Flooding, construction and Binney Pond highlight Old Greenwich concerns

First Selectman Peter Tesei, in center, continued his tour around Greenwich with a walk through Old Greenwich where he was joined by residents including Old Greenwich Association President David Rafferty and former State Representative Lile Gibbons. — Ken Borsuk photo

First Selectman Peter Tesei, in center, continued his tour around Greenwich with a walk through Old Greenwich where he was joined by residents including Old Greenwich Association President David Rafferty and former State Representative Lile Gibbons.
— Ken Borsuk photo

As his walking tour around town brought him to Old Greenwich on Friday, First Selectman Peter Tesei got an up-close look at something on the mind of a lot of residents, the need for dredging Binney Pond.

Mr. Tesei was literally brought to the water’s edge as he journeyed through Binney Park on a tour led by David Rafferty, head of the Old Greenwich Association. Along with almost 15 area residents and some town officials, Mr. Tesei looked at areas of the pond and Binney Park that people say must be addressed through the town’s capital spending, and journeyed down to the main business district on Sound Beach Avenue.

While parking and traffic, as well as the impact of the state’s planned improvements to the Old Greenwich train station, were very much on residents’ minds, it was Binney Pond that dominated much of the discussion.

Town Conservation Director Denise Savageau, who joined Mr. Tesei for the tour, said two streams with storm water come into Binney Pond, creating the issue. In order to properly respond to this, Ms. Savageau said $100,000 had been set aside in the town budget to do an engineering study to analyze what’s happening and then inform the response plan.

“It’s not just a matter of developing a plan for dredging,” Ms. Savageau said. “We need to look at what’s happening upstream, control as much sediment as we can upstream and then, also dredge and quite possibly put in some structures here to catch any sediment we can’t get upstream.”

Ms. Savageau said there is an “ongoing conversation” with the state about this and that there would also be discussions with Stamford about what the city, which borders Old Greenwich, can do to help. She and Mr. Tesei stressed that this project was moving forward.

“Dredging is a big thing,” Mr. Tesei said. “When you ask where all this is coming from, to me, as a novice, it seems that all the development and sedimentation goes to the lowest point. We know it, so how do we stop it? I think Planning and Zoning has tried to institute new regulations. For every person [in favor of] those regulations, you’re going to find someone complaining… But the reality is there’s a direct correlation. You know that. We all know it.”

Dredging isn’t just an issue at this one pond, as many have advocated for a dredge of Greenwich’s waters, saying it’s overdue and will benefit boaters in town. Mr. Tesei said that he has received confirmation the town will receive $2 million in state funds for the Cos Cob/Mianus River channel. That work will be done in 2014-15 after cleanup from Hurricane Sandy last year pushed it back.

Flooding concerns

Flooding in Old Greenwich was also of great concern. Alexis Voulgaris called it a “massive” problem and said she had been talking about it for years, dating to when Mr. Tesei was a member of the Board of Estimate and Taxation. Ms. Voulgaris noted the Laddins Rock Road sanctuary with its unused acres of space as a potential spot for a retention pond to help fight flooding.

“Ultimately, if you don’t hold it back, water goes to the path of least resistance,” Ms. Voulgaris said.

Ms. Savageau said this was part of another study and that it was being looked at by the Department of Public Works as part of the overall look at drainage issues in town. She said it was not as simple as putting the retention pond in but added it was all being looked at by the town.

“One of the challenges we have is when we come up with certain things, people don’t want anything in their backyard,” Ms. Savageau said. “To fix some of the problems, we may have a resident who says, ‘Yes, fix this’ and another resident next door who says, ‘No, don’t fix this.’”

She added that while the sedimentation in the pond was solvable, flooding presented “different challenges” to certain neighborhoods. She admitted that more direct action from the town, given the town funding process and the ongoing study, was probably “two budget cycles out.”

There were other areas in need of cleaning and attention beyond just dredging, and residents said they wanted to be able to do these projects themselves and not necessarily have to wait for approval from Town Hall to do it.

