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Norwalk Council greenlights ‘procedural’ letter for Eversource

Evan Piacente, center, an Eversource consultant, answers questions Tuesday from Common Council member Doug Hempstead (R-District D), left, as Department of Public Works DPW Principal Engineer Lisa Burns, right, looks on in City Hall. Not shown is Council Majority Leader John Igneri (D-District E).

Updated, 5:55 a.m.: Copy edits

NORWALK, Conn. – The Norwalk Common Council on Tuesday approved giving Eversource a letter it needs to move ahead with its application to bury a high voltage cable under the Norwalk River.

The 115-kilovolt cable would run directly underneath the Veterans Park visitors dock, eight feet below new pilings recently installed by the City when it rebuilt the dock.  Eversource needs to re-route its existing overhead cable because it’s obligated to remove the catenaries from the Walk Bridge by 2020, ahead of the State’s effort to rebuild the bridge.

Eversource needs to file its application by Nov. 1, Public Works Committee Chairman John Igneri (D-District E) said.  He explained that although the Committee last week requested more information before it would vote on the request, he moved the matter to the full Council with the consent of Committee members.

The vote to authorize Mayor Harry Rilling to sign a letter of no objection to a Section 408 application was 9-3-1, with Chris Yerinides (D-District A), Travis Simms (D-District B) and Greg Burnett (D-At Large) voting no, and Michael Corsello (D-At Large) abstaining. Absent were Ernie Dumas (D-District B) and Beth Siegelbaum (D-District C).

“It’s just kind of hard for me, if all we are doing is voting on sending a letter of no objection to do so when we have multiple groups within the city who are objecting to it,” Yerinides said, toward the end of more than an hour’s worth of questions and answers on the topic.

Harbor Management and Shellfish Commission members, who objected to the move, detailed 15 allegedly inaccurate statements made last week at a Special joint Council Committee meeting on the proposal, which is linked to the Connecticut Department of Transportation’s plan to rebuild the antiquated railroad bridge over the Norwalk River, a.k.a., the “Walk Bridge.”

The Harbor Management Commission in its letter requested an independent peer review by a recognized expert in underground electric utility construction and for Eversource to meet with both Commissions to discuss alternative routes.

Among the “untrue” comments said to have been made last week was a report “that the two Eversource 115-kV transmission lines provide all power to Southwest Connecticut,” the letter said.

“These transmission  lines are part of a network of feeders that bring power to Southwest Connecticut,” the letter said.  “The NHMC understands  that this array includes 345-kV underground transmission circuits, a  link to Long Island  that runs beneath Long Island Sound, a set of gas turbine generators in Greenwich and another in Stamford, as well as other 115-kV cables. Electric supply in Southwest Connecticut clearly is not solely dependent on the two 115-kV lines of interest here.”

Harbor Management objection to cable 20181010

The Harbor Management Commission is seriously concerned about the devaluation of the docks, Commissioner John Pinto said at the beginning of the meeting.

“We don’t know what we want to do in the future, this is going to be our communication hub, our transportation hub, for boats coming in or out of the city… that would certainly limit what we can do,” Pinto said.

“The cart is way before the horse, environmentally speaking,” given no environmental reviews for the project, Shellfish Commissioner Steve Bartush said, alleging that Eversource will not exist 50 years from now and its replacement will not be interested in honoring agreements with Norwalk.

Any project that involves digging near the Stroffolino Bridge runs the risk of stirring up heavy metals, longtime water quality activist Richard Harris said, predicting workers in haz-mat suits.

Council President John Kydes (D-District C) later cited “conflicting information” and asked Eversource representatives if the cable installation would impede or limit future modifications to the docks, as alleged last week in the joint Committee meeting.

There’s no mandatory offset in the river, Evan Piacente replied.

“It would be irresponsible for Eversource to say with 100 percent certainty that anything could be built,” he explained. “Only because the last thing you ever want is for somebody to jeopardize the access to the cables themselves. We absolutely would and do very frequently work with entities where we have made commitments, whether currently or in the past, to execute upon projects that may or may not impact our cable.”

Kydes asked about “permission” for future work by the City.

“It’s definitely not by any means ‘permission,’” said Piacente, an outside contractor to Eversource. “We don’t own the land so it’s not a permission, it’s a matter of coordination.”

Tom Livingston (D-District E) asked if the City was giving up rights or cutting short an environmental review by signing the no objection letter.

Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola said no, that the Connecticut Siting Council allows continued comment during its proceedings, and, “In my experience with the Siting Council, I think there is an effort to push proposers …. to consider alternate routes if available and they make more sense.”

There will also be a Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) process for the land-side application, and the “city isn’t giving up any of its rights to participate,” he said.  He later added that “the Siting Council is fairly adept at reviewing these applications involving lines going under the water.”

Burnett asked when the Council would address the points made by the Harbor Management Commission in its letter, and Coppola said the Council “is probably not the best body” to evaluate those issues, that DEEP and the Siting Council have experts available to assist them and are better suited.

He called the no objection letter a “check on the box” and “more process over substance.”

Doug Hempstead (R-District D) suggested an amendment incorporating assurances made by Eversource in an Oct. 4 letter into an affidavit for the record, certifying the City’s ability to replace dock pilings or do dock work.

The amendment passed unanimously.

Afterwards, Pinto and Bartush said they were not satisfied by the Council’s questioning.

‘There’s never been a precedent of a power line under a public facility,” Pinto said. “Not that we know of” in Connecticut.

Marsha Wellman of Eversource said there had been, and referred NancyOnNorwalk to documents on the Siting Council’s website regarding a 345-kilovolt cable approved in 2005, between the Scovill Rock Switching Station in Middletown and Norwalk Substation in Norwalk. That goes under the deep boat launch and comes up in Stratford, she said.

There’s also a cable that goes under the Saugatuck River, from the Westport Library area to the west side, Frank Poirot of Eversource said.

14 comments

JOHN C ROMANO October 10, 2018 at 9:02 am

WOW, CITY SELLS OUT IT’S OWN COMMISSIONS FILLED WITH EXPERTISE AND HAVING BEEN CHARGED WITH THE PUBLIC TRUST.

That is what the headline should read. Eversource knows that they have issues, this is an end run around the environmental issues, and locating a more agreeable route. Eversource has been told for months that they need to find a better route that is agreeable to the commissions. They have postponed or pushed forward several meetings and public hearings which the commissions requested. They (eversource) even did not come to the mini hearing of the council, instead city employee’s were advocating on their behalf. Something is wrong with this picture, if someone had just walked into the room they would have thought these public officials were eversource employees not city of Norwalk Employee’s, seems like the fix was in. And by the way there was no rush to judgement Army core has an expedited process that would cut the application time in half. And the assumption at this point is that your commissions have been neutered and even though they will have to come to us by DEEP regulation the fix appears to be in if they are not willing to sit down and explore alternatives.

Mike Mushak October 10, 2018 at 9:19 am

One of the biggest planning mistakes Norwalk could have made in its entire history would have been to force giant poles and overhead wires across South Norwalk, Vets Park, and East Norwalk, one of the most historic, scenic, and valuable areas of Norwalk and the entire region.

Assuming multiple studies are correct in calculating an average of 20-30% loss in value of properties under or near the overhead lines, the total loss to hundreds of property owners in South Norwalk and East Norwalk could have been in the hundreds of millions, and that loss would translate into a huge loss to the city grand list and set the city back in so many harmful ways after decades of investment in historic preservation and community assets in this part of town.

I respect the Harbor Commission and their concerns, and based on what I have read in this article, including the amendment introduced by Doug Hempstead stating the city’s right to replace docks will be legally protected and which passed unanimously, these concerns either have been or will be addressed.

Lisa Brinton Thomson October 10, 2018 at 10:13 am

He called the no objection letter a “check on the box” and “more process over substance.” I am unclear in the story who that quote is attributed to, but if certainly sums up Norwalk these days…checking boxes and no substance.

Rick October 10, 2018 at 2:45 pm

Not knowing whats in the ground always escapes our urban cowboy.If you cant see it ok.

Who owns this lot on water st this line goes thru? Do they get money for this and if they do if the power line in below can the still build above over it?

If you take all the property value loss the city has created on its own it will never match this power line path ten fold.

One would think the counsel would find a way to control flooding on Water st while millions of dollars between Washington Village and the Walk Bridge project are lining the pockets of contributors.

Needless to say but needs to be mentioned , a lot of work is going on at Manressa for a moth balled plant.

Council President John Kydes (D-District C) later cited “conflicting information

John there is profit in confusion haven’t you realized this yet?

