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Norwalk bridge opponents allege ConnDOT ignored State financial agency’s input

A rendering for the proposed Walk Bridge, released in June by the Connecticut Department of Transportation. (ConnDOT)

Updated, 1:38 p.m.: Comment from attorney. Update, 7:17 a.m.: Copy edits

NORWALK, Conn. – Both sides in the Walk Bridge court dispute said Tuesday that a federal judge should summarily rule in their favor.

The lawsuit was filed by Harbor Keeper, a non-profit citizens group, against the Connecticut Department of Transportation and the Federal Transportation Authority, and seeks to halt the project on the basis that the State has not adequately established the need for a bridge that opens instead of a fixed bridge, which could be much cheaper.  In dueling legal briefs, each side has filed a motion for summary judgment – a request for the court to rule that the other party has no case, according to lawyers.com.

Harbor Keeper has produced a December 2016 letter from the State’s Office of Policy Management accusing ConnDOT of changing the “purpose of need” for the massive project so that it would include keeping the Norwalk River navigable, which is the key justification for the controversial choice of a lift bridge to replace the aged swing railroad bridge over the Norwalk River.

“In sifting through thousands of pages of official documents on the project, Norwalk Harbor Keeper discovered that Connecticut DOT ignored the advice and guidance of the state’s Office of Policy and Management,” a Tuesday press release from Harbor Keeper said.  “Norwalk Harbor Keeper is using these documents as part of its lawsuit, first filed in United States District Court for the District of Connecticut on January 17th, 2018, to throw out the decision to build a new lift bridge over the Norwalk River, rather than a less costly track level fixed bridge.”

The defendants have committed a “substantial blunder: imposing without adequate review, a less resilient movable bridge on one of the nation’s most heavily traveled public rail lines — all to preserve upriver access for a few privately-owned sailboats,” Tuesday’s filing states.

ConnDOT believes Harbor Keeper’s lawsuit should be dismissed because the group has failed to show that ConnDOT’s decision to choose a lift bridge was “arbitrary, capricious, or not in accordance with the law,” attorneys representing ConnDOT Commissioner James Redeker wrote in ConnDOT’s motion for summary judgement.

Harbor Keeper 18-1016 ConnDOT motion for summary judgment

The Federal Transit Authority did more than was necessary in considering options, and “exceeded its obligation to take a ‘hard look’ at environmental consequences,” U.S. Attorney John H. Durham wrote.  He noted that the Environmental Assessment (EA) was incorporated into the Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) after much public input, in satisfaction of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Harbor Keeper 18-1016 FTA motion for summary judgment

OPM concerns in November 2016 inspired further investigation by ConnDOT, with the United States Coast Guard informing ConnDOT that “only Congress has the authority to declassify a waterway as non-navigable,” Durham wrote.

Harbor Keeper in its press release calls upon gubernatorial candidates Ned Lamont and Bob Stefanowski to pledge a full review of the controversial project.

Harbor Keeper calls the $1 billion Walk Bridge project “costly, disruptive, non-resilient, and wasteful” and asks in its court complaint that ConnDOT “consider reasonable alternatives.”

 

Norwalk Harbor Keeper Summary Judgment Brief

The judge could rule on the requests for summary judgment “any time from January 2019 to midsummer,” Attorney Devin McDougall of Sive, Paget & Riesel said in a Wednesday email. “There can be a lot of variation in how long a judge takes, based on the case and the judge’s overall workload.”

“This latest brief reveals yet another example of DOT’s arrogance in ignoring the community, the law, and, it turns out, the highest branches of state government by bulling ahead with an ill-advised and unwanted plan for a lift bridge across the Norwalk River,” Fred Krupp, a member of Norwalk Harbor Keeper and an individual plaintiff in the lawsuit, is quoted as saying in the press release.

“State DOT failed to ever study boat traffic north of Walk Bridge, instead erroneously relying on marine traffic statistics for the whole harbor. It has ignored the numerous comments against the lift bridge plan from the Norwalk community. It kept secret the discovery of historic Native American ruins at the construction site. And now, it turns out, it has completely ignored the advice of the Connecticut Office of Policy and Management, the office charged with minimizing wasteful spending by the state.”

