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Town, Aquarian Agree to New Tank Study

Natalie Bandura, Staff Writer

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Aquarion and the town of Westport have collaborated in conducting a peer review of the water tank plan, which Aquarion has paid for. The results are pending.

Negotiations persist between the two sides of the water tank issue: Aquarion, Westport’s water provider, which plans to initiate the two-year construction of two 38 and 39 foot tanks on North Avenue to replace the existing 24 foot tank, and residents who oppose this project. While a replacement to the old tank, which was built in 1956, is vital due to its worn-down state, disagreements arise about the tanks’ sizes and location.

Aquarion doesn’t only provide water for Westport, but is a main water distributor all across Connecticut. They feel they have acquired experience in these matters.

“Aquarion has been in the water business for over 160 years. We have successfully constructed water tanks throughout our 51 town service areas in Connecticut. Our engineering team has the expertise to develop and manage infrastructure projects for our 71 water systems in Connecticut,” said Aquarion Director of Public Relations Peter Fazekas.

First Selectman Jim Marpe of Westport formed a work group of concerned citizens to discuss the water tank project with Aquarion and attempt to mediate a solution that is favorable for all.

“My goal is that Aquarion’s water tank project gets Westport the necessary amount of water storage it needs with the least disruption possible to the neighborhood. This is met by allowing the working group to get the answers to either justify the project or negotiate changes to the project,” said First Selectman Marpe.

The work group had five meetings with Aquarion in which all of the residents’ concerns were voiced and considered. Through common willingness to negotiate, mutual goals have been established and both sides are amenable to compromise.

“Aquarion has educated the group on how the water system functions and has answered numerous project-related questions by the work group. Aquarion has reviewed several suggestions by work group members including water tank material and landscape design alternatives,” said Aquarion Director of Public Relations Fazekas.

“Throughout the process we have tried to establish a collective understanding of this project. I’m pleased that Aquarion is now meeting with the work group on a regular and positive basis. As with all negotiations, by working together, all the participants developed a mutual respect for each other and communication has become more open,” said the First Selectman.

An independent study initiative was proposed by the work group to hold a third-party peer review of the tanks to investigate whether their capacity is indeed necessary for the town’s water needs. After a period of discussion and deliberation, Aquarion agreed to provide the funding and information for a peer review that studied the height and volume of the planned tanks. The study, which assessed documents submitted by Aquarion that depicted the planned size of the tanks and compared these statistics with rational engineering practices, commenced on the third week of March and has been completed.

“The independent study was undertaken to give answers to many of the questions the neighbors and the Selectman’s Office had about this project. Westport residents benefit by learning the facts and information that are the basis for this project. The intent is to use the report findings to frame the working group discussions with Aquarion,” said First Selectman Marpe.

Although the review conducted did not encompass every aspect of the water tank project that the work group initially wanted to investigate, they have accepted the fact that this was unrealistic with the given constraints.

“The peer review answers the key question, which is whether or not the tank height and capacity is appropriate. We had hoped that the third party peer review would cover additional topics such as alternative solutions, but that proved too costly and too time consuming for the consultant. Aquarion has given us extensive presentations on the topics that were not covered in the peer review,” said the First Selectman.

Due to their omission in the study, Aquarion has ensured that these additional aspects that residents wanted to be studied were thoroughly examined.

“Aquarion reviewed alternative options prior to selecting the existing infrastructure site. These options were also presented to the work group. The alternatives are substantially more expensive, create additional construction disruptions in town, and do not provide any additional benefits for our customers,” said Aquarion Public Relations Director Fazekas.

Because infrastructure improvements are procured by customer rate increases, Aquarion makes efforts to minimize project costs without impairing quality, he explains.

Aquarion plans to continue with the water tank project once the residents’ appeal before the PURA state agency is dismissed or resolved.

“Aquarion was neither required to provide the information to make this report possible, nor to fund it. […] We appreciate Aquarion’s cooperation in providing the information for the study as well as other information requests of the neighbors. We also appreciate the neighbors’ willingness to negotiate in good faith and be flexible in their requests for Aquarion,” said First Selectman Marpe.

 

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Town, Aquarian Agree to New Tank Study