CDOT, SNEW rebut Norwalk DPW chief’s statements

Norwalk Public Works Committee 050614 027
Norwalk Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord explains things at a recent Public Works Committee meeting. (File photo)

NORWALK, Conn. – A statement made by Norwalk Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord is “far from accurate,” according to the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CDOT).

NancyOnNorwalk has sought validation of comments made by Alvord at the Oct. 7 Public Works Committee meeting regarding work overseen by the state and work done in conjunction with South Norwalk Electric and Water (SNEW). CDOT spokesman Kevin Nursick said Alvord’s comments as relayed by NoN were “far from accurate.” John Hiscock of SNEW said he found Alvord’s characterization of events involving the utility “curious,” and rebutted the remarks.

Alvord was asked at the meeting about progress made on the Rowayton Avenue work in the vicinity of the railroad bridge. He said utility issues had held up the work.

“The cable, phone, electrical and water all go underneath the bridge,” Alvord said. “Water you would expect to go under the bridge. The cable, telephone and electrical were on poles down past Arnold Lane, to the north side of the driveway. Then they go down under risers underground to go under the bridge because you can’t have wires over the catenary system. When the state did the bridge they were all supposed to lower their utilities so that it wouldn’t have to be done again when we did the roadway. They didn’t do that and the state didn’t check them. So what happened was they went down and they hit rock and stopped. So when we started working we found out they didn’t have them low enough. So what’s taken the last three or four weeks is getting them to come in and do it right.”

Nursick said:

“Early in the project it was determined that the electric, telephone, and cable TV services hanger from the existing Rowayton Avenue bridge could not remain in place as the bridge could not be demolished and reconstructed with these interferences.

“Through coordination with the City of Norwalk, CTDOT, and the utilities, it was determined that the services would be installed underground in the roadway of Rowayton Avenue. It was the responsibility of CL&P, SNEW, and Cablevision to install their underground duct banks to carry the services from existing poles north and south of the bridge.

“The lowering of the existing water main was added to the Catenary B Contract through a change order.

“All utilities were provided with the roadway elevations of the future Rowayton Avenue lowering so their installations would not interfere with roadway construction during the CTDOT project and the ductbanks would be low enough for the future municipal project.”

Nursick provided minutes from meetings held in 2005: Catenary B – Rowayton Avenue Utilities

“Representatives for the City of Norwalk and South Norwalk Electric & Water, SNEW, were present at these meetings that discussed the utilities and specifically lowering at Rowayton. CL&P lowered their line a second time for Norwalk’s work and just finished last Friday. The reason they had to lower their line again is unknown,” Nursick said.

“Rod, project manager for the Catenary B project, met with Vanessa Valadares, Norwalk DPW, on Friday. She wasn’t sure why and how much they lowered it. She is waiting for cable and phone companies to determine if they’re good. All indications is that they’re low enough from records,” Nursick said.

CL&P spokesman Mitch Gross said, “The work was done to accommodate additional changes that the city of Norwalk made to the road depth on Rowayton Avenue.”

Alvord also was asked at the Oct. 7 meeting about work done on the Westmere Bridge in Rowayton. The work was a little late, Alvord said. A SNEW water main goes over the bridge, necessitating that the bridge be replaced one half at a time; the half that had been rebuilt had the new water main on it, but there had been a delay, he said.

“Unfortunately the water passing through that main had not passed the test with SNEW,” Alvord said, referring to South Norwalk Electric and Water. “It was not a pressure test, it was a quality test. There were a few pressure ones, they found some leaks, but it wouldn’t pass SNEW’s quality criteria. So, we started wondering, well, maybe it’s not us, maybe it’s SNEW’s water coming in. We said to SNEW, we want to test the water coming in before it gets to the pipe. ‘Oh, no, no, no, you can’t – that’s not – we’re not the problem.’ So – We’re OK … The bridge will be done on time, it’s a little later than we hoped but it’s going to get done this year.”

