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Norwalk Boat Club’s objections and questions about O&G application

Letters to the editor. Send signed letters to Nancy@NancyOnNorwalk.com with a suggested headline.

The following letter was sent to members of the Planning and Zoning Commission and shared with NancyOnNorwalk.

To: Mr. Kleppin, Mr. Baker, The Norwalk Planning and Zoning Commissioners and copied officials, department heads, and others,

I apologize for anyone I may have left out. We are writing to document our thoughts and concerns regarding the Site Plan Review Application for 7-55 Smith Street, Norwalk, CT by O&G Industries, Inc. dated February 15, 2024. Attached are some recent pictures of the area. These are from just a typical day.

View looking south with barges docked on the western side of the Norwalk River (Credit: Norwalk Boat Club)

We have recently been informed about the application of O&G and a decision made by the Norwalk Harbor Management Commission (NHMC) to have this application approved by P&Z. As author of this letter, my name is Sue Powers, and I am the Treasurer of the Norwalk Boat Club. I would like to start out by saying that as we were recently advised about the application by word-of-mouth, we were not included in the notification process. This may be legal but is not indicative of a “good neighbor”. In fact, none of the marinas, boat clubs or rowing clubs along the Norwalk River were officially notified of the application and the proposed barge traffic which will directly impact their businesses. And there are a few of us!

The Norwalk Boat Club (NBC) is a 112-year-old establishment that sits at the Head of the Harbor and is a welcome visual to those travelling over the Wall Street Bridge. The NBC has been a fixture in the area since 1912, even surviving and rebuilding after the Great Flood of 1955. It is one of the oldest clubs in the City of Norwalk.

View looking north to the Norwalk Boat Club with barges docked on the western side of the Norwalk River (Credit: Norwalk Boat Club)

Throughout the club’s existence, the members of the NBC have been silent stewards of the Norwalk River annually amassing hundreds of pounds of litter from the marina brought down the river by heavy rains and snow melts. These are bags of garbage and debris that would eventually wind up down river and/or into the Long Island Sound. The club members are happy to do it and will continue to do so to assist in the goal of improving the water and marine life there as well as improving the area’s 2022 rating of a D- by Save the Sound.

The members of the NBC find it hard to believe that P&Z would approve a plan which would cut off access between the River and the Sound.

Even more appalling is the fact that approval of O&G’s site plan would be cutting off the Wall Street area of the River, the NBC, as well as the apartment buildings at the Head of the Harbor from any Police, Fire, EMS, Sea-Tow and/or other emergency service vessels from reaching it. Fires, jumpers, people falling off docks into the water and being taken by the, at times, extremely strong current downstream will all be casualties of this approved plan as there will be no way to pass through the two bulkheads with barges on both sides of the river. In the event of a catastrophe, not only will O&G be held accountable, but the City of Norwalk would also be, as well, for allowing this.

The O&G site plan as provided has material and gross miscalculations with regard to the barges which are to be placed at their location. They do not mention that these barges will become semi-permanent fixtures on the bulkhead as they are not simply brought in unloaded and taken away, the materials are stored on the barges at their location until dispersed at which time a new barge comes in full of load and replaces the empty ones. We know this as this is how it is done on the Commerce St. side of the river. There is simply not enough width for both companies to have barges in that area of the river at the same time without obstructing the Federal Navigation Channel which boaters are allowed by law to access the Sound from the Head of the Harbor. Additionally, on the O&G diagram, they show there will be a 40’ access between the O&G barges and the Devine Bros. barges based on a barge size of 35’ parked snugly against the bulkhead. There are currently two barges on the other side of the river directly across from the O&G site. The actual width of those barges is 44’ with approximately 3 feet of rubber tire fenders on each side. They require a 10’-20’ slack line to account for the rising and lowering of the tides on an immovable dock system. Minimally speaking, if you have a 44’ barge with 10’ of slack line on one side of the river with the same set-up on the other side it comes to 108’. The distance between the bulkheads is 110’ which leaves a 2-foot opening for emergency and recreational boats to pass through.

Barge docked at Devine Brothers, on the western side of the Norwalk River. (Credit: Norwalk Boat Club)

Many of the NBC boating community have children and often take their families, including pets, out for a day of fun on the Sound. This plan would require these families to potentially have to wait hours for the tide to change hoping the barges separate enough to get back to the Marina! The same would be for emergency personnel, Police, Fire and EMS. This is not only unfair but a recipe for disaster. And this is during the day. There are major issues with this in the evenings as the barges are not properly illuminated so there is potential for boating accidents at this scene. Imagine coming back from watching the fireworks and unknowingly coming face to face with a 100’ unlit black steel wall!

