BRISTOL – The city and the town of Burlington are collaborating to change the racially insensitive name of a local brook.
Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu discussed the effort at a City Council meeting, as part of her report on efforts to encourage cooperation with municipalities that border Bristol. The council and the Burlington Board of Selectmen announced Wednesday that each body unanimously endorsed the plan to rename Negro Hill Brook as Pigeon Hill Brook.
The idea originated when the two municipalities began cooperating with the Environmental Learning Centers of Connecticut to secure an open space state grant to acquire land off Shrub Road by ELCC’s Barnes Nature Center.
The brook, which originates near Gilbert Lane in Burlington and flows southeast into Bristol, was originally named Negro Hill decades ago, Zoppo-Sassu explained. It flows through Seymour Park and passes Pigeon Hill until it runs into Copper Mine Brook. Pigeon Hill is part of the 70-acre nature center, and was once a major habitat for thousands of now extinct passenger pigeons.
“We believe Pigeon Hill Brook would be a better name,” Zoppo-Sassu said. Since the brook connects the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s Sessions Woods Wildlife Management Area, the nature center, the park, and Bristol’s Water Department Watershed, “the name of Pigeon Hill Brook ties all these places to Pigeon Hill,” she noted.
“Around the same time we were having this discussion about open space, I was approached by a resident who had seen the referenced name and was concerned,” said Burlington First Selectman Theodore Shafer.
“We started the process to chart a name change in conjunction with Bristol because the Town of Burlington is an inclusive place that welcomes all people and we want that reflected,” he said.
Renaming a body of water requires approval from the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, which is part of the U.S. Department of the Interior. The Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments (NVCOG), of which Bristol is a member, recently wrote to the board endorsing the name change.
“The NVCOG commends this action of eliminating an insensitive name and replacing it with one that better reflects the scenic and historic nature of the brook’s geographic setting,” said Rick Dunne, NVCOG executive director.
Zoppo-Sassu said she expects the change will be approved. “The fact that our City Council and the Burlington Board of Selectmen both unanimously approved the name change speaks volumes to the merits of the proposal,” she said.
Shafer agreed, noting that “when neighboring towns work across lines to create solid policies or create changes, it adds strength to the request.”
Zoppo-Sassu said she is also working with Burlington to improve an agreement in which some 25 households there buy their water from Bristol.
The water flows through two large water meters on the town line and then to small residential meters, which are “very, very old and very difficult to read,” she said. “We bill Burlington for the consumption that goes through the large meters, they then have to bill the homeowners for the consumption that they can read off those meters.”
“When there’s a water leak or water quality issues Burlington handles it but they admit that they don’t really have the equipment or expertise to do so, and they are not interested at any point in adding additional customers,” she continued.
Zoppo-Sassu said she is in discussion with Burlington for the city to take ownership of those water customers, as well as the water mains, fire hydrants, and any other waterworks connected with them. The city will then remove the two large meters and install more accurate modern meters, which can be read by radio transmission, in the individual households.
She said Rob Longo, the city’s water department supervisor, has estimated Bristol will end up saving the $50,000 it costs to replace the large meters every 10 years. The new equipment will also enable the city to repair water leaks faster, and directly bill each household instead of billing Burlington, “so there is an increase in revenue for us as well as the efficiency,” she said.
“Meanwhile, First Selectman Shafer is very happy that he is no longer going to have the challenging issue of reading the bills and doing the collections,” she said. “They’re scheduling a final meeting to work out the details that will come over to our corporation counsel’s office.”
Zoppo-Sassu said these regional conversations are important, especially with Gov. Ned Lamont saying he wants to encourage regionalization.
“I prefer to build relationships and have regional cooperation that works for us, as opposed to Hartford telling us ‘this what you need to do,’ ” she commented.
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.