwalkfirst.com and read up on Lisa’s background, experience and vision for Norwalk. Lisa is well versed in how City government works and how best to improve it.

Donald October 10, 2017 at 8:50 pm

That video is useless bias propaganda that was set up with a desired outcome to support the insanity of the Rilling /Malloy agenda. In other words not worth the bandwidth to watch it. Let us wait until the new Mayor takes office and see what SHE comes up with.

Non Partisan October 10, 2017 at 9:11 pm

To those who say weld the bridge shut

I may be all wet- but because of our industrial and fishing
Industries- the federal government is on the hook to share in the cost to dredge the channel. The channel also supports a thriving recreational boating industry

Norwalk can’t afford to dredge the channel by itself. Can norwalk afford to significantly degrade its recreational boating by pinning the bridge shut?

Donna Smirniotopoulos October 11, 2017 at 12:27 am

The existing bridge.could only be worked on a few hours per day. And this limitation, plus the imperative to maintain the waterway, is driving a complete rebuild of a moveable bridge. And the state is on the brink of bankruptcy. Sorry, but I’m not finding the arguments against rehabbing the bridge compelling. Once you’ve ruled out a rehab, a new moveable bridge does make more sense than a fixed, elevated new bridge. But the process that led the DOT inexorably in that direction remains elusive.

Jeff October 11, 2017 at 9:18 am

There is a decent amount of information on this site (http://www.walkbridgect.com/), including the following:

“In the end, both the Low-Level (which includes conversion of the existing bridge to a fixed span) and Mid-Level Bridge options do not meet reasonable needs of navigation and specifically in the areas outline above from a federal, state and local level. Additionally, a comparative analysis between other feasible alternatives relative to cost, schedule, impacts and risk demonstrate that fixed bridge and rehabilitation options actually fair much worse in these categories. On the surface, it may seem as if a new fixed bridge or rehabilitating the existing structure would generate the least cost, shortest duration effort resulting in minimal impacts to rail traffic. On the contrary, the manner in which this work would need to be implemented will negatively affect both cost and duration of the effort with increased negative impacts to the traveling public.”

Bryan Meek October 11, 2017 at 9:45 am

The Walk Bridge isn’t even close to being in the worst shape on the New Haven line.

Norwallk isn’t even a rounding error on the list of top 100 commercial ports in the United States in terms of economic output. $1bn for this project is just another shiny example of why this state is bankrupt.

I’ve heard that our port takes 15000 trucks off the road a year. That’s less than 50 trucks a day. I95 handles over 150,000 vehicles a day. Assuming all 15000 trucks are fully loaded at 20 tons, that’s 300,000 tons per year. The top 50 ports are all in excess of 10 million tons.

https://www.rita.dot.gov/bts/sites/rita.dot.gov.bts/files/publications/national_transportation_statistics/html/table_01_57.html

The more defense of this insanity I read and hear, the more it makes sense how we could spend $600 million on a busway on top of what was already a 9 mile train line that could have been refurbished for a small fraction of the cost.

Did anyone else see the story about how Fairfield County was dead last nationally in terms of growth the past 5 years? Who in their right mind thinks that the level of disruption required here is a good thing?

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