Editor's notebook / Metro Center lamentations
The plan perplexed me from the beginning.
How could cutting down nearly every tree on a 35-acre piece of land be good for the environment, especially when it has frontage on an ecologically-significant waterway?
Yes, the soil on the soon-to-be Fairfield Metro Center site is contaminated -- mostly with casting sand used by the Bullard Foundry, when the town still had an industrial tax base and the costs of dumping toxins remained relatively unknown. Indeed, Bullard legally dumped material on site to the point that its property along Ash Creek grew by more than five acres over the years.
Despite this disastrous practice, the always-resilient environment adapted. It was perfectly imperfect. Trees and brush grew, species flourished, and it remained this way until last week when the remediation plan kicked into high gear.
Now, for better or worse, the site is forever changed. So what lies ahead for man's marriage with this land?
Well, the plan is to remove the contaminated soil, put in place a plastic membrane and a series of high-tech drainage structures and then bring in new wetland-type soil and introduce native plantings. Simple enough, right?
I guess so. But it all seems so manufactured, perhaps too perfect.
Really, it's just hard t grasp that we must destroy the environment to clean it.
Perhaps my perspective on this paradox stems from the fact that I live across the creek from this site. I have seen dozens of egrets nest in trees there; watched with wonder as sunsets casted silhouettes and gaggles of geese skimmed across the water; kayaked along its shore; and tried to pick up hermit crabs before they scurried back to their burrows.
In the five years I've lived there -- on Morehouse Street in Black Rock -- I also have grown accustomed to and, in a way, fallen in love with that vista: this untouched treasure that was my backyard; that is the Fairfield Metro Center site.
I'm not the only one who grew fond of this view. We saw this last week when several Bridgeport residents -- my neighbors -- were confused, concerned and angered when machines began cutting down the trees at the site.
All feelings aside, I also know the facts. And I think it's important that others do, too.
I know that every time Connecticut's highly-acidic rain falls, it hits the soil and leaches the contaminants into the
tidally-influenced estuary. I know that the clean-up plan briefly described above will stop this from occurring in the future. That it will set the stage for an unprecedented project involving the town, the state and
private developer, Blackrock
It will be the site of Fairfield's third train station and 1,500 much-needed commuter parking spaces. Blackrock's original plan also called for the construction of a Hilton hotel, train station concourse with restaurants and retail outlets, four 60-foot tall office buildings and underground parking garages. A place where the public could take a stroll on shorelines trails through newly created wetlands, launch their kayak into the creek and then catch a train to downtown Fairfield or New York City, without even turning the ignition of their car.
It was a grandiose vision, one that was expected to usher in a new era in development -- transit-based, smart growth -- and revitalize an otherwise economically stagnant eastern side of town. Even as the project has been stalled for years, delayed by lawsuits and mired in controversy, we have seen this turnaround take place.
But the scope of the private component of the Fairfield Metro Center project is now a big question mark, as Blackrock struggles to retain its financing (Bank foreclosure proceedings are in the works). The public portion of the project was also almost derailed until the state stepped up to fund the construction of the rail platforms and access road that will stretch from Kings Highway through the site and out onto lower Black Rock Turnpike.
Meanwhile, there is the looming threat of more lawsuits. The latest is that Blackrock will sue the town if Conservation Director Thomas Steinke is reinstated to a supervisory role of the site clean-up. The Conservation Commission removed him from that role a few years ago -- a move that a judge recently ruled was illegal, after a group of "Concerned Citizens" contested it in court.
In response, Steinke has said he would in no way cause any delays to the project if he were put back on the job. The watch-dog role, until the court ruling, was held by Gary Weddle, a former member of the town's Conservation Commission. Weddle's appointment makes sense, but so does having Steinke aboard, given his decades-long track record of protecting and improving Fairfield's coastal and inland waterways and his knowledge of the metro center project. After all, Steinke worked hand-in-hand with Blackrock, the Conservation Commission and the state Department of Environmental Protection to finalize the remediation plan that is now in place.
Needless to say, it will be interesting to see how this situation plays out.
Let's just hope it doesn't drag on like most other Metro Center matters. More importantly, let's hope what's good for the town and the Fairfield Metro Center is also good for the environment.
I guess only time will tell.
Gary Jeanfaivre is the editor of the Fairfield Citizen. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org