Salt in the wound? Neighbors get another chance to comment on larger DOT shed
The state Department of Transportation has scheduled another meeting in Fairfield on its plan to replace a salt shed on Jefferson Street, next to the Merritt Parkway, with a much larger structure because more residents have become concerned about the project.
The second meeting is Aug. 19 in the Education Center, 501 Kings Highway East. Residents can meet with DOT officials at 6:30 p.m., and a formal presentation is set for 7 p.m. The deadline for residents to send comments to the DOT has been extended to Sept. 3.
First Selectman Michael Tetreau said Wednesday that he attended a neighborhood meeting on the DOT project in late July -- after the DOT's first informational meeting on the project July 15 -- and "folks were panicked."
Neighborhood concerns include why the replacement shed is planned to be so much bigger than the existing structure; whether the DOT plans to store trucks on the property; whether use of the site would change, and how the DOT plans to screen the replacement structure for aesthetics and noise, Tetreau said.
The existing salt shed, which dates to the early 1960s, is about 20 feet tall, 20 feet wide and 30 feet long, while the new structure would be 35 feet tall, 45 feet wide and 96 feet long, according to Robert Messina, the DOT's project manager. Messina said before the July 15 meeting that the existing salt shed is "basically decaying to the point where we can't even use it anymore."
Jennifer Hochberg, a District 7 member of the Representative Town Meeting, said about two dozen residents who live near the site of the project, which is on DOT land by Exit 46 of the Merritt Parkway and next to the Jefferson Street commuter lot, are "very concerned" about the project.
Hochberg attended the neighborhood meeting in late July and said residents also were concerned about the impact of construction. She added that the DOT property is "a critical gateway" into Fairfield and that the Merritt Parkway was supposed to be a scenic highway.
Messina said Wednesday that the DOT doesn't have much flexibility regarding the size of the replacement shed. "It's basically designed per all the requirements. To work inside, you need a certain height and width. There really is no way to make it any smaller," he said.
Messina said before the first meeting that the existing shed is big enough only to store salt, while the replacement structure would be large enough to mix sand and salt and allow trucks to enter it and drop salt.
But Messina said the DOT could raise the height of berms around the larger structure and work with neighbors so trees are planted in spots that best shield it from their view. He said berms couldn't be too steep due to potential erosion problems and the likelihood that plantings on the berms wouldn't survive.
Messina said the DOT probably wouldn't increase the number of plantings because they would need room to grow. But he said the project's landscape designer could work with each affected homeowner to determine the best spots to plant trees.
Messina said before the first meeting that the DOT did not intend to change operations on the property or use the replacement shed to store trucks or perform maintenance on trucks. The Fairfield shed is where DOT drivers pick up salt to lay down on the Merritt Parkway during snowstorms.
Construction of the replacement structure is scheduled from April to October 2014 and the $2.5 million cost is funded entirely by the state, according to Messina.
The DOT held the first meeting on the new structure July 15 in Fairfield Warde High School, but only about a dozen residents attended. The original deadline to send comments to the DOT about its replacement structure expired July 29. But the DOT, at Tetreau's request, agreed to hold another meeting on the replacement structure and to extend the deadline for written comments to Sept. 3.
Tetreau said he wanted the DOT to have another meeting on the project so neighbors could get all of their questions answered. "This is a chance for the neighbors to understand and have some input on it," he said.
But Tetreau said the replacement structure would be on land owned by the DOT, and Messina said Fairfield land-use commissions don't need to approve the proposed structure. He said last month that it would be similar in appearance to a salt shed built about two years ago by Exit 37 southbound of the Merritt Parkway in New Canaan.
Messina said the DOT agreed to hold another meeting Aug. 19 because neighbors didn't think the word had gotten out about the project ahead of the July 15 meeting. About 85 notices had been sent to residents within a half-mile of the site before the July 15 meeting, and more notices will be sent before the Aug. 19 meeting, Messina said. "We've been working with the town. We're sending out maybe about triple that number now," he said.
Comments can be emailed to messina at: robert.messina@ctgov or by standard mail: Robert Messina, supervising engineer, Facilities Design, Bureau of Engineering and Construction, Connecticut Department of Transportation, P.O. Box 317546, Newington, CT 06131-7546.