‘I Don’t Want Town Funds Being Used for This’: Carlson Pushes Back on Contract for Stanchion Repair


White Birch Road off of South Avenue on April 16, 2024. Credit: Michael Dinan

Town officials decided Tuesday to wait for an insurance claim to be processed prior to repairing a low painted brick column that marks the start of a public road near the Merritt Parkway.

One of the two columns located at the start of White Birch Road—opposite the off-ramp from Merritt Parkway Exit 37 northbound—was struck and damaged by a vehicle in December, according to Public Works Director Tiger Mann.

The “stanchion” is in the public right-of-way and helps delineate White Birch, a residential street, for motorists exiting the parkway, Mann told members of the Board of Selectmen at their regular meeting by way of seeking approval of a $5,350 contract to repair it.

Yet New Canaan’s highest elected official pushed back on spending taxpayer dollars on the project.

“I’m just going to throw it out there: Why are we reconstructing this?” First Selectman Dionna Carlson said during the meeting, held in Town Hall and via videoconference. “Because, to me, it looks like it’s for that residence and it doesn’t really provide safety.”

She added, “I don’t understand this one because it’s not really a town asset. It happened to be there for some reason. Why don’t we just get rid of it? And then we don’t have to pay for it to be reconstructed.”

Generally, Mann said, the town does the work and later receives reimbursement via its insurance company once such claims have been processed. 

“A lot of times it’s a negotiation,” Mann said. “Sometimes they only give us 80%. We don’t know what they’ll say at this point.”

Ultimately, the Board decided to wait for the town’s insurer—Connecticut Interlocal Risk Management Agency, or ‘CIRMA’—to process a claim so that the town knows what money is available.

Selectman Steve Karl said there are reasons to reconstruct the stanchion. It signals “home” for many New Canaan-bound motorists on the Merritt and also “has some historic value,” he said. 

Carlson asked, “And what would that be?” to which no one responded.

Mann and Karl noted that Donnie Re, a former town worker, had constructed them “back in the day.”

Carlson said that if the town repairs it this time, then “now every time anybody hits that we have to reconstruct it.”

Karl asked how many times it’s been hit and Mann, a 23-year town worker, said it was the first he heard of. 

Mann said, “I think it helps delineate the fact that it’s a local road coming off the interstate. We have a lot of problems where people coming off the interstate actually will come and think that they’re still on the entrance ramp, drive down the road and find out that they’re not. We’ve had people drive into driveways off of 106, in essence, drive up the driveway and then realize, and they install pillars themselves for the exact same reason.”

Murphy Carroll noted that the stanchion is pre-existing, saying, “I don’t care that much one way or the other, except it was there. It got [damaged]. We can replace it.”

Asked by Karl what is the town’s track record with respect to recovering funds via insurance, Mann said, “The track record is pretty good. We’ve never been denied. We’ve only had certain times when they’ve said we’ll give you 80% or 90% on the dollar. We’ve never been denied for anything. I think we’ve had one instance where I had to take less than what was expended, if you will, that was for a lamppost replacement, but the other lamppost replacements from other insurance companies were paid in full.”

The contractor that Mann proposed for the job, locally based Fortino Escalante Inc., has done similar work in the past following car crashes, including on Park Street, in Mead Park and on Putnam Road.

“All three were MVAs, and he came back out and did a nice job whereby you can’t necessarily tell the difference between what was existing and what is reconstructed,” he said.

Carlson moved for the Board to remove the item from its agenda.

“Let’s find out the insurance and then we can bring it back if it’s going to be reimbursed,” she said. “I don’t want town funds being used for this. So if insurance is going to pay for it, that’s great. But if it’s not, then I don’t want town funds being used for this.”

8 thoughts on “‘I Don’t Want Town Funds Being Used for This’: Carlson Pushes Back on Contract for Stanchion Repair

  1. As a resident of White Birch Rd. for
    24 years, these two pillars are maintained
    by Mr Re. since I have lived there. At his expense, he puts out two American flags on each pillar, paints them, occasionally
    Picks up the garbage that accumulates around it, etc. etc. etc. I have personally have had people over the years in town make comments to the effect that those pillars are the gateway into town from the parkway and Darien. To suggest that.” Why don’t we just tear them down “ is irresponsible. I personally got the police report and gave it to the highway department to go after the drivers insurance company which I’m sure will reimburse most if not all of it.
    This project is a drop in the ocean compared to the absurd cost overruns
    We have seen at the New Canaan Playhouse over the years. And if the funds come thru,
    I would think no highway personnel would be involved. Hopefully this project moves forward.
    Mike DiPanni Jr.

  2. This is my mom’s street. Those brick pillars have been there for over 50 years. They mark the end of highway to a residential street. I would go as far as saying they are historic -one of the first streets in the town of New Canaan .This has been an eye soar since the beginning of December. I can’t imagine what the town wouldn’t repair it and get the insurance money . We spend ridiculous amounts of money on pillars in town and other things. It is a disgrace to see this in our affluent town

  3. This in my mother’s house to and I have been a Town employee for 30 years.The pillar is on town property and was hit by a private vehicle I’m sure there is a full police report go after their insurance . Wouldn’t that be the norm?

    • That’s what I would think. You break it you pay for it. If you hit a city pole you are charged for repair of it. Why is there even a discussion at this point. Almost $6K to repair, put it out to the lowest bidder.

      I was there minutes after it happen delivering newspapers. Pretty sure it was a drunk driver.

  4. As someone who lives a few roads down from White Birch I think the only people who are responsible is the person that hit it and there insurance company Not the person that maintains it,people who live on white birch or the town

    • Agreed. Why go through town insurance even if they cover it in full? It could lead to higher insurance premiums for the town, especially if there are other claims.

    • I respectfully disagree, George. I’d guess a lot of residents would be pleased to see a first selectman question what are presented as routine expenditures in any area—a refreshing change from the former first selectman you refer to. (This first selectman has already issued an RFP for legal services—something her predecessor failed to do through three terms. ) Also, we’re hearing from the head of DPW that the town nearly always is approved for full reimbursement in similar cases by the town’s insurer. The first selectman is saying “let’s make sure this is fully covered first.” Nothing wrong with that, is there?

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