NORWALK, Conn. – It hasn’t been easy to pin Mayor Harry Rilling down for a few words lately, but we finally caught up by phone for a short chat Tuesday afternoon. We asked him to bring our readers up to date on a trio of topics:
Island Belle: The Mississippi-style sternwheeler caused a commotion in October 2012 when it was involved in a Superstorm Sandy-related incident at the Veterans Park visitors dock that has had a variety of tellings. The boat was not supposed to be at the dock per the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Ken Hart, owner of Sound Charter Group that operates the Island Belle, had been told to move it. He didn’t, the storm moved in, the dock was damaged, the boat broke/was cut free after the city tried to move it and it drifted/was guided across the river by Hart’s crew, depending on who tells the story.
Those inconsistencies are among the items in a lawsuit filed by the city in August against Sound Charter Group and Hart, and a counterclaim filed by Hart against the city.
Naturally, Rilling declined to say much about the situation.
“I can’t really comment because, as you know, there has been a suit filed, and counterclaims,” he said.
Despite all the legal maneuverings, Hart wants to come back to Norwalk to run his business. And while common sense indicates he might find it rough sailing if he tries to again run his business from city property, finding a private dock could be an option. In fact, the boat showed up more than a week ago at a private dock at O&G Industries in the upper harbor, where it still sat Tuesday.
“I plan to be fully briefed on any discussions that go on” regarding the suit and the boat’s potential return, Rilling said, adding, “We can’t stop them from using a private dock to do business.”
BJ’s Wholesale Club: Rilling said there has been no more contact that he is aware of between BJ’s representatives and the city since the visit in late December that he characterized as “informal.”
“I gave them the respect of listening to their position,” he said.
“Obviously, any project that meets the zoning regulations and requirements, they have a right to go forward,” said Rilling, a former zoning commissioner. But he repeated the feelings he made clear during his run for mayor.
“In general, I am not pleased with the proliferation of big box development in the city,” he said. “We really need to look at the future of Norwalk, what we want the city to look like 10, 15, 20 years from now.”
He said not taking action to limit big box stores is “selling Norwalk short. That’s why I am eager to have my economic development director hit the ground running, as soon as we hire one.”
On Jan. 9, the Zoning Commission’s Zoning Committee, led by commission Chairman Joe Santo and Vice Chairwoman Emily Wilson and member Linda Kruk, shot down a bid by commissioner Mike Mushak to limit the building size for properties on the section of Main Avenue targeted by BJ’s for a store.
NEON: Information about what is going on at Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now has been hard to come by since Board of Directors Chairman Mike Berkoff told us earlier this month that the agency was talking with lawyers about the possibility of bankruptcy. Since then, Berkoff and the rest of NEON has gone silent.
Rilling says that silence does not extend to his office.
“I usually speak with the Rev. Jackson every other day,” he said. “We have conference calls that I am a part of, or I get an update from someone that listens in if I am not available.”
While he would not divulge the details of those calls, Rilling said the agency is considering its options going forward. His main concern, Rilling said, is making sure the people NEON has been serving can find the help they need in the future.
And the good news is…: Rilling also touted the success of the annual Mayor’s Community Ball held Friday night at The Continental Manor.
The event drew 588 people, the most ever, he said. The crowd included former Mayor Richard Moccia, who presided over the Ball for eight years before losing his re-election bid to Rilling in November.
Proceeds this year benefited Room to Grow Preschool.
Duff divvies donation drive dollars
Nearly $14,000 was split between seven local charities and organizations Monday, thanks to a Holiday Open House fundraiser at the home of state Sen. Bob Duff (D-Norwalk).
A total of $13,850 was raised to benefit the Norwalk Police Activities League, the Norwalk Fire Victims Fund, Norwalk Reads!, The Children’s Connection, George Washington Carver Community Center, Person-to-Person, and the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Norwalk.
Duff was joined by Rilling, Police Chief Tom Kulhawik and Fire Chief Denis McCarthy to present the money.
“I was delighted to see so many people turn out for last month’s holiday event at my home, and overwhelmed by the generosity of those who gave to support our local organizations. These gifts will help those groups to continue their good work in our community,” Duff said.
“It is always gratifying to see our community step forward to help those in need, which is exactly what these gifts represent,” Rilling added. “Whether it’s providing children with a safe place for athletics and recreation, or helping families to recover after a devastating home fire, these are worthy causes well deserving of our support.”
“We appreciate this donation, as it will allow us to continue helping Norwalk residents to rebuild their lives after significant fires,” McCarthy said. “This is another level of service we can provide to residents as they begin their recovery process from a major event under difficult circumstances.”
Test your home for radon gas
In support of National Radon Action Month, the Norwalk Health Department is urging residents to learn more about radon — a leading cause of lung cancer — and to test for radon in their homes. To help promote testing, the Health Department will offer free radon testing kits to the first 40 people who come to the department’s office at 137 East Ave. between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. Thursday or Friday, Jan. 30 or 31.
Radon is an invisible, odorless, tasteless radioactive gas found in soil, rock, and water. When uranium and radium break down in certain types of rock, radon gas is released and can be drawn into homes and other buildings through cracks and other openings in the foundation, according to a Health Department press release. Exposure to high levels of radon gas indoors is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers, and smokers are at an even higher risk of lung cancer when exposed to radon, the release said.
Radon levels vary throughout Connecticut. Because you cannot see, taste, or smell radon, the only way to tell if you have a radon problem in your home is to test for it. Testing involves placing a small device in your home for at least 48 hours and then sending the device to a laboratory for results. If levels of radon are high (4 pCi/L or higher), the Connecticut Department of Public Health (CT DPH) strongly recommends that homeowners enlist a radon mitigation professional to help lower the levels. The CT DPH estimates that the service may cost $1200 to $1,500. A list of radon professionals is available on the CT DPH website.
If you cannot get a radon test kit from the Norwalk Health Department, testing kits are available for approximately $12 from the national American Lung Association of New England www.lungne.org/products, 800-LUNG-USA or 860-289-5401. They are also available online from National Radon Program Services at https://sosradon.org/test-kits.