“We just want to be able to get the junk out of the water,” Mr. Rafferty told the Post. “Let’s start with that. We know we can’t fix everything right away, but we can certainly get the trash out and get the things out that don’t belong there. No one can decide whose problem this is so we’ve said that the town should just go and let us do it. And now the town is saying that if we bring them the permit for this they will sign it and we can take care of this. So we’re very happy to hear that.”

Tree improvements

Town Tree Warden Bruce Spaman also appeared at the tour, following his discussion the previous night with the Old Greenwich Association about what improvements were scheduled to be made to Binney Park. Mr. Spaman said, as part of an overall master plan process that will also impact town property at Bruce Park, Byram Park and the Montgomery Pinetum property, there will not only be the removal of dead pine trees damaged by Hurricane Sandy but also a concerted effort to make Binney into a “tree museum.”

“We want to start restocking with the kinds of trees that can handle the type of flooding we’re seeing here,” Mr. Spaman said. “We’re losing trees that can’t handle being inundated by fresh water and we’re working towards replacing that and improving the sidewalks. The timing here is actually perfect because we’re going into the capital budget process.”

Several of the residents who came along on the tour were very eager to push the idea of more public involvement through a conservatory where private money would be used to augment the public project. Lile Gibbons, a former state representative who served this part of town for more than 10 years in Hartford, said this would allow people on the eastern end of town to focus on giving to Binney Park, while central Greenwich could support Bruce Park and western Greenwich Byram Park.

“If we organize separate conservation groups and try to raise a substantial amount of money, can we work with the town?” Ms. Gibbons asked.

Both Mr. Spaman and Mr. Tesei said they supported the idea.

“That would be welcome,” Mr. Tesei said. “It’s consistent with the history of the town in terms of philanthropic efforts to either provide public benefit or improve a public benefit. It ties in with the public/private partnerships we’ve been promoting.”

Train bridge construction

The Sound Beach Avenue area also received attention as Mr. Tesei and the residents walked there from Bruce Park, pausing under the railroad bridge that will be completely replaced by a new one. This is a state project but will have a big local impact, forcing major use of the parking lot shared by the train station and King’s Market. While merchants have hailed the proposed improvements, including new parking spaces and the removal of the central column under the bridge that many have said causes traffic delays, they’re worried people will avoid the area during the construction.

“We want people to know that Old Greenwich will be open for business and that it will not be a traffic nightmare,” Mr. Rafferty said. “Maybe it’s a bad dream, but it’s not a nightmare. Old Greenwich is not going to be shut down. There’s an awful lot of bad information going around in town and people think there will be detours everywhere and they won’t be able to drive on Sound Beach Avenue. That’s not true.”

The construction is scheduled to take place in two stages, with the first beginning once state construction on the Lockwood Lane bridge is complete. The parking lot will be done first to allow for the main work on the train track bridge to begin as part of the second phase. The project is supposed to be done over the course of the next three years and will force some temporary road closures. Under the current plan those closures will total 30 days across those three years in three-day sections.

“What we’re going to end up with is going to be incredibly better than what we have right now, both aesthetically and from a utility standpoint,” Mr. Rafferty said.

Mr. Tesei, who is running for re-election this year, has been going on these walking tours for the last few weeks, also stopping by northwest Greenwich last Friday. He said he’s doing this to help prepare for the upcoming budget discussions and that these tours allow him to hear directly from residents about quality of life issues that may seem small scale compared to major government spending, but are very important to the people they impact.

“If we do this now we can take an extra look and tie this into capital maintenance or the operations budget,” Mr. Tesei said, noting recurring themes he’s found in his tours like traffic, speed enforcement, improved signage and maintenance of town properties. Those are things that conceivably be accomplished through the use of existing town dollars.

The dredging project, though, is on a bigger scale and Mr. Tesei said things like that are accomplished through “constant pushing” from residents like those who joined him for this meeting.

“All of this is being written down and we’re going to bring it to the departments,” Mr. Tesei said.

Mr. Tesei continued the tours this week as he walked through Byram on Monday morning, and next Monday, Sept. 30, he’s scheduled to look at Riverside at 10 a.m.

 

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