Written by Susan Wolf
Monday, 24 August 2009 00:00
The development of a greenway for walkers and bikers along Route 7 from Norwalk to Danbury is a proposal that is now on the table.
With the Super 7 highway proposal shelved, the state Legislature decided earlier this year that the land designated for the controversial four-lane highway linking Norwalk to Danbury could now be used in other ways. The land includes sections of Redding, Wilton and Ridgefield.
State Senator Toni Boucher (R-26), ranking member of the Senate Transportation Committee, said in a press release that this provides an opportunity to discuss how the 890 acres of state property could be used.
Representatives from Redding, Wilton and Ridgefield, along with Ms. Boucher and state Department of Environmental Protection officials, met Tuesday to begin an informal discussion about the land’s future, and the potential for state and/or federal funding to make the greenway a reality.
Robert Flanagan, the town’s conservation enforcement officer, is a member of the committee. He said the meeting is just a first step in looking at a plan for the greenway and for funding. The greenway won’t be accomplished “in one fell swoop,” he said.
“It’s constructive to have started the conversation [about the greenway] and to look for grant money and to get the planning going,” Mr. Flanagan said. He added that two planning agencies, the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials and South Western Regional Planning Agency, are also involved in the planning effort.
“I think it was a very positive meeting,” said Ms. Boucher. The idea of a greenway is worth pursing, she said. It would provide a safe, protected and user-friendly pathway for all ages, she added.
“We need to strike a balance of protecting the natural environment while still allowing pedestrians to use the land,” Ms. Boucher said. For the communities, the greenway would be a tourist attraction, she added.
Besides looking for alternate funding sources, Ms. Boucher said the committee will be looking at the future maintenance options for the greenway.
“This is a long-term endeavor,” she said, “but I think there is generally tremendous support for this type of endeavor... We hope we can move this along. It’s nice to have the towns pick this up and move forward instead of someone in political office. We can work together on this.”
Vic DeMasi, a Conservation Commission member and longtime proponent of a Norwalk to Danbury greenway, was unable to attend Tuesday’s meeting. He is one of Redding’s representatives.
He recalled Tuesday the history of the Super 7 proposal, which drew opposition from its inception in the 1970s. At that time, CBET (Citizens for A Balanced Environment and Transportation) of Wilton was formed, and Mr. DeMasi was a member.
“They battled the road to a standstill,” he said. One of the agreements that resulted from the opposition was the provision for a linear park to run parallel to the proposed Super 7 highway. The state did not provide any funding for this project, but rather the group raised private money to hire a landscape designer.
Mr. DeMasi described the resulting plan as “charming.” It included lean-tos and overlooks, among other things. “The only problem with it was that the highway was still there,” he said.
Ultimately there was not enough money raised privately to implement the plan.
Over the years the state’s interest in the Super 7 highway plan continued to run hot and cold. When the road plan emerged again in the mid-1980s, another opposition group, Citizens for A Sensible 7, headed by Mr. DeMasi, was organized.
By 1986, he said, the state had acquired 70% of the parcels it needed for Super 7. In 1992, his group started the Route 7 Natural History Inventory, bringing in 12 biologists to survey these parcels.
At that time, the state Department of Transportation wanted to mitigate (replace) wetlands with new ones, Mr. DeMasi said.
“We found 17 rare species,” he said, adding this became a strong legal challenge to the mitigation proposal.
There are now 10,000 specimens resulting from the survey at the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University.
When the state ran out of money in 1992, said Mr. DeMasi, the Route 7 plan was once again put on the back burner. In 1994, under Gov. Lowell Weicker’s administration, a task force was organized to see if greenways in the state could be connected.
Mr. DeMasi organized a turnout at a public meeting on the issue that was led by Russell Brenneman, a well-known open space advocate.
“He wasn’t enthused about Super 7 (greenway), but I wanted the greenway — once called a linear park — without the road,” Mr. DeMasi said.
Eventually Mr. Brenneman was convinced to put the area from Norwalk to Danbury into the state’s greenway plan.