Shellfish Commission eyes proposed Harbor Loop Trail segment with skepticism

Norwalk BOE 022714 004
The Norwalk Redevelopment Agency is hoping to construct a new portion of the Harbor Loop Trail to connect with this 144 East Ave, boardwalk this summer.

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.


5 responses to “Shellfish Commission eyes proposed Harbor Loop Trail segment with skepticism”

  1. Casey Smith

    Well, that puts “FINIS” to the idea. Guess it’s a No Go, now. How long has this project been under way? Seems to be a long time. All that time, all that planning, all that wasted money. Too bad for the taxpayers!

  2. Suzanne

    Asphalt is the cheapest material per square foot but, perhaps, a semi-permeable paving product needs to be used to address the “natural flow and filtration” mentioned. If Mr. Johnson simply read the link provided in this article, he would recognize the efficacy of the helical screw piles given the substrate (although I think it would be completely appropriate to show a test effort of this technology before going ahead with the entire project.) Why wasn’t an environmental impact report included with the application? Given that this project is all about the environment and not just the end use by a constituency, this would seem a vital part of the application that should not be ignored and included for review by any Council or Commission.

  3. spanner

    Bravo responsible environmental savy.Its sad still nothing on Oyster Shell parks outfall,its coming I can just feel the wave of sanity rising with the tide.

    No one is against what Norwalk could be or have for its taxpayers its the way it was packaged and sold.Millions of dollars on a hazardous waste site and what you have now is still a hazardous waste site made a lot of sense to spend that kind of money.

    What site am I talking about?Take your pick Norwalk has several sites never fully cleaned,some built upon,some just covered over it made no sense.

    No wonder cancer care and research has become more of the landscape in Norwalk,its become an issue its hard not to notice it anymore.

  4. Mike Mushak

    I applaud the Shellfish Commission for asking good questions and being concerned about the impacts this proposed trail may have. This is their job and they do it well. The Planning and Zoning Department made this application and should have been there to answer questions and address their concerns, which is proper procedure. It would have saved time and trouble for sure.
    Suzanne is absolutely right in her post above. The helical screw piles are in fact designed specifically for “muddy riverbeds” as Shellfish Commission Chairman Pete Johnson described it, and they are actually being used here to elevate the boardwalk above the grade in three segments near the water, the same as he describes being used in the NJ Meadowlands. Here is the quote from the link above about the screw piles:

    ” The helical screw pile is a versatile, environmentally friendly and cost-effective technology with many uses across such industries as transport, communications and civil engineering. No excavations or spoil to cart away – saving money, particularly if there is contaminated ground.”


    Another important point missed at he meeting last night, and which could have been answered if P and Z staff were present, is that most of the parking lot at 148 East Ave. drains into existing bioswales (grass ditches basically) where runoff is filtered naturally before it flows towards the river. Since very little parking lot runoff actually drains into the river, this project will not interfere with or alter the parking lot drainage at all. In fact, there will still be plenty of vegetative buffer left over when this trail is complete, as it is not displacing or covering up a majority of the existing grass and reeds, but simply weaving through it.
    Also, the vegetation that is there is not native spartina or other species, unfortunately, but is a full monoculture of the highly invasive phragmites that chokes out more preferable native species, some of which will be replanted as part of this project I believe. Whereas phragmites does have a filtering effect for runoff, it also contributes to the degradation of the harbor environment as it has much less wildlife value.
    Here is the description of the huge negative impacts phragmites has on the harbor environment, from one of CT DEEP’s own manuals:
    “Thick stands of Phragmites form nearly impenetrable barriers to the movement of animals and large birds such as ducks, shorebirds, and wading birds. These thick monotypic stands result in a degradation of habitat by raising the marsh elevation and by filling in the open water areas. This habitat loss starts the decline in the diversity of bird species utilizing a marsh. The Seaside sparrow, Salt marsh Sharp-tailed sparrow (both Connecticut species of special concern), as well as the Willet and Marsh wren are less abundant in Phragmites marshes. In part, this is because they are highly adapted to nesting in native plant-dominated salt and brackish marshes. Although a few bird and animal species such as rail, American bittern, Red-winged blackbird, deer and muskrat may inhabit Phragmites marshes, most other animals and birds avoid these areas because they cannot penetrate the thick stands. The shade from these large stands also hinders the growth of native plants. Studies have shown that plant diversity is greatly reduced after forming dense monocultures of Phragmites, and that it appears to be
    detrimental to the overall ecological functioning of tidal wetlands.”
    This project will help diminish the impact of the phragmites by diminishing some of its thick coverage, and may actually make it easier to control, by improving access to volunteers to keep it mowed down every winter which is a low-impact form of control recommended by scientists, as it allows more sunlight to reach the ground in the spring which favors desirable native species that are always present in the historic “seed bank” on the ground but which can’t germinate in the thick tangle of the Phragmites.
    Hopefully the Shellfish Commission will find this information helpful, which I plan on forwarding to them to become part of the record.

  5. spanner

    Having grass behind Lajoie’s Salvage in South Norwalk “saved” the water quality in the river.Was the grass disposed of as hazardous waste?

    thats false,in fact what was the grass preventing that saved the water quality from?We have a fire dept involved in two areas of protetcting the environment yet the details from them seem to be missing from the mix in both instances.

    Bureau of Aquaculture & Laboratory Services
    David H. Carey, Director had stated PCBs and Asbestos and other substances were found in shellfish behind Lajoies in Village creek to be more precise.Yet was unable to test further with more facts the lab at the time was not set up entirely and was still in boxes that was after the last fire at Lajoies. When was the last report given on this?

    Oyster bend in the news recently,the chemical dumping ground in the 60s and 70s.Reports that it was capped costing in the upwwards of 2 million dollars instead of an estimated 22 million dollar cleanup makes it another hazardous waste site on this loop if this information is correct.

    There is only one promising thing so far is not having to wear a radiation detection pin when walking this loop.

    Trash,trespassers and trouble is going to cost money where are the funds coming from after its built?

    Its also a good thing Mayor Rilling has a task force seems its needed just in time for the spring thaw.

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