These projects are they common and what does cities and towns do when they are proposed?

https://www.ct.gov/csc/cwp/view.asp?a=3&q=307434&cscNav=|

JOHN C ROMANO October 10, 2018 at 4:55 pm

Mike Musahk, as usual you have put your own spin on things. At any and all meetings with eversource and city officials, never has the Harbor or Shellfish commissions ever proposed poles above ground. we understand the value esoterically and otherwise of the power lines being buried. All the assurances in the world given to Mario Coppola also mean nothing, in the future Mario will no longer be corporation council, and eversource may not be eversource (remember CL&P) The reality of the situation is that eversource is doing an end run around the city commissions who have no ax to grind it’s only reality is the public trust. Eversource has not acted in good faith. City employees have not acted for the benefit of the people who under right their existence, Part of this end run is to circumvent environmental studies and needs. This and the walkbridge project may have consequences for our shellfish industry and needs to be vetted out prior to any permit or letter of authorization or no isssues when there are many.

Mike Mushak October 10, 2018 at 10:09 pm

John Romano, it’s a matter of record that the overhead lines were the alternate to burying the line, for at least a couple of years now if not longer. I’m not spinning anything here. I remember that discussion many times in meetings, and I’m sure it’s recorded in minutes.

I also believe a representative of the oyster industry supported the current proposed location in a recent meeting. I would think that opinion figures strongly in this debate, no?

I also recall that you are also strongly opposed to the Walk Bridge project itself. Might that have an influence on your opposition to the burying of the electrical lines which is the first necessary step to bridge replacement?

And no one is suggesting we enter this agreement with only verbal assurances as you suggest. Contracts will be negotiated and signed. If Eversource ceases to exist and City Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola moves on as you suggest might happen (certainly the latter is a given someday), we can be assured legal contractual obligations would be honored by all future players, no?

I am grateful the Common Council took a big picture approach and is saving the city from great potential harm of having overhead towers and wires fly over historic SoNo, East Norwalk, and Vets Park.

Rick October 11, 2018 at 12:04 am

Vets park is a hazardous waste site according the the Development agency told to us one night before the Ryan Park meeting. Worst than Ryan park.

They want to dig on the police station site? I hope someone in this city starts reading some of the reports the city paid for.

Remediation records were found for the former Galvis Automotive site (present day Norwalk
Police Station property). Groundwater monitoring reports completed in 2012 and 2013 were
found, and the reports allude to documented groundwater contamination with select volatile
organic compounds (VOCs) and metals (lead and mercury). Documentation of an
Environmental land Use Restriction (ELUR) was also found on file. The ELUR covers the entire
site, site contaminants covered on the ELUR include metals (arsenic, lead and mercury) and petroleum hydrocarbons, and there also is an
Engineered Control (i.e. a geomembrane liner)

Environmental land Use Restriction on the water st site where the line was proposed to come out again who owns that site Jackie and her art container sat maybe she knows?

The Army Corp is involved with the Norwalk river why would they let any permit happen when they have no clue what to do with the suspected waste they are finding now from Washington Village and Oyster shell park in the river via the storm drains.

Someone is not being honest here, ask the state for the water samples they took at the Shorefront park beach when they were taking core samples in the river for a year in the Norwalk river.

Norwalk doesn’t have a professional staff working on any of this they are way over their heads. By keeping the Shellfish and Harbor and water quality out of this and listen to the legal dept seems a bit foolish.

Find contamination it hurts the shellfish industry damned if you do damned if you don’t.

The rumor was water from below the ice skating rink at vets park was found to have something nasty in it. The risk of exposing anyone to it in an enclosed space was sent to the rink owners.

The rink owners in years past were also informed via the Hour article the piles of dirt next to their entrance from the Vets park dock work was contaminated. They needed to be covered.

Those piles were contaminated yet the State gave Norwalk permission to put back some dirt stating it was no worse that what was still in the banks. The Norwalk river banks.

Its sad how the city and those urban cowboys treat our environment. This week we were told asbestos work is starting on the buildings in Washington village yet the Norwalk board of health and housing told the state there was no asbestos to the State, none was there when the city got permission to pump out cellars in the village to the waste treatment plant. Less than two weeks did the State realize someone was not telling the truth. You can still pump the water once it goes thru a filter into the treatment plant but it costs money.

