Column by John Murray

As the first phase of a 7.1 mile greenway through Waterbury nears completion in the South End the city has reached an inflection point.

There are a lot of critics of Waterbury who say city residents don’t deserve good things because they’ll trash them. Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary doesn’t believe that as his administration has invested millions of dollars overhauling the Green and Library Park in downtown, and both remain in terrific shape.

To continue to lift the city out of a 50-year downward spiral it will take more than fixing potholes and growing the grand list, it will require city residents to value and sustain the improvements made to community spaces; the new Riddick/Velez park in the Brooklyn neighborhood, the Green, Library Park, and the greenway which will eventually run from south to north along the Naugatuck River.

It’s taken more than a decade to build, but the final design is stunning.

The Observer made a post on its Facebook page recently showcasing the greenway project and the response from the community was staggering. The post drew 26,000 reactions, 400 comments and was shared 512 times.

There was a lot of enthusiasm for the project and many Observer readers looked forward to walking, running and biking along the trail. While the overall tone was positive, there were three serious and legitimate concerns expressed in dozens of comments – security, safety and odor.

The Observer will reach out to Mayor O’Leary and Police Chief Fred Spagnolo this week to discuss the city’s plan to deal with these issues and will report our findings back to the community.

Guard rails, police patrols (via bike, horse and car), and odor remediation are all concrete issues to discuss with the mayor and police chief, but the success or failure of the greenway, and future quality of life investments, truly rests in the hearts and minds of city residents.

A magnificent cedar bridge leads towards a canoe and kayak launch.

Will the greenway be respected? Many of our readers are doubtful and believe it will be overrun by drug addicts, graffiti vandals and thugs. If the city invests millions of dollars in building this stunning greenway and residents fearfully stay away, the project will be a failure.

Residents need to take ownership of the greenway. If enough people walk and bike and run along the greenway they will create a barrier from shadier elements in the community that operate in the shadows.

Huge projects already underway in the South End are designed to change the trajectory of the South End of Waterbury; a proposed Amazon distribution Center, the clean-up and development of the 16-acre Anamet site, the demolition, clean-up and development of the Waterbury Button Company complex, the construction of a new park that includes a baseball field and playscape on Mill Street at the former Nova Dye factory, and an expansion of the Brass City Food Hub along Mill Street all the way down to South Main Street (that will include greenhouses, a market and a café).

Portions of the greenway run along South Main Street.

When Neil O’Leary was elected mayor in 2011, he made the redevelopment of the South End of Waterbury one of his administration’s top priorities.

“The South End of Waterbury was neglected for a very long time,” O’Leary has said. “We have made it a priority and we are committed to doing more.”

There has been an intense focus by the O’Leary administration to address the odor and sewage spill accidents from the waste water treatment plant. After a devastating incident that resulted in millions of gallons of raw sewage escaping into the river in 2017, Mayor O’Leary ordered a thorough review the plant’s operations. The city then hired Jacob’s Engineering to take over the operation of the plant in 2018.

State Representative Geraldo Reyes Jr., who lives across the river from the facility, said there has been a tremendous improvement after Jacob’s began operating the plant.

“There are still several hot humid days a year that it smells,” Reyes said, “but not like it used to.”

Trying to get the community to believe that is another matter. The Observer walked along the greenway several times in the past month and the smell was not present.

A Great Blue Heron near the boat launch is evidence of a river’s rebirth.

There are many quality of life components to the greenway project, but none are more significant than bringing the community back to the Naugatuck River to witness the remarkable healing that has taken place the past three decades.

When city leaders build beautiful community spaces they lift the spirits of the people, and eventually the greenway will run all the way through Waterbury. Yes there are safety and odor concerns, but the South End phase is the beginning of a transformative project, and the community can address issues as everything unfolds. The Naugatuck River Greenway is not about increasing the grand list or bringing in new industry.

The greenway is balm for the soul of the city. If residents respect and care for it.

Community Response On Facebook

Valerie Conway –This is beautiful. A far cry from when I was a child. I could never have imagined that the river could return to its original glory

Liz Fontanez – I hope it stays beautiful but what about the smell ? Even when you drive by you can smell the funk, i only imagine how strong the smell will be when taking a walk.

