Wilton faces impasse on Norwalk River Valley Trail

Sustainable CT has launched a $7,500 crowdfunding campaign for the benefit of the

Sustainable CT has launched a $7,500 crowdfunding campaign for the benefit of the “WilWalk” section of the Norwalk River Valley Trail.

Pat Tomlinson / Hearst Connecticut Media

WILTON — Construction along the Norwalk River Trail (NRVT) has been suspended pending resolution of a state liability issue.

Included in the suspension is work along a two-mile section of the trail connecting Wilton and Norwalk, called “WilWalk,” which would run from Wolfpit Road to Grist Mill Road.

The state is requiring the town of Wilton and city of Norwalk to each enter into a lease for the 30-foot wide “ribbon” of state-owned land on which the trail would be built.

But, the proposed leases require each municipality to assume liability for pre-existing conditions within the ribbon of land within its town. This would include liability for the cleanup of any existing hazardous materials.

Wilton and Norwalk are hoping to obtain a waiver from the state from the pre-existing conditions clause.

Patricia Sesto, chairman of the NRVT Board of Directors, and First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice gave a joint statement about the pending waiver to the Board of Selectmen on Sept. 23.

Sesto called the state requirements, “frustrating for everyone involved.”

The trail project, which is under construction, extends 30 miles from Norwalk to Danbury, across five towns. It is intended to be a regional and state asset to be enjoyed by all residents of and visitors to Connecticut.

“There are $4.5 million in grants riding on the liability issue,” Sesto said. This affects more than Wilton. Norwalk has a grant on hold and Redding has a project ready to go. Wilton was just the first one up,” she said.

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, according to the statement.

Wilton has a $1.3 million grant approved for the WilWalk project.

“The $1.3 million-grant has a fast-approaching expiration date. The steering committee has filed for an extension and is confident of 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,” the statement says.

Support for the towns has come from the state senators and state representatives from the five NRVT communities, including Wilton state Sen. Will Haskell (D-26) and state Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143) and state Sen. Bob Duff of Norwalk. Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz has also expressed support.

A meeting with key state officials on the waiver request is expected to be held soon.

Asked if there is anything the public can do at this time, Vanderslice declined further assistance. “We are just looking to educate the public. We are not looking for the public to come forward with pitchforks. I don’t want there to be a backlash against the people who are helping us,” Vanderslice said.

She said she will give the board an update on the NRVT issue on Oct. 7.

Editor’s note: The story was corrected to note the $1.3 million grant for the WilWalk project has been approved.