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Norwalk River will be dredged again, Pinto says

Norwalk Harbor Management Commission member John Pinto explains methods to store contaminated river bed sediments, Wednesday in City Hall.

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.”

A slide from John Pinto’s PowerPoint presentation.

6 comments

Donna Smirniotopoulos November 16, 2017 at 5:09 pm

I thought the state DOT preference for a new lift bridge was based on the need to maintain the federal waterway north of the Walk Bridge in order for Norwalk to remain eligible for federal funding for Army Corps of Engineers dredging. Since there’s no federal money for this, why again does Norwalk need a billion dollar fix for a northeast corridor commuter problem? Hope this ship has not already sailed.

Rick November 16, 2017 at 8:43 pm

this is a complex issue Donna . not only does Norwalk have three buried cells of hazardous waste buried in the Norwalk river but Norwalk has a capped landfill full of the worst waste called Oyster shell park. At the same time we have Vets park with documented contamination.Reports exist showing the capped landfill has a underground river unchecked for years that delivers into the Norwalk river during outgoing tides.

Did Norwalks environmental officer attend this meeting and is her input valuable? she just helped chase a plume on day st below the PCBs at Ryan park the outfall there is at total marine and does the commission know about this?

The state recently gave Norwalk permission to put back contaminated soil back in the water along the new boat landing stating its no worse than whats already there.That is a sad comment for the state to make.

$7 million to $13.7 million due to all the requirements,Norwalk has really bad dirty dirt

I have no doubt the Harbor Management Commission’s doing te right thing , but there is a lot going on in the river including plumes of nasty stuff no one wants to dig up around the old bridge. Doubt if any trains are still there but after the train tragedy some are convinced something remains there.

Where are the test results of the water along the river the state has been taking using shore front park as one of the collection points?

Yes 95 is not helping the water but if the state has data suggesting pollution not from 95 exists then Norwalk owns it.I doubt if Norwalk has those results if they do and not giving them out its a problem.

Is it safe for fishing? The wildlife people who work along Norwalks coast have sites they are to stay away from , contamination exits and its not a secret.

from the train wreck to dumping in the sound is below, NY for years have fought Ct dumping into the sound history is rich

I don’t balme anyone for full disclosure some are unaware what the state has been testing and why.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norwalk_rail_accident

http://wnpr.org/post/whats-impact-dumping-dredged-waste-long-island-sound

https://www.courthousenews.com/new-york-sues-epa-allowing-dumping-long-island-sound/

Debora Goldstein November 17, 2017 at 12:56 pm

Donna,

The decision is based upon a need for “resiliency” and “redundancy”. The dual rail arrangement allows train traffic to continue even if one span fails to open (why that would happen in the first 40 or 50 years of a newly built structure is another question). Of course, that redundancy only applies to rail traffic, not the boat traffic, which would be unable to pass under the stuck structure.

The resiliency measure was baked in because part of this project is drawing on Sandy money from the Feds. That money really should only be used to create increased protection from the risk of more severe storms and higher flood levels.

The Army Corp funding for dredging is separate from the designation of the channel as navigable.

We also need to be re-examining the plan to run the Eversource Transmission line under the visitors boat docks, given that dredging is required regularly to keep these useful. And there is no indication that anybody is going to examine closely whether the contaminated soil under Vet’s Park will similarly pollute the water when the excavation is done, since Eversource is applying to EXEMPT their application from environmental review.

Harbor is clearly looking out for our citizenry. Will the City have their backs?

Donna Smirniotopoulos November 17, 2017 at 3:58 pm

Thanks Debora. And why is Eversource exempt from environmental review? Vets park was built on top of landfill in pre superfund days. Sandy money should be used for storm mitigation and damage prevention. Seems like one of those “use it or lose it” scenarios where logic is thrown under the train in favor of spending for spending’s sake.

Debora Goldstein November 17, 2017 at 5:27 pm

Let’s not conflate the two issues. Eversource is requesting an exemption based upon the fact that they have to relocate the lines that are currently attached to the Walk Bridge. Nothing requires that those lines be underground. It’s not clear why this route was chosen.

What is clear is that the need to move the lines was known while the Walk Bridge Environmental Assessment was being done, which meant the underground ing did not receive an environmental review in connection with the Walk Bridge.

Now they are asking for an exemption specifically citing the Walk Bridge as the reason.

Sandy money is being used for the Bridge, not the Eversource project.

I only brought it up in the context of dredging/protecting the sound.

Rick November 18, 2017 at 5:01 pm

Has anyone ever called The Army Corp office in Mass and talked to them?

They by the way were in charge of vets park and found out there was trouble by just that a phone call.

J Cashman a subcontractor for dredging in Norwalk for years lost the last contract to dredge . Some counselor said they were not interested and gave false facts, Cashman went to court and warned the city not to trash them anymore with false claims wonder why? ask Jerry .

Why would anyone including Eversouce work with the city , Norwalk has a record and its not good with the environment .

Deb maybe the route the power company has chosen fits into a plan to go directly to the power plant down woodward ave as well as continue the old path .

As a gas plant generating electricity to the grid that is another line that works well for the investors , of course that has never been talked about with the city and I could wrong just like everyone else in the city.

Lines next to any bridge has rules , were they ever presented to the city?

I think you find Norwalk has been taken for another ride ,while everyone ignores facts or speculation. Facts have no place in Norwalk just speculation , like the mall.

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