Wilton’s Board of Selectmen (BOS) met last Tuesday, April 19. The meeting covered a number of important developments for the Town — including the purchase of a new, $1.45 million fire truck and the kick-off of a major road construction project by Aquarion Water Co. and Eversource.
In addition, the meeting resulted in some good news for Wilton’s seniors. At the suggestion of Social Services Director Sarah Heath, the selectmen took action to eliminate all fees for classes and programs at Wilton’s Senior Center — a decision they will reevaluate after one year. But the meeting also hinted that some changes might be coming to Wilton’s Social Services Commission — including the possibility of disbanding the volunteer-led group — and not all of the selectmen seem to be on board with that. (See GOOD Morning Wilton‘s related story on Wilton’s volunteer commissions.)
The selectmen’s meeting agenda also called for Wilton’s Facilities Director Chris Burney to discuss the priorities he has identified for infrastructure spending and maintenance projects in Town-owned buildings. At the last minute, that discussion was postponed to a later date. Burney’s set of priorities will eventually be considered by the BOS along with the long list of requests for Wilton’s infrastructure funds being made by other Town departments, including Environmental Affairs and Parks and Recreation.
Aquarion and Eversource To Begin Construction, Project Expected to Take One Year
Starting the first week in May, Aquarion Water Company and Eversource will begin working on water and gas pipelines that will impact New Canaan Rd. (Route 106) between Old Kings Hwy. and Belden Hill Rd.
According to a joint statement, “Aquarion and Eversource realized a unique opportunity to collaborate with the installation of new water and natural gas pipelines as one combined project. The efficiencies created by collaborating together is expected to reduce the construction schedule.”
Aquarion will be installing a new 36″ diameter water main that will run parallel to an existing main. It is intended to “strengthen the resiliency of the existing [pipeline]” and “improve drought resilience through increased pipe capacity.”
Eversource will be installing a 16-inch gas pipeline to “increase the availability of gas supply options” including to some areas that previously did not have access to natural gas.
Wilton’s Director of Public Works and Town Engineer Frank Smeriglio told the BOS that he and Director of Land Use and Town Planner Michael Wrinn, along with personnel at the state level, have been working closely with the two companies in anticipation of the project.
“We’ve been working with Eversource and Aquarion since 2020 on the concept, the plans, the staging and the construction phasing,” Smeriglio said. “Our involvement is with the detours for the road. The state has taken the lead with the actual work on [New Canaan Rd.], the schedule and the repair details.”
Letters have already been sent to residents in the immediate vicinity of the work area, but the Town is publicizing the information more broadly.
“We decided to put [the information] out town-wide rather than just to the immediate residents because it impacts so many people,” said First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice.
Important details about the project‘s schedule, expected detours, and how to identify workers on the project, among other information, can be found in a document posted on the Town website.
Project updates will be posted weekly on Aquarion’s website.
The detours Smeriglio described to the selectmen would change at different stages of the project along New Canaan Rd.
During the first phase, the work would be between Belden Hill Rd. and Old Boston Rd. with a detour via Seir Hill Rd. (Note: trucks will have a different detour.)
In the second phase, the work would be between Old Boston Rd. and the New Canaan town line, with a detour via Old King’s Hwy.
While Town officials could not refuse the project on the state-owned road, Smeriglio explained that Wilton had some say in how the work would be done.
Importantly, work will only take place between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.
“All bus stops have to remain at their existing locations,” Smeriglio emphasized. “We’re not moving any bus stops. School buses have to be able to come through the [work area.]”
Residents will also have access in and out of their properties during work hours, with guidance from traffic control personnel.
The construction is expected to be completed by December 2022. Smeriglio said the road will be patched as work is completed, with “curb-to-curb repaving” to follow next spring.
New Fire Truck
Wilton Fire Department Chief Jim Blanchfield updated the board on the purchase of a new aerial fire truck.
The new apparatus will replace an existing truck that is over 18 years old.
The new, Pierce Arrow XT 105′ Aerial truck is being purchased for $1,447,767 from the Firematic Supply Company, a New York-based seller, after a process facilitated by a nationwide purchasing cooperative.
Blanchfield told the selectmen the experience of working with the cooperative — the first time Wilton has done so — was beneficial.
“It streamlined the process for us tremendously,” Blanchfield said.
The new truck also came in under the original, $1.6 million estimate.
Blanchfield praised the eight-member committee that “worked diligently through the process” of detailing the specifications for the new truck, including a 14-page spec sheet that was provided to the manufacturer.
Blanchfield noted that finalizing the contract would not come a moment too soon, as significant cost increases are expected in the coming months. Wilton will be able to lock in the current prices, though the normally lengthy production timeline is expected to be even lengthier.
Upon signing the contract — which the selectmen unanimously authorized Vanderslice to do — it will take no less than 690 days for the highly customized truck to be ready.
“We’re looking at this at the end of February 2024 if nothing goes awry in the process,” Blanchfield said. “That will put our current ladder truck over 20 years of service time for the Town of Wilton.”
Director of Social Services Sarah Heath appeared at the BOS meeting to propose a one-year waiver of Senior Center fees.
“I thought it would be a great idea if we could offer all of our programs at the Senior Center at no cost,” Heath began. “I think it would be a great benefit to our seniors.”
Heath believes that as the COVID-19 pandemic winds down and inflation winds up, the timing is right for a fee waiver. Even if the nominal fees are not a barrier for most seniors, Heath says eliminating the fees would send all Wilton’s seniors the right message.
“I like the idea of saying to our seniors, we want you to come back,” Heath said. “We know that costs are going up, we know that everything is much more expensive. We don’t want [fees] to be any barrier. We want more of our seniors coming to the Senior Center and enjoying [programs].”
Heath noted that before the pandemic, the Senior Center had generated about $20,000 in revenue from various programs and classes. As First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice pointed out, the FY2023 budget assumed the revenue would be just $8,000.
“My thought was to entice people to come to the Senior Center… to be looking creatively for new ways to bring people in,” Heath continued.
Heath cited examples of the growing pressure on Wilton households, such as the significant increase in the number of households qualifying for the energy assistance program and the food bank.
The selectmen supported Heath’s proposal wholeheartedly, and voted unanimously to waive the fees through April 30, 2023, when they would re-visit the subject.