In the wake of mounting questions about why Republican Mayor Erin Stewart sold the Patton Brook Well while the city knew it was facing significant drought conditions, and a City Council resolution, originally offered by the three Democratic Council members, to revoke the sale, the Republican mayor and the Council’s Republicans are abandoning her plan to sell the Patton Brook Well.
On October 11, 2016, the New Britain Progressive broke the story that the city of New Britain was in a water supply alert condition at the time that Stewart and the Republican-dominated Council approved the sale of the high-yield Patton Brook drinking water well. Stewart admitted that the water supply alert condition existed just one day after the Progressive broke the story, but two months after the Council had approved the sale.
Since then, further evidence has come to light that the city under Stewart was well aware of the significant drought conditions months before the Patton Brook sale was approved. This has prompted further questions about why the Republican mayor would sell the valuable water asset, for what has been observed to be an extraordinarily low price, at a time when the city, under her administration, knew about the drought.
The Republican dominated City Council, at Stewart’s urging, approved the sale to Southington, against vigorous public opposition, last August. But any deal to sell public watershed land is not final until the state’s Department of Public Health signs off on it, which they have not yet done, making a revocation of the deal still possible.
The loss of the Patton Brook Well, and its 1.2 million gallons-per-day of water producing capacity has been a central focus of discussion as New Britain has faced an historic drought, causing the city, for the first time in recent memory, to purchase water from the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC), the water authority serving greater Hartford. The reason why Stewart did not disclose the severe drought, while she sought to sell the well, sources say, has raised increasing questions in the eight months since the well sale was approved by the Council, including just how far back the city knew about the drought the city faced, and how much city residents will have to pay to purchase water from the MDC.
These questions reached a head when, at the last Council meeting, Ald. Manny Sanchez (D-3) submitted official petitions, requiring that city officials report to the Council, at the next Council meeting, on April 26th, as one petition required,
“a monthly breakdown on how much the City of New Britain has paid for water, the quantity of water drawn, all additional labor costs and any other related costs associated with pumping water from The Metropolitan District. The report should also include all expenses associated with the connection and drawing of water from The Metropolitan District Nepaug Reservoir.”
The other petition required,
“a summary of our water levels dating back to December of 2015, the initial date of our recent water supply alert, to present. Also, please provide for that same time period the following:
- Trigger Levels for Drought Response Stages from December 2015 to present on a monthly basis during that period.
- Actions taken by the Water Department in response to each of the drought levels being triggered.”
Stewart has maintained, through the eight months since the Council approved her proposal to sell the well, that the city does not need the Patton Brook Well, and that it would be impractical for the city to use it. But the original version of the Council resolution to halt the sale contained a paragraph stating that:
“subsequent to the informational process and the adoption of Resolution No. 33536-2 it has been learned through emails from December of 2014 between the City of New Britain Water Department and the Board of Water Commissioners of the Town of Southington, that the City of New Britain intended to use Patton Brook Well to supplement the City of New Britain reservoirs”.
That version of the proposed resolution was drafted to be proposed by the Democratic Council leader, Ald. Carlo Carlozzi, Jr. (D-5), Ald. Shirley Black (D-3) and Sanchez. But the version of the resolution actually appearing in the agenda of the April 26th Council meeting removes the reference that “the City of New Britain intended to use Patton Brook Well to supplement the City of New Britain reservoirs.”
The version of the resolution on the Council agenda also states that Stewart sent a letter to the state Department of Public Health on April 10th withdrawing her sale proposal, and it replaces Sanchez and Black as cosponsors of the resolution with Ald. Jamie Giantonio (R-1), the Republican leader of the Council.
Sources say that the about-face of Stewart and the Council Republicans, after eight months in which they had insisted that the deal was in the best interests of the city, is because, they, Stewart and Council Republicans, are in damage control mode. The sources say that, in the wake of increasingly damaging information and the growing costs of purchasing water from the Metropolitan District Commission, Stewart and the Republicans are now attempting to spin the withdrawal from the Patton Brook Sale as if they were taking positive action rather than responding to a growing scandal.