The New Canaan Town Council will decide this month whether the town will participate in a program proposed by the South Western Regional Planning Agency to establish a regional watershed coordinator who will serve New Canaan and six other Fairfield County towns in managing watershed improvement projects.
Kathleen Holland, Director of Inland Wetlands, explained during the Council's Dec. 12 meeting that the proposed watershed coordinator position would be funded through the first year via a $274,000 grant that is available to SWRPA through the state Office of Policy and Management's Regional Performance Incentive program. The watershed coordinator, she said, would assist towns in navigating increasingly stringent state and federal regulations (MS4 permits, etc.) pertaining to storm water testing and control.
The proposed coordinator — whose role is outlined in the grant proposal — would also assist towns in applying for grants and in disseminating educational and informational materials to the public, she said.
Another advantage to participating in the program, Holland said, is that it would enable towns to consolidate their storm water testing costs through a single office and thus save money.
Holland pointed out that during the past three years the town of New Canaan worked closely with SWRPA to develop the Five Mile River Watershed Plan, which was recently adopted.
Holland said there is no cost to the town to participate in the incentive program — nor is there any commitment in terms of funding the coordinator position down the road.
However SWRPA's member towns must agree to participate in order for SWRPA to get the grant, which will serve as "seed money" to establish the program and coordinator position and fund them for the first year, she said.
Future funding would come from subsequent grants, she said. The proposed watershed coordinator would work out of SWRPA's offices and would be managed by SWRPA staff, she said.
The Town Council had a motion on the floor to participate but it was recalled by Chairman Mark DeWaele and the vote postponed when several members expressed concern regarding the degree of commitment the town was getting into.
Town Council Member Robert Hamill echoed concerns of "county government encroaching on towns" and said with SWRPA's transition to the Council of Governments "there are fears of a return of county government."
"I'm with Bob on this… I'm not crazy about SWRPA and I'm not crazy about regional government," said Town Council member Roger Williams. "I know that sometimes when you establish a position like this it can lead to something permanent… things like this tend to lead to a certain amount of 'creep'…"
When Williams asked if the coordinator would be responsible for recommending watershed improvement projects to municipalities, Holland said, "no."
Vice Chairman Stephen Karl questioned why more than $100,000 of the proposed grant budget was allocated for publishing and printing of educational and informational materials. Holland emphasized that the coordinator would be required to educate and inform residents of watershed improvement projects in seven towns.
Town Council Kenneth Campbell wanted to know about how much the town would save on storm water testing through participation in the proposed program, compared to what it spends now, to which Holland replied she would get that information.
Holland said Greenwich, Stamford, Darien, Norwalk, Westport and Wilton were all in the process of deciding whether to participate. She said Weston was the only town which so far had decided to opt out, mainly because it has little in the way of MS4 testing requirements.
Holland said her department would benefit from the town's participation in the program.
"I frankly don't think we have anything to lose," she said. "It's a benefit to me as an employee of the town … in terms of staff sharing a person with other municipalities. I'm very positive about it — I think it could be a benefit."
The Town Council will likely decide on the matter in January, as there is a Feb. 1 deadline in order for SWRPA to apply for the grant in time, Holland said.