Hiscock said the problem had been in construction work done by the city’s contractor.

On Jan. 14 the Common Council authorized Mayor Harry Rilling to sign an agreement with New England Infrastructure Inc. for the Westmere Avenue bridge project. Rilling also was authorized to execute an agreement with A. DiCesare Associates P.C. for professional engineering services for administration and inspection during the rehabilitation of the bridge

“The construction of the new main by the city’s contractor was plagued with problems,” Hiscock said in an email. “First it did not pass the pressure test and had to be repaired. The cause seemed to be poor construction technique. Then the main did not pass the bacteriological testing, several times. After the city or its contractor ran a camera through the water main and found mud and rocks, it was flushed to remove the debris. Subsequent to the flushing the main passed the bacteriologic tests.”

Reached by telephone, Hiscock elaborated.

“There were bolts that were not tightened or improperly tightened in one of the (pressure test) events,” Hiscock said. “Then I guess we went through a whole series of bacterial testing. We certainly practice and by city code test everything with extreme care before we put it into service for both pressure and bacteriologic work, which was done. It failed several times and I do know the city was trying to say it was our fault, but we have been doing this for a very long time and we often have problems with new construction, or something is left in the main, or it’s not flushed properly. Sometimes it’s not even the contractor’s fault. Sometimes kids throw stuff in because they don’t cap it properly at night.

“Well, it turned out, after the city put a camera through it, they found out there was mud, soil and rocks in the main itself, so they took it apart and flushed it out really good and got rid of all the debris that was inside,” Hiscock said. “Then we back and re-chlorinated it, tested it and obviously we flushed it, and the bacteriological work came out really fine.”


11 responses to “CDOT, SNEW rebut Norwalk DPW chief’s statements”

  1. What?

    Don’t believe everything you hear from City Hall. What a big waste of government money, for what?

  2. Ms Ruby McPherson

    On this note, is it time the Mayor ask Al to step down, beside the side money from City Carting etc, he needs to move on retire or just go ! ! !

  3. One and Done

    Listen to SNEW. One of the most incompetently run quasi governmental organizations in the state. 2nd only to maybe the DOT.

    You might not agree on Hal with everything, but I would take the word of someone who runs a company on 1970s technology with a grain of salt. As for the DOT? You are talking about an organization that spends 90 cents of its dollar on overhead that does nothing. The fruits of their labor are everywhere in the state for visual inspection. Crumbling infrastructure and projects that never finish on time or budget if they are even done correctly in the first place.

  4. Taxpayer Fatigue

    @One: Clearly you are misinformed. SNEW is quite competently run, recently receiving a Aa1 bond rating from Moody’s (SNEW’s debt is subordinate to the City’s, so its highest rating can only be one step below the City’s Aaa rating, which it is). SNEW’s electric rates are consistently 10 to 15% below CL&P’s. They are installing a state-of-the-art Power Substation on MLK drive which will be complete by the end of the year and connects directly to the main New England Power Supply Grid, increasing reliability even further. SNEW built a state of the art Water Filtration Plant several years ago, and though water rates have increased in recent years, they are still very competitive, particularly with private water companies that serve the area. Additionally, SNEW has a substantial cash position of over $10M, as most well-run utilities have, and a very reasonable debt ratio, all at very low interest rates.

    I don’t know about all DOT projects but the I95 expansion/bridge replacement project is on schedule and well below budget.

  5. jlightfield

    @taxpayer fatigue, the onerous commercial electricity rates that SNEW charges contribute to the vacancies of retail and office in SoNo. Further the rates charged by SNEW are merely competitive with CL&P as I have Iived in both areas and see no substantial residential difference. The 10% discount for timely payments was nice, but a questionable practice considering the significant infrastructure costs of the maintaining antiquated Delbert and metering systems. How many times have SoNo restaurants have to close due to outages compared to the central business district?

