Mansfield residents expressed concern at a public hearing Tuesday night about the danger fracking waste poses to the community and encouraged town council members to vote in favor of an ordinance banning its use.
“I’m urging you to support this ordinance,” town resident Leigh Duffy told council members. “I think it’s an incredibly important issue. … These are messages we are also sending to the state. There is some very important legislation coming up in a couple of years and I want (state legislators) to know people are mobilized on this issue.”
The ordinance, which would ban the town from using products of fracking waste and fracking wastewater, came before the council as a result of a petition circulated by Gary Bent of Eastern Connecticut Green Action. It quickly received the necessary 250 signatures and gave council members 60 days to consider the proposal before having to vote, according to Bent.
The council did not vote on the issue at its regularly scheduled meeting later in the evening Tuesday, so it must now approve or reject the measure at its upcoming Oct. 26 meeting, as this is the last meeting within the 60 day window. Failure to vote on the measure would result in a public referendum on the ordinance.
Council members are awaiting a report from the town attorney on whether the ordinance poses any legal issues for the town that would prevent its effectiveness. Outside of the legal concerns, however, most council members have expressed public support for the idea.
“I think this is a very important national issue,” Mayor Betsy Patterson said. “Mansfield has always been on the forefront of these things. … We’re trying to educate ourselves as a council and put together an ordinance, which we will then publish and let the state know about and hopefully influence them to take action on fracking on a statewide basis.”
Patterson also said other towns in the area are considering similar ordinances, including the neighboring town of Coventry.
Resident Peter Millman said he sees this as an opportunity to curb fracking as a whole, not just resolve an issue facing the town.
“We really shouldn’t have fracking waste here,” Millman said. “That’s an important thing, but that’s not the least of it. We shouldn’t be Ohio and Pennsylvania’s toilet for waste. If you stop up a toilet, it’s very hard to accomplish anything.”
Council members are still seeking additional information on the topic. Councilman Paul Shapiro asked Town Manager Matt Hart to contact the Connecticut Department of Transportation to find out about possible issues of implementation. Furthermore, Councilwoman Virginia Raymond asked Hart to contact UConn officials to confirm the contents of a memorandum Bent provided to council members, stating the university could not process any outside waste.
Bent said he is fine with the council’s pace in considering the ordinance, as council members are hearing from a variety of agencies about how to implement the policy practically. The state government currently has a moratorium on the import of any fracking waste into the state, which will not expire for two more years. This gives towns and municipalities ample time to enact their own legislation on the issue, Bent said.
Council considering regulations on town square
The town council engaged in lively debate on enacting tougher regulations to govern the new town square in Storrs Center.
Seven proposals, developed with the help of the Mansfield Downtown Partnership, call for sweeping changes to public use of the town square. Councilwoman Toni Moran said the 18 pages of legislation proposed have been extensively reviewed before being sent to the council for consideration.
Two proposals call for amendments to existing ordinances on alcohol and maintenance of streets and sidewalks. An additional two proposals would introduce new ordinances to define the town square’s purpose and address dog waste. Three more proposals would enact issue-specific policy and procedure regulations on public use, use of alcohol and restrictions on street performers.
Councilman Peter Kochenburger expressed concern that the language of the documents does not intentionally work to preserve the spirit of the First Amendment, which Kochenburger said was a major part of the town square’s development. He called into question the proposed ordinance to define the town square’s purpose and its use of the phrase “intended to be a public forum.”
“I don’t think it fully protects the idea that we had,” Kochenburger said. “Part of this is grammatical. It’s not ‘intended to be a public forum’ – it is a public forum. Anything can be respected, but fully protected? … The language really matters.”
Proposed revisions include lifting the outright ban on open alcohol containers in Storrs Center during public events and celebrations, as well as banning the use of motorized scooters on sidewalks and imposing a 10 mph speed limit on bicyclists and skateboarders. In addition, the proposals include requiring street performers to obtain a $10 permit to use public space for their performances.
The council voted to create an ad hoc committee to give the proposals additional consideration and evaluate whether any of the language needs to be revised.
Two longtime town residents honored for service
Paterson issued two proclamations during the council meeting, honoring Mansfield residents Winston Hawkins and Philip Barry for their decades of commitments to serving the town in various capacities.
Hawkins, who is 94 years old and a lifelong resident of Mansfield, served in town government for 48 years and was one of the founding members of the Mansfield Cemetery Committee. Paterson said Mansfield has “greatly benefited” from Hawkins’ service over the years in maintaining the town’s cemeteries.
The second honoree, Barry, is a former UConn trustee and associate director of athletics. He served Mansfield in numerous roles, including as a member of the town council, the transportation advisory committee, the town-university relations committee and the Mansfield Downtown Partnership among many other committees and organizations. Paterson said Barry was renowned for his wit and respectful treatment of all in the community as a “civic-minded” individual.
Construction on Eagleville Dam Bridge on Route 275 “ahead of schedule”
Hart told council members that construction on the Eagleville Dam Bridge over the Willimantic River is “a few days ahead of schedule.” The Connecticut Department of Transportation is handling the construction and expects to finish by Nov. 30.
“They are making progress,” Hart said of the construction.
While, the bridge closure has affected some UConn students and faculty commuting from the Willimantic area, an end is now in sight.