Correction, 10 p.m., Dec. 15: Bob Barron is Chief Financial Officer.
NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Common Council members are set to vote Tuesday on Mayor Harry Rilling’s request for a $1 million special appropriation to begin work on flooding issues.
If approved, the funding would begin to address issues across the city, Department of Public Works Superintendent of Operations Chris Torre said at last week’s Board of Estimate and Taxation meeting. “We have identified 26 areas where either the pipes need to be increased or decreased, dredging, curbing, a lot of things that go along with storm water management,” Torre said.
Video by Harold Cobin at end of story
The proposed spending would be funded with $650,000 that had previously been earmarked for culvert and brook improvements on Keeler Brook, near Rowayton Avenue. The other $350,000 would be funded by issuing general obligation bonds in an authorization already approved for the Keeler Brook project. Thus, the City’s debt would not increase beyond what has already been authorized, according to Chief Financial Officer Bob Barron.
Barron at last week’s Board of Estimate and Taxation meeting called the $350,000 “authorized but unissued debt.” This is the authorized debt that has been presented to rating agencies as part of maintaining Norwalk’s triple a bond rating.
The new spending would be in addition to $290,000 that has been appropriated over the past four years to address storm water issues, Barron said.
“Chances are the need will be greater but there is an affordability aspect to everything and since we already had this appropriated, (the Keeler Brook project) was recently closed, the mayor asked that this $1 million be put in to address this immediate need,” Barron said.
The Keeler Brook plans, which date back years, fell through because a property owner wanted more for his property than it was worth and the City did not want to use eminent domain, Torre said.
DPW will work with CH2M Hill Engineers, Inc., a company doing work under Water Pollution Control Authority (WPCA) contract for an additional $150,000, to identify priorities. “They will analyze hydraulics of pipes, areas that need to be dredged,” Torre said.
“This is just a drop in the bucket. We have been getting tremendous flooding issues all throughout the city,” Mayor Harry Rilling said.
Residents are complaining that they have lived in Norwalk for decades and never had a flooding issue, but do now, he said.
‘We are in a difficult situation with the types of storms we are seeing and the fact that our infrastructure is so outdated and inadequate, in a lot of other areas,” Rilling said. “So this study is probably going to identify areas of concern that we are going to have to address over the long term. We are talking … I would say probably with confidence that we are talking millions of dollars to update our infrastructure. We’ll have to prioritize…. it’s going to be a protracted expenditure over several years.”
“This is going to be an ongoing thing that we have to do,” Rilling said. “Some of our storm drains and sewers are 100 years old. There is just enough capacity to take the water and drain it out.”
Twice in the last month and a half, there was two feet of water on West Avenue and water gushing up out of storm drains, he said.
The $1 million is an initial investment in long-term issues which have “not been overlooked but we are doing the best we can,” Torre said.
It’s prudent to assume that the trend of downpours will continue, Rilling said.
“The rainfall this year might be an anomaly but an aging infrastructure, if that’s deemed to be the cause of it, it’s never going to get better,” Barron said. “So this $1 million is still a significant investment in making it better, according to the priorities that are identified in the study. I think it’s the right way to do it, we’re not throwing $1 million at an unknown problem, we are engaging professionals to tell us where we are going to get the biggest bang for the buck. Then when the study gets back we’ll have a better long term idea what the capital investment in the City’s infrastructure will be.”