Trail Trouble: Wilton Officials Hope to Clear Impasse with State Over NRVT Differences
Progress on construction of the Norwalk River Valley Trail (NRVT) has halted over a difference of opinion between the State of Connecticut and several of the towns–including Wilton–through which the trail runs. At issue is a question of liability the state wants the towns to assume for portions of the trail that run on state owned land. The towns are hoping to obtain a waiver from that state requirement.
For Wilton, the next critical portion of the trail where construction has come to a halt is the ‘WilWalk’ section joining Wilton and Norwalk.
Patricia Sesto, president of the Friends of the NRVT, spoke to the Board of Selectmen at last night’s meeting to explain that approximately $4.5 million in grants are riding on the need to solve the dispute between all the towns and the state. She and Wilton’s first selectwoman, Lynne Vanderslice, have been involved in ongoing discussions for more than a year with several state government officials, and have the support of Wilton’s state legislators, Rep. Gail Lavielle and Sen. Will Haskell, as well as Norwalk’s Sen. Bob Duff.
They explained that Wilton is taking the lead in the conversations between the state and the NRVT because the $1.3 million grant for the WilWalk section will be the first grant to expire if an agreement cannot be reached.
Among the different officials involved at the state level are the Department of Transportation, the Attorney General, the Governor’s office and the Office of Policy and Management (OPM).
Both Sesto and Vanderslice were optimistic that an agreement could be reached. “We are genuinely hopeful for the upcoming meeting,” she said, explaining that officials are trying to schedule an upcoming meeting where all the parties involved can be present. “There’s a lot of motivation, I don’t doubt they want something to happen, but we haven’t been able to coalesce something to happen,” Sesto said, adding, “A lot of time has been put into this…there’s just one more person to convince.”
Vanderslice went to a WestCOG meeting last week that was also attended by Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, who expressed her support for the project. “All the people have said this makes sense, we just need all those people to come to one place, to make it happen,” Vanderslice said.
She confirmed that the last agency that needs to agree to the waiver is OPM.
Sesto noted that while she’s hopeful, there’s a lot of frustration about the hurdle the towns need to overcome.
“So much work has put in by Lynne and others to move this along, and it has been so frustrating. We have a generous community who’ve been willing to put in money,” she said.
Vanderslice put in perspective just how important it is to resolve the issue: the NRVT has become a key Wilton amenity, both for local residents as well as for economic development and attracting commercial investment. “The NRVT, Wilton Library, and Ambler Farm are on top of everyone’s [amenity] list,” she added. “This is critically important, that’s why people are working hard.”
Vanderslice plans to update the BOS at the next meeting on Oct. 7, and is hopeful that she’ll bring positive news. In the meantime, she doesn’t want the public to worry or mount any campaign to contact any Hartford official; instead, she says, there’s hope that just one official remains to be convinced that a waiver should be granted.
“We’re just looking to educate the public, we’re not looking for people with pitchforks; we are hopeful, there are people who are helping us. We don’t want backlash. We’re moving in a more forward direction and have added supporters to our cause. We’re zeroing in on the ultimate person.”
Sesto and Vanderslice issued a joint statement about the current situation.
Statement on the Norwalk River Valley Trail
Wilton’s Norwalk River Valley Trail (NRVT) is one the community’s best-loved amenities. Every day 200 residents and visitors use the trail, which was funded 100% through private donations.
Four years ago, the NRVT steering committee secured a $1.3 million grant from the State to assist in the design and construction of nearly six miles of new trail from Wolfpit Road in Wilton to Grist Mill Road in Norwalk. This grant, which was jointly awarded to the Town of Wilton and the City of Norwalk, requires a $275,000 match that generous donors from Wilton and Norwalk have already contributed.
Unfortunately, construction of the trail has not been able to proceed due to a requirement by the State to have the Town of Wilton and the City of Norwalk each enter into a lease for the 30-foot wide “ribbon” of state-owned land in which the trail will be built. The proposed lease requires each municipality to assume liability for pre-existing conditions within the ribbon of land within their town. This would include liability for the cleanup of any existing hazardous materials.
The other three municipalities, through which the 30-mile trail will run, will also be required to execute the same lease. In addition, Wilton is being required to execute the lease for the existing trail, which had been built under a permit issued, previously issued by the State.
The trail is and was intended to be a regional and state asset to be enjoyed by all residents of and visitors to Connecticut.
Representatives of the NRVT steering committee, the Town of Wilton, and the City of Norwalk have been working for more than a year, on behalf of all five communities, to obtain a waiver from the pre-existing conditions clause. We have the support of all the State Senators and State Representatives from the five communities. Senators Haskell and Duff and Representative Lavielle have been active advocates on our behalf, attending meetings and speaking directly with key individuals in Hartford. We are very appreciative of their efforts and those of others in within state government.
The $1.3 million grant has a fast approaching expiration date. The steering committee has filed for an extension and are confident in its approval. But until and unless a waiver is received, any additional work on constructing the 30-mile length of the trail is suspended and the committee will have to consider its fiduciary responsibilities to their donors and take steps to reduce expenses.
We anticipate a meeting with key state officials within two weeks. We are hopeful the meeting will result in a swift resolution and allow for construction of the trail to continue.
We appreciate the Wilton community’s continued support and look forward to sharing good news in the future.