Questions Answered about that Surprise Pedestrian Bridge in Bruce Park

As part of the Greenwich substation and line project connecting the Cos Cob substation to a new one at the former site of Pet Pantry on Railroad Ave, Eversource is finishing up the installation of a pedestrian bridge in Bruce Park.

The bridge, which spans Davis Mill Pond, also houses a a section of 115-kilovolt electric transmission line, an 8-inch water main, and a temporary 4-inch gas main.

When a detour around Bruce Park ended, the sight of the new bridge took residents by surprise. Some residents liked it, but many residents didn’t care for it at all.

Facebook is full of negative comments, including that it looks like a train trestle.

“Very ugly, way out of proportion for the location,” another said.

“That bridge was such a waste of money there was already a sidewalk. It’s just such an eyesore and takes so much away from the beautiful park,” Betsy Bellantoni said.

“I’ll bet if the residents had allowed Eversource to build the originally designed transmission lines, this would never had happened,” Kevin O’Connor wrote on Facebook.

Indeed, Eversource’s favored route for the transmission lines was under the pond using the HDD method, short for Horizontal Directional Drilling.

At the time, P&Z director Katie DeLuca pointed out that Eversource’s cable technology employed a petroleum-based fluid to insulate the cables, and she described that as problematic from an environmental standpoint.

Pedestrian bridge in Bruce Park. July 2, 2020

At the most recent Board of Selectmen meeting, First Selectman Fred Camillo said he didn’t care for the look of the bridge either.

He noted that the project was proposed and approved by the Connecticut Siting Council during the previous administration in Greenwich.

“Personally I don’t think it’s a very nice structure. It think it blocks what was a beautiful vista there.”

First Selectman Fred Camillo

The town rejected the proposal and Eversource appealed to the five member CT Siting Council, the state agency with regulatory powers over utilities in Connecticut who can overrule municipalities in locating infrastructure.

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Members of the Connecticut Siting Council at Cole Auditorium, Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015

The Connecticut Siting Council is made up of nine members for energy and telecommunications, with five appointed by the Governor.

On September 1, 2015, the Siting Council traveled to Greenwich and held a public hearing, at which residents and elected officials vocally opposed the project.

DPW deputy commissioner James Michel said in an email to Greenwich Free Press that because the bridge had Siting Council approval, therefore, “(the bridge) does not need to meet local regulations or approvals.”

Several people said residents were at fault for not being involved in the process.

“Where was all the input from the public when discussions were ongoing? People who complain that knew about the meetings but didn’t attend have no-one to blame except their lack of input,” asked Rance A Velapoldi on Facebook.

But in truth, town officials fought hard against the transmission lines and substation project. Once the Siting Council made its ruling, there was never a public hearing on the bridge itself.

While Peter Tesei was First Selectmen, he argued the new substation wasn’t even necessary.

He said the existing substations were sufficient to meet the energy demands of the town.

Katie DeLuca argued that Bruce Park was a delicate ecological resource to be protected.

As time went on the controversy focused on the location of the substation, its aesthetics, and the route for the transmission lines through the park.

In March 2015, the Architectural Review Committee (ARC) held a meeting during which committee member John Conte told Eversource the building design was “an assault on the intersection.”

“Who is your architect?” asked Brown asked.

“We don’t have an architect on board as of yet,” said Kate Shanley, manager for transmission. Instead, she said Eversource was working with Core Slab out of Thomaston, a firm that specializes in concrete buildings.

“You are going to need an architect. A real one,” said Tracy Brown.

Then, in July 2015, Eversource held an open house in the Town Hall meeting room, while upstairs in the Cone Room other representatives from Eversource returned before ARC who again blasted the proposed substation design again.

“It looks like a cartoon of a building,” observed Louis Contadino.

“It wouldn’t even fit in a strip mall in Florida,” another ARC member said.

“God awful,” another member said of the revised renderings.

Then residents had their turn.

“It looks like  a sex shop,” said resident Dwight Uedo.

When the application was appealed to the Siting Council, they initially upheld the town’s position, but later decided in favor of Eversource, at which point the utility worked directly with DPW officials.

There was little to no negotiation when it came to the design of the bridge.

Eversource’s Frank Poirot said in an email that the bridge is initially being paid for by Eversource, but that the Town will be responsible for maintaining the bridge once it’s complete.

He said Eversource worked closely with Dept of Public Works on the bridge.

Neither P&Z nor ARC had input to the bridge design.

P&Z has oversight during the MI process, but the bridge didn’t go through the MI process.

During the POCD process there was discussion of ARC becoming more involved in DPW projects, but it was noted there is a limited budget for projects, and the process would slow projects significantly.

First Selectman Camillo said he was doing a “deeper dive” into how the bridge came as a surprise.

“In this case there was no oversight from our citizenry,” he said. “So, I have an idea how to address that going forward so it doesn’t happen again.”

The narrow sidewalk along the bridge over the pond in Bruce Park is a challenge for two people to pass, especially with social distancing. June 23, 2020 Photo: Leslie Yager

There are existing sidewalks on both sides of where Davis Ave crosses the pond. They are narrower than code allows and lined by guardrails.

Mr. Poirot said Eversource worked closely with DPW to come up with a solution for crossing Davis Mill Pond that would not only carry the electric cables, but fit in with its surroundings and provide pedestrians with a safer alternative to crossing the creek.

The Bruce Park detour for construction of the pedestrian bridge is now complete. The vehicle bridge over Davis Mill Pond is open.

However, there will be additional detours in the park for other construction activities.

A new pedestrian bridge spans the pond in Bruce Park, and houses Eversource transmission lines underneath. Photo: Leslie Yager

Another concern was about the whereabouts and safekeeping of the historic grist stone that for years was perched along the banks of the pond.

Anne Young, staff for the Historic District Commission hopes the stone will be returned to its rightful place.

“As Bruce Park is Greenwich’s oldest public park, established in 1908 through a bequest of Robert Moffat Bruce, the Historic District Commission takes an active interest in the preservation of the Park’s various historic sites and markers. The HDC hopes that upon the completion of work by Eversource, the historic Davis Mill grist stone will be returned to its rightful place as presently there are only four 18th century grist mill stones left in Greenwich”.

– Anne Young, staff Historic District Commission

We reached out to Eversource and DPW Jim Michel about the grist stone, who confirmed it is in the Town’s possession and will be put back in the park when the project is complete.

“The Town does have possession of the Mill Stone at Bruce Park and will be finding a location to replace it upon completion of the pedestrian bridge and vehicular bridge projects which will be going on into 2021,” he wrote. “The exact timing and location has yet to be determined.”

See also:

ARC on Eversource Sub Station Rendering: “An Assault on the Intersection”

Eversource Shares Revised Rendering & Cable Routes to Proposed Substation

Eversource to Provide Revised Rendering of 290 Railroad Ave Substation

Tesei on Proposed Eversource Substation: Heinous Looking

Eversource Takes a Licking: Greenwich Residents, P&Z and Pet Pantry Owners Unite Against Electric Utility