NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk Harbor is worth years of arduous effort, John Pinto said Wednesday.
No one at the Harbor Management Commission’s annual State of the Harbor meeting mentioned the Connecticut Department of Transportation’s effort to rebuild the aged railroad bridge over the Norwalk River, but it was there nonetheless, as Pinto and Coastal Area Planning Consultant Geoff Steadman reviewed their historic, tedious, years-long effort to get the river dredged.
“This slide shows the need of dredging,” Pinto said, narrating a PowerPoint presentation. “We do bring in barges. The shoaling that takes place is not conducive to the traffic in the river.”
ConnDOT plans to replace the Walk Bridge with a lift bridge, to maintain the navigable river channel north of the bridge. Critics say this is an unreasonable expense, that ConnDOT should build a fixed bridge and forget about the navigable river. Some say that keeping the river open is a lost cause, as the federal government will not pay for dredging in the future.
“It’s not true never get dredged again. It’s just that we have to find a reasonable venue,” Pinto said, as he and Steadman elaborated on details of the process, agreeing that federal dollars will be hard to come by.
Also touched upon was another ConnDOT project, the work planned for the Yankee Doodle Bridge.
“We own it,” Pinto said of river-bottom pollution around the bridge, explaining that Norwalk is responsible for finding acceptable locations to store contaminated dredge materials.
In Phase I of the dredging project, Norwalk disposed of 31,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment, from under the bridge, in 50-foot deep CAD (Confined aquatic disposal) cells, Pinto said. The materials were covered, or capped, with 5,200 cubic yards of sediment from south of the Stroffolino Bridge.
ConnDOT didn’t believe that the pollution was from the bridge, but investigator Thomas Hart showed that the contaminants were typical highway pollutants, Pinto said. New plans for the bridge feature drainage systems designed to filter the runoff.
“The Norwalk Harbor is obviously the recipient of everything that goes into it,” Pinto said, explaining that is why the Commission is tough on applications, asking where stormwater will go.
“We have to contend with the powers that be” when it comes to disposing of pollutants, he said.
“Long Island Sound disposal sites are slowly mounting up and people do not want to see open water disposal,” Steadman said.
The dredging project began in 1996 and ended in 2014; it was done in three phases because the costs skyrocketed from the initial estimate of $7 million to $13.7 million due to all the requirements, Pinto said.
Without dredging, the upper third of the harbor will silt in, Norwalk Harbor Management Commission Chairman Tony Mobilia said.
With Long Island Sound, the silting is constant, just under 3 inches a year, he said.
“You can imagine after 10 years… After 20 years which is what we will see you then,” Mobilia said. “…There’s going to come a time when that (upper river) will become impassable. Again, things will change. That’s one part of the harbor that we should not lose because that’s part of the complete harbor. That’s really 1/3 of the harbor that we have here in Norwalk.”
“Yes, we can get dredged again,” Pinto said. “We are off the federal project and that is we do not get the Army Corps money…. Smaller ports can get dredged but they have to apply for special appropriation dollars.”
Steadman offered a clarification.
The federal navigation project was authorized by the U.S. Congress in 1870, and calls for a 12-foot channel along South Norwalk, a 10-foot channel to Wall Street and 6-foot channels to East Norwalk, Steadman said, explaining that while it’s the responsibility of the Army Corps of Engineers to maintain it, “they don’t have to do it,” and dredging is based on need and the availability of funds.
“They don’t have enough money to dredge Boston Harbor they are not going to dredge Norwalk Harbor,” Steadman said.
“There is no federal source anymore but there is a state source. Even though we have received federal money there is no reasonable expectation now or in the future that we will receive additional federal morning to dredge Norwalk Harbor,” Steadman said.
“It will get dredged again, it’s just a matter of ‘we have to find a way of doing it,’” Pinto said.
The Connecticut Port Authority funded the dredging around the Veterans Park visitor’s dock, he said, asserting, “It’s just a matter of writing the right application.”