NORWALK, Conn. – Plans for an extension of the Harbor Loop Trail were looked at skeptically Thursday evening by Shellfish Commission members as Chairman Pete Johnson criticized the idea of replacing grass with asphalt along the Norwalk River waterfront.
Commissioners voted to send the application for a walkway on city-owned property behind 148 East Ave. along to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) with a request for information regarding the environmental impact of replacing grass (or phragmites) with asphalt.
“I have nothing against the walkway except the way they will remove the spartina,” Johnson said. “They want to put down gravel and asphalt. … You block natural flow of natural filtration of whats coming off the roads.”
The walkway would be part of the Harbor Loop Trail, a project that began more than 30 years ago and which is zoned into all new construction. The trail has not been completed, with several notable gaps (such as the one at 148 East Ave. and the property south of there), keeping pedestrians from walking the entire planned loop around the Norwalk River waterfront.
The application calls for a slightly elevated 10- to 15-feet wide public boardwalk, supported by helical screw piles. The application says that encroachment into the public trust waters is minimal.
“Most of the access will not be in the public trust waters since it is located landward of the mean high water,” the application reads. “Seven ‘pinch points’ push seven small sections of boardwalk waterward of the high tide line. Limits to the City of Norwalk’s property line make it impossible to move these two areas out of the public trust waters…. A minimal encroachment into DEEP jurisdiction has very little impact on tidal waters and the benefits far outweigh any minor impacts to coastal resources.”
While it would be above the high water mark the high water mark varies with each storm, Advisory Committee member Dave Hopp said.
Johnson questioned the wisdom of helical screw piles in the muddy riverbed and said the walkway should be elevated. He mentioned a catwalk in the New Jersey meadowlands, which is elevated to allow the water to flow freely.
Having grass behind Lajoie’s Salvage in South Norwalk “saved” the water quality in the river, he said. “I don’t understand what they’re trying to do,” he said. “I think they better go back and redraw this.”
Commissioner Patrick Davito said the waterfront grass at 148 East Ave. had been ripped out years ago, but grew back. “They were going to put this public access thing there and then it was left alone,” he said.
He was skeptical of the Harbor Loop Trail. “For what you’re going to have for traffic of actual human beings, I can think of a lot better ways to (spend) money,” Davito said.
“I’m all for it,” Johnson said. “… I just think there should be less impact.”
There is no environmental study included in the application, Johnson said. An asphalt walkway would heave in the wintertime, he said.
Commissioner Jonathon Maggio made the suggestion to send it along with a caveat.
“Our committee would like more information concerning the environmental impact regarding the buffer and natural filtration on natural shellfish resources,” the ammendment says.
The application was approved by the Harbor Commission last week.