Monday night’s Board of Selectmen meeting (Feb. 3) brought some welcome news:  the two-year hold on construction on the Norwalk River Valley Trail will soon be lifted.

The cause for delay on expanding the trail stemmed from a dispute between the five towns through which the NRVT passes on one side, and the CT Department of Transportation (DOT) on the other. Because portions of the trail run through DOT-owned land, the DOT sought lease agreements with the towns, which included specific language referring to insurance and made the towns liable for any potential claims on pre-existing environmental hazards on the land. The towns refused to sign anything with such language.

Negotiations between the towns and the state were basically at a standstill since last year. However, as First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice told the BOS Monday night, the DOT very recently presented a contract to the town of Norwalk for a section of the trail there (called the “Missing Link”) with new language that the towns found acceptable, for both insurance and environmental indemnification.

“The new language removes the previous obstacle to us executing the lease,” Vanderslice said.

This development will now–hopefully–allow NRVT officials to move forward on fundraising and implementing plans to build new trail sections. Charlie Taney, executive director of the NRVT, briefed Wilton’s BOS members about sections of the trail that will be developed during the next phase.

Wilton NRVT Sections in Development

Horseshoe Pond Crosswalk

The first Wilton section being eyed for development by the Friends of the NRVT is actually a crosswalk. The NRVT officials would like to have a crosswalk installed across Horseshoe Rd. at the intersection with Wolfpit Rd., linking the trail (from the Park & Ride trailhead, along Wolfpit Rd./Rte. 106 toward Horseshoe Pond) to a section of trail that curves along Horseshoe Pond (see inset, below).

Taney explained that this section would cost $12,000-$13,000 to build, and Town of Wilton officials had specified that a crosswalk was needed–which would add an additional $2,000-3,000. But because Rte. 106 is a state road, and the crosswalk would be in the state right-of-way, NRVT officials had to seek permission from the DOT in order to build the crosswalk.

The DOT laid out several conditions that suddenly escalated the cost:  the Friends of the NRVT had to complete a site survey (at a cost of $15,000), and would be required to install a 4-way pedestrian signal (which would cost at $75,000).

“We’re trying to do a very simple connection for $13,000, and because the DOT has lots of rules and regulations, it escalates up around to $80,000 or $90,000 if we’re ever going to make that little $12,000 connection we want to build into Horseshoe Park,” Taney explained.

WilWalk–Linking Wilton and Norwalk

The WilWalk section is a 4.8 mile section that runs from Broad St. in Norwalk, up to the commuter parking lot at the Wolfpit Rd./Rte. 7 intersection. The Friends of the NRVT received a $1.3 million state grant to obtain permits, and plan and build this section, and would be required to raise $275,000 in matching funds; of that, $225,000 has already been raised. Taney said as soon as there is a green light (and the lease issue described above is officially resolved), he’s confident that raising the remaining $50,000 will be very possible.

But then the DOT threw an additional wrench into that plan. Officials at the DOT decided that the encroachment permit it issued for the very first section of the NRVT Wilton Loop–built on DOT land–should have been executed as a lease with the town instead.

Of course, with Town officials refusing to sign a lease on the original section until the environmental liability language issue was resolved, the DOT responded by refusing to move forward with the WilWalk section until Wilton signed the lease on the original trail.

Now that the language issue has been worked out, Vanderslice said that Wilton’s town counsel is comfortable with the lease, and would allow her to sign it.

Work will begin on two WilWalk trail sections in Wilton, for a combined one-mile of trail:  a stretch from Old Belden Hill Rd. to Grist Mill Rd.; and from the commuter lot across a bridge behind Orem’s Diner (see image, below). Taney explained that there are some complications that will take more time to be worked out on the section that unites the first two parts–building a gating system where the trail will cross railroad tracks at Kent Rd., as well as securing easement permissions at various spots.

Taney said that an environmental assessment turned up no issues, and the NRVT team is working with Mike Conklin in the Environmental Affairs Department on wetlands permitting. Once the lease is signed by Vanderslice, construction can begin.

Skunk Ln. to Pimpewaug Rd.

The next section in Wilton that the Friends of the NRVT will develop is the stretch between Pimpewaug Rd. and Skunk Ln., beginning with fundraising. Because the section includes a lot of wetland, trail construction will include building a significant amount of boardwalk.

The BOS voted unanimously to authorize Vanderslice to sign the lease with the DOT. That, said Taney, now will allow the Friends of the NRVT move forward with fundraising.

“Your donors now know that things are proceeding in Wilton,” Vanderslice told him, which prompted applause from the roomful of spectators who were attending in support of resuming work on the trail.