Former Norwalk Mayor Bill Collins is also quoted in the release.  “DOT’s arrogance in ignoring everyone from the citizens of Norwalk to the federal government, and now the Governor’s own budget and policy staff, is stunning,” Collins is quoted as saying. “This is an example of government out of control, not acting in the best interests of the people let alone obeying the law. It is time for the candidates for Governor to pledge a thorough review of the projects and alternatives and tell us how they intend to rein in wasteful spending.”

OPM sent ConnDOT a letter in March 2015 requesting that a fixed bridge be considered for the replacement project, the press release said.

“The OPM Comment Letter noted that studying a fixed bridge design as part of the environmental review could provide a better understanding of the costs of mitigating the effects of a fixed bridge for upriver businesses and provide an ability to compare those costs to the costs of constructing a moveable bridge,” the release said.

Jonathan Cohen, media consultant for Harbor Keeper, provided NancyOnNorwalk with the December 2016 OPM letter.

OPM Comment Letter

ConnDOT considered fixed bridge replacement options but dismissed them because they would not allow for marine traffic, when instead ConnDOT could have considered mitigating the impacts of not allowing marine traffic, given that navigability of the river was not originally a concern, OPM states in the letter.

“Please explain why CTDOT decided to modify the project purpose and need after the public scoping period to include the clause about maintaining and improving navigational capacity and dependability for marine traffic in the Norwalk River, instead of proceeding as OPM suggested in its scoping comments,” the letter states. “Doing so not only raises procedural concerns; it also seems to inappropriately elevate marine navigation to a status higher than other things that could be impacted by the project. A moveable bridge, furthermore, would likely reduce future rail service reliability, which is contrary to a basic goal of this project.”

Repairing the bridge or making it a fixed bridge would cost considerably less, “even after compensating those affected by the loss of maritime navigation capacity,” OPM states. “…Although the EIE presents what appears to be a thorough review of movable bridge design options, OPM is of the opinion that it does not sufficiently consider and evaluate other project alternatives that many people appear to consider prudent and feasible.”

FTA’s motion for summary judgment says that OPM concerns were considered and addressed, and OPM in July 2017 determined that the Walk Bridge EA/EIE satisfied legal requirements.

“The fact that CTDOT continued to explore the navigation issue and the low-level fixed bridge option after the publication of the EA/EIE and before issuing the FONSI demonstrates that CTDOT and FTA took a hard look at the reasonableness and effect of including navigability in the Purpose and Need Statement,” Durham wrote.

The record shows “substantial evidence” that the Purpose and Need Statement was developed “in good faith based on reasoned analysis of public and agency comments during initial scoping,” he wrote. “The fact that CTDOT added navigability to the Purpose and Need Statement after extensive public comment, research, and consideration, demonstrates that CTDOT took a hard look at the issue and had a good-faith rational basis for its decision to include navigability in the Purpose and Need Statement…. Contrary to Plaintiffs’ claim, the inclusion of navigability in the Purpose and Need Statement did not prevent CTDOT and FTA from considering a low-level fixed bridge alternative.”

11 comments

Patrick Cooper October 17, 2018 at 8:50 am

That 1 million ask for infrastructure spending? Initially, I figured it was just another poorly disguised give-away to the apartment builders. Now I’m thinking Harry is just looking to build an underground bunker where he can hide for the next 6-8 years until this bridge fiasco is over.

Harry – you’re getting up there, a bit past ripe, so it’s understandable you might get confused from time to every time. It’s ok to bite the hand that beat’s you, and in the case of Hartford – starves you too.

On behalf of the stakeholders – the Norwalk residents you purportedly represent – how about fighting for our interests? Whatever 3rd grade garble that can fall out of that mouth is better than pulling a “Tommy” (deaf dumb & blind kid) while the CT DOT {…} the city.

Edited to remove a vulgar expression, a violation of the comment policy. https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/comment-guidelines/

Piberman October 17, 2018 at 11:17 am

Nancy’s is to be commended in printing the legal brief summaries.

Why Mayor Rilling supports the Boondoggle Bridge with its devastating multi-year impact costing tens if not hundreds of millions to our City, residents and businesses is mysterious. Not a single City group supports the Boondoggle Bridge.

Why Mayor Rilling refused to accept Cong. Himes offer to have the USCG declare the little used upper river non-naviagable as he did for Bridgeport remains mysterious.

With an election year coming up Mayor Rilling will face determined citizen opposition to the Boondoggle Bridge. And a new Mayor and Council might well move legally to stop this objectionable scheme.

