Local school neighbors upset over campus expansion blasting
BETHLEHEM, Conn. (AP) — As work continues on the Newport Academy campus expansion, neighbors are airing concerns about recent blasting, and town officials are not getting answers to questions on well testing.
The private rehabilitation facility for teens at 64 Double Hill Road is building a new boys’ campus on 55 acres at adjoining 98 Todd Hill Road. It will feature new dormitories, a dining hall and kitchen, two main buildings and an indoor horse riding arena.
On Sept. 7, neighbors were rocked by rock blasting on the property. Dawn Tobin said there are neighboring homes with elderly or young people who were startled by the loud and unexpected blasts.
First Selectman Leonard Assard said he didn’t know blasting was taking place and heard concerns from neighbors a few days after the blasts. Proper permits were obtained from the fire marshal to conduct the blasting, but Assard said he and neighbors were unaware that blasting would take place.
He said he is not supposed to be informed of every permit issued by town officials and therefore would not have been notified, but since it involves blasting near neighboring homes, he thinks the courtesy of notification from the school would have been a neighborly gesture.
Newport Academy President and CEO Jamison Monroe did not respond to questions about the blasting or whether the school will notify the town or neighbors if they conduct any future blasting.
Monroe also did not respond to questions of well test monitoring, which has the first selectman seeking his own answers after getting some pushback from state officials.
Tobin and a group of neighbors have long worried that Newport’s several new wells could affect theirs. The wells have been drilled, and Assard wanted to stay informed about the upcoming well testing.
“We got notification that testing was going on and I wanted to know if the Department of Public Health would be involved, if they’d monitor the tests.” A state official told him that as an ex parte rule, he cannot communicate directly or indirectly with the agency.
“I was surprised by that,” Assard said. “Now I don’t know how I’m supposed to communicate.”
The letter to Assard from Lori Mathieu, Public Health Section Chief of drinking water for the DPH, said his comments, as well as other comments from concerned parties, will be included in the record for Newport’s water system permit application.
“I wanted to know how the tests will be completed, if they’re monitoring the wells, if they’ll do the water quality testing, and I got that response,” Assard said. He also wrote in his letter that neighbors were responsible for testing their own wells and argued many are not skilled or equipped to conduct such tests.
“Someone was supposed to monitor the neighbors’ wells and that’s what I was asking, and not getting a straightforward answer,” he said.
Assard said he may reach out to other engineers associated with water testing for answers. He also said the state wrote a letter to Newport’s water system specialist requesting Newport submit documents on how it will ensure their new wells won’t adversely affect neighbors’ water systems. The deadline for those documents is Oct. 2 and Assard said he is hoping to have information on those documents and more solid answers to his questions soon.
Wetlands officials like Chairman Robert Smith have responded to neighbors’ concerns by saying that Newport’s expansion plans, including septic and well work, were reviewed and approved by town, state and area environmental and health officials. He said residents should not be concerned about wells because the Todd Hill Road site had been approved decades ago for a multihome subdivision so water capacity should not be an issue. Residents questioned that reasoning, saying projected water use figures from Newport are unrealistically low and that previous approvals were made with outdated, decades-old regulations.
Assard said he was hoping the academy and state agencies would be better at communicating with the town on the project.
Assard said residents have been attending every Board of Selectmen meeting recently to air concerns about the expansion and to hear information and updates from town officials. The next meeting is Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Town Hall.
Information from: Republican-American, http://www.rep-am.com