NORWALK, Conn. – A cold wind was blowing Sunday as Norwalk Democrats gathered near the Norwalk River to discuss protecting and preserving Norwalk’s natural resources, something they said has been neglected for some time.
Democratic mayoral candidate Harry Rilling stood with environmental activists Diane Lauricella, Mike Mushak and Bill Wrenn as he unveiled a five-point preliminary plan for environmental health and management initiatives he said he will put into place should he win Tuesday. Number one on the list is an environmental task force.
“Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something,” he said. “These people are advocates of a clean environment, and with people like these working hard – working for free – to try to make Norwalk the cleanest it can be and as environmentally friendly as it can be, they make my job much easier. We start talking about a five-point plan and moving forward and making sure that we clean up Norwalk and we take care of our natural resources. … It’s critical for us to do that.”
Each of Rilling’s five points features the word “leadership,” whether it’s in regard to “reviewing and initiating comprehensive proactive environmental management” or “leadership to ensure that public health and environment is protected from our industrial past.”
Rilling would call for “a review of the long list of old contamination sites in Norwalk, prioritize which sites needs immediate state and federal government’s attention, and work with the appropriate government agencies, the public and property owners,” he said.
He would work to preserve and protect open space, and insist the Conservation Commission fulfill its state-mandated duties and encourage the use of innovative techniques such as green roofs and rain gardens to decrease flooding, something Lauricella has suggested at numerous Zoning Commission meetings, to no avail, she said.
Rilling said he would protect the city’s air quality by ordering a review of public and private sources of dust, sand and other pollutants. The odor from the city sewage treatment plant affects the quality of life in East and South Norwalk, he said.
The city needs to move to green energy with a sense of urgency, Rilling said, specifically mentioning the missed opportunity to put solar panels on the new firehouse.
Lauricella said the group is concerned there may still be leaching from an oil drum dump site at 23 Platt St.
“We want to make sure that there’s a proactive way to keep the public informed,” she said. “We feel that Harry will make sure that the state and federal government, who have the final say-so on the cleanup, knows that Norwalk cares about this so that we will be put at the top of the list because we’re proactive. Right now they hardly ever hear from Norwalk on these cleanup sites.”
Mushak, a zoning commissioner, said that, when it rains, oils and toxins run off of parking lots and into Long Island Sound.
“Billions of dollars are being spent by cities all around the sound, by the federal government, state government, lots of cities, with updated standards to clean up the sound. It is a crucial natural resource,” he said. “… We have obsolete drainage standards that we have been trying to update for years. There has not been an interest in the current administration to update those standards. It’s very important to have those updated because we are the last city on Long Island Sound to have updated standards.”
Wrenn, a former councilman and leader of the Friends of Oak Hills Park, said he loves the plan.
“I think that’s something we haven’t heard in a long time from mayoral candidates,” he said. “Even talking about the environment is a really positive development.”
The entire plan is attached below. It includes some charges levied at Mayor Richard Moccia’s eight years of leadership.
“Norwalk did not apply for the latest round of the 2013 Connecticut Energy Finance and lnvestment Authority (CEFIA) Solarize Program that would have proactively educated the public by offering solar lease programs and other financial instruments that allow reducing electricity and hot water bills,” Rilling states in the plan. “Winter is coming, and active assistance and regular public education that inform the homeowner or business owners how to save real money bevond light bulbs is needed, like other towns surrounding us have done.”
“The city of Norwalk made a pledge in 2007 to form an Energy Task Force that included public input and to purchase electricity from clean energy sources by 2010,” Rilling states in the plan. “This was never accomplished and therefore denied the city free solar panels for use on public buildings, unlike other towns that surround us who have placed these solar panels on fire houses and schools. As mayor, I will aggressively pursue opportunities to save money for taxpayers on utilities and achieve a more sustainable city.”
Moccia did not respond to a request for comment.
“We have some wonderful natural resources and its our duty to protect them and provide for the environment,” Rilling said. “… I’ll push for the city to take a comprehensive and proactive role.”