We welcome the suggestion of an independent environmental analysis, a marine health and safety analysis as well as a common-sense look at the situation being created on the river as it is a tragedy in the making.

And while O&G feels the barge transport would be “more feasible, economical and faster”, this should not be at the expense of the citizens of Norwalk or those who utilize the Norwalk River. You need to look at the economical, ecological and environmental effects on the residents and businesses who live or operate around or on the Norwalk River, especially those in the Wall Street area.

We stand with the concerns and questions previously raised by the CHNA (City Hall Neighborhood Association) and the NGA (Norwalk Green Association) as outlined in their letter to the members of the City of Norwalk dated on or about March 6th, 2024, to include but not be limited to:

  • require/conduct an extensive Health & Safety Assessment & Study
  • require/conduct an extensive Environmental Assessment & Study
  • retain counsel to review the legal protections of its citizens
  • conduct an assessment of the economic impact of the application on residential housing and commercial property valuations in the area
  • retain counsel and review non-conforming use and the validity of any existing permits
  • undertake a study to assess the commercial impact and business rationale for the application
  • undertake a study to assess the commercial and communal impact of unprecedented, large-scale barge activity to rowing/boating clubs and recreational activity from the Inner Harbor to East Norwalk Harbor/SoNo Marinas/Calf Pasture Beach and the Long Island Sound
  • create a simulated impact of the type of materials (hazardous/non-hazardous) and scale of activity related to the loading/unloading of barges
  • require the Department of Public Works, alongside the Transportation, Mobility & Parking Department to coordinate & assess the scale of an approved commercial operation
  • require Transportation, Mobility & Parking Department to assess and quantify the trucking volume of a large fleet of dump-trucks and its impact upon Traffic, Mobility and Connectivity in the neighborhood, along Wall Street and the East Avenue corridor
  • require the Transportation, Mobility & Parking Department to conduct an extensive Traffic Study to design and simulate a commercial route for dump trucks and the transportation of materials
  • require the applicant to economically contribute to the enhancement of adjacent roadways and make pedestrian and safety improvements as a condition of approval.

We also have these additional concerns about the proposal:

Based on the actual calculations of the space between the bulkheads and the size of the barges and corresponding slack line and fenders it is estimated that the opening between the two sides will be 0-2 feet at high tide AND the fact that the barges do not come and go, they stay there 365 days a year! How will O&G handle:

  • Access for the NBC boaters to get the Sound and home marina.
  • Emergency boats in the event of fire, drowning or other emergency to get to the Upper Harbor.
  • Debris which flows down the river, damming at the barges.
  • Safety concerns of boaters both inbound and outbound especially in the evenings coming upon a 100-foot wall of black/maroon steel with no warnings, markings or ANY illumination.
  • Safety concerns of inbound boaters getting past the first set of barges only to get stuck in between them as it narrows at the second set and possibly getting crushed.
  • The probability of these barges hitting the sides of each other when slack lines are slightly elongated for periods of time.
  • How will the tugboats maneuver between the barges at high tide? (High tide is the only time they move the barges.)
  • Where will the tugs “park” the southern barges when trying to extract the northern barges?

Where is the documentation from the US Army Corps of Engineers? The original, as well as any updates since the bump out and installation of the bulkhead at the O&G site needs to be examined, as well as any agreements between the City and this organization or others regarding previous operations.

Is anyone interested in seeing in real time what the river will look like with all the barges as noted on the O&G site plan which is significantly flawed? The attached pictures will give you an idea.

Finally, as per Attorney Suchy’s letter dated 5/28/2024, Item #7, please provide documentation as to “recent activity” of dredging with details such as when and where this was performed. Also, what the schedule of future dredging would be as a result of the increased activity on the river. In the pictures attached, the present barges may be aground at low tide.

In closing, we respectfully request that the Norwalk P&Z require a Safety and Harbor traffic plan which details the operational plan of this application and review of the presented material (including their site plan as it pertains to the Norwalk River) as well as the historical documents related to the agreement between the City and the Corporation, other corporations and the US Army Corps of Engineers.

We urge you to do the intelligent, safe and right thing for the citizens and businesses of the City of Norwalk as well as for the future of the Norwalk River and the Long Island Sound.

Thank you.

Comments

7 responses to “Norwalk Boat Club’s objections and questions about O&G application”

  1. David Muccigrosso

    Honest question: What kind of notification do you EXPECT here? Do you seriously think we should have some taxpayer-funded office whose only job is to go around letting you know about P&Z applications BEFORE they’re even filed? Who decides who needs to be notified? How soon of a notice are you demanding BEFORE the application is filed? A day? A week? A month? A year?