Its ok to lie when it saves time and money just like this power line deal , so when we are told they the ones who care were lied to , it simply makes sense

The new Rich building on Water st has hazardous waste the DEEP has the paperwork any idea whats in the ground? Each high tide is taking it from the site and returning it to the river , hate to think no one told the hot dog guy. Where is the concern?

Jeffery October 11, 2018 at 11:42 am

So the city is willing to hire an outside firm using a $125k state grant to evaluate the East Norwalk Transit oriented development opportunities and challenges but have not done the same for anything in relation to the Walk Bridge Project? in my opinion, hiring Sue Prosi is an absolute joke to tax payers. She has no expertise to manage a project like this and its obvious that she has not consulted with any of the commissions. I’m curious as to how much of her billable time has been spent dealing with Eversource. Maybe Nancy can look into where her consulting hours are being billed to. This should be public record after all.

The current plan Eversource is pushing has been rejected by Norwalk Commissions for well over a year! They have not done one thing to address these concerns and now they threaten the overhead wires as a scare tactic to get their project pushed through.

How much compensation is being provided to the business owners on Water Street for the cable easement? Is the city being compensated?

If Eversource is going to put something in writing stating that future development of the dock areas would not be affected, they should also be willing to compensate the city for any potential future development challenges or issues that arise.

It’s nice to know that few council members possess common sense.
“It’s just kind of hard for me, if all we are doing is voting on sending a letter of no objection to do so when we have multiple groups within the city who are objecting to it,” Yerinides said, toward the end of more than an hour’s worth of questions and answers on the topic.

Debora Goldstein October 11, 2018 at 3:32 pm

Writing as myself:
This is the problem with not presenting the council with the full picture of the project and application process, but instead presenting each “check the box” item as a distinct decision point, with selective (and sometimes misleading) information.

The idea that the overhead design (or any of the other laughably arbitrary alternatives) were in consideration was meant to “guide” the council that this was a “this or that” choice. The history of this project is that the first proposal was for the overhead route, because it would have been cheapest and easiest for Eversource. The CITY objected on the basis of “ruining the view of the harbor” (not on reduced property values, BTW). Eversource and the City held a number of closed door meetings for almost a year and then announced that the preferred route was selected.

Eversource has sat on all requests from the Commissions and from State officials for over a year, which essentially put pressure on the DOT and the City to try to expedite the project to fit the Walk Bridge construction timelines.

To be clear, all of the pre-application approvals for the previous two years sought by Eversource relate to the underground route. They cannot simply snap their fingers and revert to the overhead line, without restarting the pre-application review process.

The Section 408 review by the Army Corps is a permit for work in an area in which an ACOE project is already existing. They do not do environmental reviews, or evaluate the project for any other sort of propriety of the project.

It is technically correct that the “no objection” letter is a “check the box” item in the long list of pre-approvals Eversource is seeking before it applies to the Connecticut Siting Council, however, it is one of the ONLY permissions required of City officials, therefore it was an important gating item that could have been leveraged to open discussions of a more appropriate site. It is quite clear that the City is not interested in looking at other alternatives.

At a meeting held last month, the City made it clear that the overriding public interest in this route that was being balanced against against the public interests in the docks and the shellfish beds and the park, was the interest in the future redevelopment of the two properties on Water Street which the line must pass through.

This route is favored to ensure that the 30-foot permanent easement on the Water Street side of the route runs along the EDGE of two privately owned properties, so that they can be fully developed in the future.

They will be compensated for the easement, and maintain the ability to develop almost the entire footprint of properties that remained underdeveloped for at least five years (and possibly a decade or more).

To answer the questions posed by one of the commenters, the property owners are a matter of public record. According to the tax records they are 90 SONO LANDING ASSOCIATES LLC C/0 SPINNAKER
REAL ESTATE PARTNERS LLC and 70 WATER STREET ASSOCIATES LLC and FCNW LLC.

At least one of each of those property owners will be compensated for construction easements, use of their drainage, access easements and parking easements. We will not be privy to how much compensation they will receive for these easements because (contrary to the way the council is being pressured to believe), this is a PRIVATE project, not under the purview of the DOT. It is necessary because of the Walk Bridge, but not PART OF THE WALK BRIDGE.

You may find it interesting that there are technically no “rights of way” required in the harbor itself, but these lines require a 30ft ROW around the cables where they traverse land, on both the Water St side and on the Vets Park side. That’s 15ft on each side of a cable installation that itself will be 30 inches in diameter. Similarly, when utilities run under a roadway, it is required that at least 3ft of clearance above the utility duct be maintained.