Rick October 17, 2018 at 1:03 pm

Why not eliminate the hazardous waste buried in the Norwalk river that will eventually leak?

Spend all this money spend all this time so something will look nice yet hold such dangerous material the city was talked into years ago to bury.

The problem is as a navigational river it has a ferry turnaround by King , why is it still there?

In order to trust anyone why not tell us whats in the river buried and how it goy there, it was too dangerous to dump in the sound why isn’t it to dangerous to bury in the middle of the river?

With all this money spent why not dig up the three cells in the river and clean up Vets park?

Sooner than later all this hazardous waste will need a better home than in the middle of a city were new residents have no idea whats buried in the river and Vets park.

Documentation shows industrial companies dumped into Norwalk in many places including Oyster shell park and it was never cleaned up in some cases just capped leaving tons of critical waste behind next to the Norwalk river.

Maybe a visit down memory lane will show Duff Homes Perone and Murphy have an idea whats there but thats fun money not going to good causes that create votes.

Why hasn’t the story been told or even come up in all these meetings?Now the head of the Harbor wants a big expansion to attract lager vessels not in any story we have seen so far until today.

The mayor knows a lot more than he is admitting i bet.

report suggest Oyster shell is leaking from an underground river each tide, were that costs money and Norwalk is on the hook they did receive the park back with the deal the city maintains the testing and pollution you would think it would be worked into the bridge and now proposed dredging of the river at the head/

It was asked what the end of the harbor building was going to get out of it all , today we just found out.

Such big plans for a developer who has friends in high places.

Toxic waste remains buried in Norwalk river and now signs of leaking into the same river via one of the largest capped not cleaned hazardous waste sites in Ct. is not ok if your not telling us the truth while all tis money is being spent.

larger bridge means larger traffic and we see today more traffic is planned including ferries and large boats yet they all have to pass over buried hazardous waste in the river.

Who is hiding what who knows what and is hiding facts?

Let someone produce the list of chemicals in Oyster shell park and the river and let the public weigh in on what to do and have the city tell us how much money is needed to clean it up. Filling the city up wit people who also fish along the river is certainly not a healthy way to promote a safe caring city for its residents.

We know Duff and Rilling won’t say anything nor will Perone Himes and Murphy.

The last time this came up is when the city ran the drain sponge scam , that was awesome everyone made money taxpayers paid and the politicians had a great time playing golf in Arizona. The sponges ended up costing once deemed hazardous waste and were never replaced when they became filled. It was at best pathetic way of convincing those the environment was a concern.

this is what that was all about profit by politicians

https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/pr/former-new-york-state-senate-leader-dean-skelos-sentenced-5-years-prison-and-his-son

Mitch Adis October 17, 2018 at 1:07 pm

Why don’t we do the same thing Wilton and Ridgefield did to stop Super 7? Demand an environmental study and let the State twist on that…

carol October 17, 2018 at 2:16 pm

all for an environmental study,but we better do it quickly and if the city hollers,take them to court.
enough screwing the public,let the truth come out.

EnoPride October 17, 2018 at 4:05 pm

Great idea, Mitch Adis. We all have a right to know exactly what the environmental hazards are before things proceed further.

Andrew October 17, 2018 at 8:53 pm

Follow the $. Who will get these contracts and never forget the years of great wonderful press conferences this project will give our politicians for years.

Jeffery October 18, 2018 at 2:30 pm

“— all to preserve upriver access for a few privately-owned sailboats,” – ?????? huh?

How can anyone say what will be up harbor in 20+ years from now?
All these folks complaining about it will be dead and buried by then.

Does anyone have any vision for the future? Norwalk as been an open harbor forever!!!

Whether the Bridge opens or not is the least of the issue with the Walk Bridge Projects statement of “No Significant Impact”.

Steve Crouse November 16, 2018 at 9:28 pm

We need faster speeds to reduce travel times for express trips from DC/NY to New Haven/Boston. Impeding the shorter travel times with a blockage of right away defeats the whole purpose of using rail over car and plane.

A new fixed bridge or a complete rebuild is far quicker to install and approx 25% of cost of lift structure.

Where does CT get another billion $ over budget to finance lift structure ? Not the Feds this time but from state budgets. This is proving to be an impossible pipe dream.

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