    I’m not a fan of the O&G project, but as someone who’s NOT part of the East Norwalk NIMBY Hive Mind, one REALLY easy way for you guys to make yourselves look at LOT less ridiculous is to give up these complaints about “notification”. The applications are published, the hearing schedules are published, and there are so many items on the docket that it’d be a full-time job for someone to notify every single person or group who MIGHT be concerned about an application.

  2. Thomas Belmont

    The Norwalk Boat Club is right by protecting the Harbor from Industrial-City Project encroachments. The death of Norwalk Seaport sites, the restriction of citizens to access to water ways because of massive changes should and ought to have review by the People’s representatives that champion their interests of the rivers that lead to the Long Island Sound now and forever, rather than a hit and run utilization of heavy equipment that will make a long lasting change to the environment. There’s no need to add a city government office to enforce a few restrictions either. Hey, let’s deputize the Norwalk Boat Club members.

  3. Bryan Meek

    Where is leadership on this? We’re spending a $ billion plus and enduring 10 years of disruption to redo a bridge few people in Norwalk ever use. We had to eat the over-designed and overpriced option because of the river’s navigability status and here we are about to clog it with barges.

    Where are our Congressional, State, and Local leaders? Or is making Norwalk the greenest city in the state limited to taking photo ops with new trees we won’t water?

  4. Becca Stoll

    Are you referring to the Walk Bridge here?

    I’d say that more than a few people (myself included) use it to commute from East Norwalk to points west, most notably NYC. I personally remain optimistic that if the train was faster and more reliable with the amelioration of this pinch point that affects the ENTIRE NE Corridor, the economy both locally and regionally would feel the benefits. But that’s kinda outside the purview of this letter.

    What I think you and I agree on is that approving this project won’t be a step towards the clean, attractive shoreline and riverfront that we want for Norwalk. The writer cites how much trash the NBC is already removing just with their volunteers, add concrete and stone chemicals to the mix in both the water and the air and you’ll double the work.

    The point about maritime visibility is also well taken, and something I hadn’t given much thought to.

    1. David Muccigrosso

      Agreed.

      If anywhere, this should be placed on Manresa or run through some of the docks over by the Ice House. There’d be more place for the runoff impacts to spread out, and the Ice House already has a pretty heavily used road corridor right there.

      Besides, all the construction is happening in SoNo anyways. This would get materials there faster.

      As things stand, the existing barges are an abhorrent eyesore on what should be our most valuable retail real estate. It made sense when Norwalk was an industrial town, but doesn’t fit our post-industrial present in the slightest.

    2. Bryan Meek

      Yes. You are among the few people I am referring to.

      20 years ago, I would take the ENRR train to NYC. It used to take 55 minutes before the Hudson operator fell asleep and they decided to make all the trains slower. It’s 160 year old technology but for some reason we can’t figure it out. A smaller less costly design could have been employed for the fraction of riders that get on and off at East Norwalk and MUCH, MUCH, MUCH less disruption to Norwalk, which the well being of is an afterthought to ConnDOT who our leaders have sold us out to.

  5. Lynnelle Jones

    Our mayor, city leaders and P&Z created this situation.

    Neither the mayor nor city leaders questioned the impacts of the DOT’s billion-dollar Walkbridge design despite legitimate questions and concerns. During Walkbridge and Eversource negotiations, the Norwalk Mayor’s ex-Chief of Staff, an attorney, not an engineer, negotiated with DEEP, DOT, and Eversource, while negotiating to become the new DOT Commissioner, the second senior Norwalk City Leader to leave for a big DOT job. Allowing, preserving, even increasing industrial uses, which the O&G application does, was necessary for DOT’s billion-dollar Walkbridge project.

    Neighbor concerns, as well as Norwalk’s Harbor Management’s questions and concerns, were ignored as the mayor’s office, the most powerful agency in Norwalk, agreed with DOT that a more reliable bridge would allow increased marine commerce, critical for the new big billion-dollar DOT project’s funding. O&G is an industrial use, one city leaders could have limited but, by choice, did not, supporting DOT’s need to show increased marine commerce.

    When the Common Council voted Oct 2018 to allow the mayor to sign the Army Corp approval for the Eversource part of the Walkbridge project only with an affidavit protecting Norwalk taxpayers, following hearing concerns from the Harbor and Shellfish Commissions about laying high-voltage lines under the public dock, (no idea why the city decided to not use eminent domain so lines would not limit future use, repair, or development of the public dock, a question never answered), our mayor signed with NO affidavit. No doubt approved by his then Chief of Staff.

    Deals were and are being done behind closed doors. Industrial uses exist today with the knowledge and approval of our mayor’s office, city leaders, and P&Z, many of whom prioritize their power and next career moves over the interests and needs of people they are paid to represent.

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