Anamin Reveron –Beautiful job. I love this City and will always be supportive of everything that brings life and beauty into it.

Joyce A Satteson – Wonderful. I remember as a child going with my mother to Arlan’s. Watching and smelling the chemicals flowing out of the pipes into the river from the Ked’s Factory. I’ll never forget that horrible smell and how the river looked then. Thank you to everyone who is making the Naugatuck River Project a success. Definitely an article I want to share with family that won’t see it in person.

Chris Capozzi – By next year this time I wonder how many vehicles will have went off the road and plowed through it.

Andrew Martelli – So glad to see this. So many people put years if not decades of their time into seeing this come to fruition. Bravo Waterbury.

Lynn Carney Lewis – I’ve been out of Waterbury for over 30 years now but still have very fond memories of my hometown and the residents most certainly deserve such a beautiful place to enjoy

Lisa Adanosky Thorn – How safe will it be? Will police be stationed on it?

JoAnna Elizabeth –This is awesome. I’m so thankful to see these great steps towards progress and well being. Even though I’m not a resident of Waterbury, I will visit.

Kimmy Hanley Convertito – It is coming along nicely and it does look beautiful. I think some of us residents have a lot of questions about security though. Does anybody have any answers on that?

Christa Phelan Brady – Everyone deserves good things and beautiful spaces like this. I love seeing the wildlife return.

Janice Roman – It’s coming out beautiful and can’t wait to see the completion. But I really hope it stays nice.

Amy Wood – Beautiful. What a gift to the people of Waterbury this will be.

Mike Grosso – It looks great, but the smell in that area is terrible. Also I hope they are going to put up sturdy guardrails where the street part of the walkway is. South Main is like a drag strip, I can’t imagine anyone feeling safe walking that part without protection from the traffic. I hope it all works out nicely, but I have some doubt.

Michelle Kennedy Baranoski – Too bad the area still smells. As soon as you hit Route 8 and get off the Platts Mill exit it stinks on a hot humid day. Will they have officers patrolling this? It’s not a safe area and it goes behind the South Main Motel. Real sketchy.

G. Joy Matusevich Brown – It’s looking beautiful but I have some questions. 1) What is being done for security? 2) Who will be maintaining it to ensure to looks nice, tidy and clean? 3) Are those little sporadic trees going to be the only barrier protecting people walking along this path? People do not exactly drive safely along this stretch.

Vinnie Rinaldi – That is beautiful. I can only hope people will appreciate what the cities, towns ,and the state are doing to make this trail available to everyone.

Barbara Palmento – Awesome. There’s hope for good things.

Americo Cruz III- More traffic lights should be placed in that area. Especially around the curve on South Main Street. My grandmother has a house there and plenty of cars speed around that corner and end up in her lawn. Now the road is narrower. I wouldn’t want to be there with my family walking along where the trail is. I think the intentions were good, but don’t see many people utilizing the area the way it was meant to.

Jessica Manriquez – I’ve been so excited since they stated working on it. Early morning runs. Wooooohooooooo….

Gary Fenske – Looks very nice. My only concern is will there be a guardrail between the greenway and the race track we call South Main Street? I have young grandsons and would be afraid to let them ride their bikes there.

Dre Epprecht – Won’t take long for the majority of Waterburians to ruin this.

Lisa Baldwin – I can’t wait for it to be completed. It looks amazing.

Melanie Petro – Omg this will be so trashed.

Rui E DaSilva – Perfect spot to get mugged or a spot for theses mutants to ride their quads and dirt bikes on.

Denise A. Gemignani King – As long as there is good patrolling and isn’t going to be trashed in a few years with druggies hangin around, it’ll be cool, but sketchy, because Waterbury doesn’t take care of any of these places as time goes on.

Suzanne Henderson – Wow. Looking forward to walking there.

Peter Aduba – Beautiful and beautiful. Makes walk easier and calming.

Jessica Piche – This is fantastic.

Christopher Morin – Can’t wait for it to officially open so I can take a trip through it on my bike. It’s been far to long in the making.