    SNEW also needs to modernize its operations so that service both commercial and residential hookups can be accomplished online or by phone along with bill payment that can be handled electronically.

  6. Oldtimer

    Who you gonna believe ?

    The entire job is a boondoggle where a lot of money is being spent for no measurable benefit, over the objections of the neighborhood. Why aren’t the wires all being hung under the new bridge the way they were hung under the old one for so many years ?

  7. Taxpayer Fatigue

    @lightfield – The concern I’ve heard from businesses in SONO regarding SNEW has to do with the deposit policy, which was put in place after so many businesses in SONO failed and stuck the rest of the ratepayers with their bad debt, which often was in the thousands of dollar range. It isn’t SNEW’s mission to provide corporate welfare for poorly conceived businesses in SONO. SNEW’s rates are in fact 10 to 15% less than CL&Ps whether you noticed it or not. You would have to ask SNEW for the outage comparison to CL&P as I do not know that. All I know is that during hurricane Sandy, my electric service was only out for 30 minutes, compared to weeks for many CL&P customers. And I’ve had similar experience with most major weather events where CL&P customers had week long outages and ours were less than a day, usually less than an hour or two. The new power substation is a $10M investment to improve reliability substantially for SNEW customers. I’ve been told that online bill pay is in the works, though many SNEW customers do not have computers or easy access to the internet.

  8. Norewalk Lifer

    I agree with TF, the rates of SNEW are considerably lower than CL&P, I know, I’ve been a customer for over 16 years

    Norwalk Lifer

  9. jlightfield

    @Taxpayer Fatigue, corporate welfare? Really, that’s your best defense for an antiquated quasi-municipal utility that can’t manage to update its 19th century infrastructure? I like anecdotes too, but I tend to rely on a greater data set when making assertions about the electrical rates.

    In this case, when a I run pop-up art spaces, which have a very low electrical demand, I can see what many former SONO businesses have been saying for years, $800/mo in electricity for a SONO space, $280/mo for electricity for a Wall Street Space. If only my experience was the outlier. The business that have left SONO and relocated elsewhere have shared their utility experiences, with me. They are the ones that prompted me to investigate the issue in the first place.

    Lastly, storm outages are not what I’m referring too. Its the routine, transformer outage on Water street that SNEW can’t manage to address that causes these outages in, let’s be clear, the SONO business district. The last year I lived in SONO there were 4 outages, no storm required.

  10. Taxpayer Fatigue

    I don’t have outage data and I don’t know what the specific problems were – you should ask SNEW. My residential service has been very reliable. SNEW has state of the art water filtration plant and a brand new power substation. Just like the city, much of its infrastructure is old – the most important pieces have now been updated and I’m sure that SNEW will continue to update its infrastructure as needed and as finances allow. Fortunately, they are in a much better financial position than they used to be and continue to make investments going forward. It is too bad that everything can’t be brand new and operate over the internet from your bedroom as you would have it, but the rest of us live in the real world. My point is simply that SNEW is being effectively managed at this point and hopefully going forward all measures of performance and value will improve.
    Throwing out numbers for different spaces isn’t really giving factual comparisons. Are they the same size space, what are the power requirements of the particular business? Do they have electric heat – there are numerous factors that determine power consumption.

    Interesting how all the failed businesses that are supposedly your confidants blame the Parking Authority and now, apparently SNEW for their problems. The biggest problem with SONO is the competition it now has with the surrounding towns that have invested in their downtowns. Our failed zoning and redevelopment policies and regulations have more to do with the problems SONO businesses face than parking and electric rates.

  11. jlightfield

    @Taxpayer Fatigue, for the record of course the spaces were similar in size, as was the programming aspects etc. Why else would I mention them?

    As for your other assertions about causes contributing to the economic vitality of SONO, sure there are other factors that affect the viability of business in SONO. Raising those simply is your attempt to divert the focus from discussing SNEW.

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