The concern of the Harbor Commission about whether they would be permitted to work on dock pilings 20-ft apart or to dredge near these lines is a valid one.

Which brings us to the environmental issue. We simply have no way of knowing exactly what kinds of contamination may exist in the path of the drilling, especially under Vets Park. The need for special handling of the dirt removed when the parking lot was redone suggests that we need special care, especially in the harbor adjacent to the Shellfish beds.

The HDD drilling itself presents a risk of contamination, because it uses a drill mud and lubricant to keep the drill head cool. This can leak out of the drill pits, or wander out of the drill path through underground estuaries or abandoned conduits.

This project escaped the Environmental Review done for the Walk Bridge, because it is not part of the Walk Bridge. Despite the fact that this project will require all new (and different equipment), drilling underground, and a completely new physical location, this is considered a “relocation” of a “project of independent utility”.

Because of the size of the line, when it was built, and the fact that it is technically a “relocation” of an existing utility, and the imprecision of Connecticut State Statute, this project is permitted to apply for a “Declaratory Ruling that “No Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need” is required. While the Public Need is clear, the need to review Environmental Compatibility and weigh it against the needs for reliable electricity at the lowest reasonable cost is the VERY REASON THE CSC EXISTS.

The filing guide for the Certificate is 12 pages long, with a $25,000 filing fee https://www.ct.gov/csc/lib/csc/guides/2016guides/elec_and_fuel_xmission_line_guide_0216.pdf#55845

and includes attention to the following (Items K & L):

Description of the effect that the proposed facility would have on the
environment, ecology, and scenic, historic, and recreational values, including effects on:
1.Public health and safety;
2.Local, state, and federal land use plans;
3.Existing and future development;
4.Road and waterway crossings;
5.Wetland crossings;
6.Wildlife and vegetation, including rare and endangered species, and
species of special concern, with documentation by the Department of Environmental Protection Natural Diversity Data Base;
7.Water supply areas;
8.Archaeological and historic resources, with documentation by the State
Historic Preservation Officer; and
9.Other environmental concerns identified by the applicant, the Council, or any public agency,including,but not limited to, where applicable:

Coastal Consistency Analysis (C.G.S. §22a-90)
Connecticut Heritage Areas (C.G.S. §16a-27)
Ridgeline Protection Zones (C.G.S. §8-1aa)
Aquifer Protection Zones (C.G.S. §22a-354b)
DOT Scenic Lands (C.G.S. §13a-85a)
State Parks and Forests (C.G.S. §23-5)
Agricultural Lands (C.G.S. §22-26aa)
Wild and Scenic Rivers (C.G.S. §25-199)
Protected Rivers C.G.S. §25-200)
Endangered, Threatened or Special Concern Species (C.G.S. §26-303)
L.A statement explaining mitigation measures for the proposed facility including:
1.Description of proposed site clearing for access including type of vegetation scheduled for removal and quantity of trees greater than six
inches diameter at breast height and involvement with wetlands;
2.Construction techniques designed specifically to minimize adverse effects on natural areas and sensitive areas;
3.Special routing or design features made specifically to avoid or minimize adverse effects on natural areas and sensitive areas;
4.Justification for maintaining retired or unused facilities on the rights-of-way if removal is not planned;
5.Methods to prevent and discourage unauthorized use of the rights-of-
way;
6.Establishment of vegetation proposed near residential, recreational, and scenic areas and at road crossings, waterways, ridgelines, and areas where the line would be exposed to view; and
7.Methods for preservation of vegetation for wildlife habitat and screening.

The Declaratory Ruling process is two pages long, has a $625 filing fee
https://www.ct.gov/csc/lib/csc/guides/2016guides/petition_application_guide_912.pdf

According to UCONN’s report “Economic impacts of Connecticut’s Agricultural Industry Update 2015,” the value to CT of direct sales of oysters and clams was just under $30 million in 2015.

The CSC also does NOT recommend alternate routes, so the application will be an up or down vote on the proposed route, period. All of the time pressures from the DOT construction will be to shuffle this through quickly. And that is by design. Eversource did not make any serious attempts to provide alternatives to State officials or to the objecting Commissions at all, once the City committed to protecting the Water Street properties.

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