A public hearing will be held tomorrow, July 20th, at 5:30 pm in the West Hartford Town Hall Auditorium. This is a chance for members of the community to speak out regarding the possible closure of the MDC properties (West Hartford reservoirs) to recreational use.
The West Hartford Reservoir on Route 4 is a way for Hartford residents to conveniently get our fix of nature. From Downtown, it takes about 15 minutes to drive there and maybe half an hour to bike. You can even take the bus there without much fuss at all. The MDC website describes the five reservoirs in West Hartford and Bloomfield as offering:
3,000 acres of beautiful forestland; there are more than 30 miles of paved and gravel roads for joggers and bicyclists, hiking trails [...], wheelchair-accessible picnic groves, cross-country skiing and snow shoeing.
There are also areas offering scenic views. Having a well-maintained recreational area is important for Hartford residents, most of whom have no (or small) yards because they rent rather than own. This site is a convenient, free, and fun mini-vacation spot for people who can not afford to (or choose not to) live in the surrounding expensive suburbs where green space is more plentiful.
Recently, a frivolous lawsuit filed against the MDC ended in a poor legal decision, which not only makes a mockery of the legal system, it has pressured the MDC to consider making poor decisions of their own. There is talk of them threatening to close the reservoirs to public recreational use.
For complete background, check out the numerous articles by Rick Green or the Save the MDC website. In a nutshell, what happened was that a cyclist was riding in the wrong direction on the paved trails and had been riding with her head down; as a result of this, she did not see a gigantic yellow gate, rode right into it, and wrecked herself. She damaged her vertebrae, but has since recovered and from several accounts, is still riding. A recent letter sent to the Courant by John Craggs says it best:
Maribeth Blonski’s lawyer stated that all the Metropolitan District Commission had to do was post a sign on the trail showing that there was a gate ahead. Yet, if Ms. Blonski did not see the gate, how would she have seen a smaller sign?
It’s difficult to see how the MDC could possibly be at fault on this one. Anyone who has been to the reservoir and has the ability to see has no doubt taken notice of the many signs (too many in my opinion) dotting the area. If someone abides by the site policies and walks or bikes in the correct direction, then she is given more than enough fair warning. Besides, one knows that there is a certain degree of risk involved in athletic activities. In this case, the gate used to keep motorized vehicles off the trails (making the area infinitely safer) only posed a risk to someone who was not riding right; by painting it yellow, rather than camouflage, the MDC had acted responsibly.
Now, since the MDC had to pay an outrageous lawsuit ($2.9 million) once, the concern is that future asinine lawsuits will continue to hurt them financially. While this concern is understandable, closing the reservoirs is not the answer!
A press release on the MDC website says:
The Water Bureau of the Metropolitan District (MDC) will conduct an informational
meeting relating to the recreational use of its reservoir land on Tuesday, July 20, 2010, at 5:30 p.m. in the
West Hartford Town Hall Auditorium, 50 South Main Street, West Hartford, Connecticut. The purpose of this
meeting is to receive public input on the issue. The Water Bureau will not take any formal action on this issue
at the meeting.
Under the MDC Charter, the Water Bureau is charged with making periodic recommendations to the District
Board regarding the uses permitted on and within MDC reservoir property. For example, in 1998, the District
Board, upon recommendation of the Water Bureau, adopted ordinances requiring bicyclists, skateboarders and
roller skaters using MDC property to wear certain protective equipment.
In response to a recent Superior Court decision in the case of Blonski v. Metropolitan District, the Water
Bureau, through its chairman, Commissioner Timothy Curtis of Windsor, has decided to reevaluate the MDC’s
policy in this area. “As a public entity funded by rate payer money, we have an obligation to assess our risks,
particularly in light of recent events. We intend to proceed in an open and deliberate manner as we review our
policies. In the meantime, the public should not assume that the Water Bureau has made, or will recommend,
any changes to the District’s recreational use policy,” said Commissioner Curtis.
On behalf of the District Board, and in response to a good deal of misinformation on the issue, Chairman
William DiBella stated, “Let me be perfectly clear. No decisions to change our current policies have been
made, specifically in regard to closing the reservoir property to the public. Any statements to the contrary
should be disregarded. The District Board has yet to take any formal action, and individual statements or
conclusions do not reflect Board policy. I commend Chairman Curtis for his leadership on this issue in
conducting an open and constructive dialogue.”
The meeting will include a brief presentation by MDC staff on its recreational facilities with public comments to
follow. Those attending the meeting who wish to speak will be asked to sign in for the record, and all speakers
will be limited to 3 minutes in duration. Organizations are welcome to choose a representative to speak on their
They say that no formal decision has been made yet, but even an informal discussion of closing this area is cause for concern. If you share this concern but can not attend the meeting, you can email your thoughts on the matter to email@example.com.
Besides showing up for tomorrow’s public hearing, Save the MDC is collecting signatures on a petition asking legislators to close the “liability loophole” that allows the MDC to be sued. As of publication, this petition has over 3,600 virtual signatures.
The City Council passed a resolution stating that the MDC lands should remain open for public recreation; Mayor Slifka of West Hartford submitted a similar resolution to be considered at the July 27th West Hartford Council meeting.