NEW BRITAIN - Battle lines are being drawn between municipalities, local environmental groups and residents over Tilcon’s proposal to mine 72 acres of protected watershed owned by the New Britain Water Department.
Tilcon would give the quarry back to the city as a reservoir linked to the New Britain water system near Shuttle Meadow Reservoir.
About 200 people showed up at a public hearing Tuesday night at Gaffney Elementary School to express anger over the plan, which would extend Tilcon’s current quarry toward Bradley Mountain in Southington.
The protected watershed is a tributary of Shuttle Meadow Reservoir. Residents, environmental advocates and two state agencies that deal with the environment say the plan would likely pollute the city’s drinking water, which is also sold to Berlin and Bristol.
Berlin water officials, however, feel the plan is a “golden opportunity” to see to the water needs of the region for decades to come, said Ray Jarema, director of the Berlin Water Control Commission, which provides water to about 2,600 customers in Berlin.
“This is a huge storage reservoir which would never be built unless it’s a quarry,” Jarema said.
He and Town Manager Jack Healy sent a letter of support for the project that was read into the record during Tuesday’s public hearing.
New Britain supplies about 34 percent of the water that the Berlin Water Control Commission provides to its own customers and those in the town’s Worthington Fire District.
The Kensington Fire District, with about 3,000 customers, buys all of its water from New Britain since it has no water source, Jarema said.
The additional storage capacity could help the entire region, including Meriden, Middletown and Southington, he added, saying, “Some of these additional suppliers would be through Berlin’s infrastructure.”
In April, however, Dennis Kern, president of the Berlin Land Trust, sent the state Council on Environmental Quality, which was reviewing the project, a letter opposing the plan.
“It is our position that watershed land must be protected from all types of private uses, particularly when the plans proposed lead to the total destruction of a trap rock ridge, a forest, wetlands and flora and fauna, some of which are protected,” Kern said.
The reservoir would include a portion of the existing quarry, said James Ericson, vice president of Lenard Engineering, which conducted an environmental study of the project and the watershed. The new reservoir, which would be quarried for 35 to 40 years, would hold 2.3 billion gallons of water, making it safe to draw 2 million gallons of water from it a day, he said.
Initially, the plan called for filling the reservoir with “flood-skimmed” water from Bristol, but since the CEQ and the state Water Planning Council pointed out that storm runoff is one of the dirtiest sources of water, Ericson said the proposal now calls for using existing city water resources. Any water that collects in the quarry before the reservoir is complete will be pumped away from Shuttle Meadow Reservoir to limit any exposure to contaminants, Ericson announced Tuesday.
“It’s the same water quality we’ve been drinking,” Ericson said.
The city could negotiate with Tilcon to cover the $1 million to $2 million it will cost to hook up the new reservoir to the system, said Ericson and Ray Esponda, whose appointment as director of the New Britain Water Department was announced Wednesday.
Esponda said New Britain will need the reservoir because the city is expected to be using 10.94 million gallons of water a day in 2060, including water sold to Berlin and Bristol. The city now uses 9.39 million gallons a day, he said.
Esponda said there would be environmental benefits to the plan as well as environmental sacrifices.
“The question is, ‘What are we going to leave our children?’ ” he told the crowd Tuesday night.
Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or Lbackus@centralctcommunications.com.