State Officials Investigate Oil Spill Polluting Bristow Pond, Bird Sanctuary


State environmental officials are trying to find the source of an oil spill discovered Friday in an increasingly popular bird sanctuary that’s undergoing a major restoration ahead of its centennial.

Oil leak polluting Bristow Pond and Bird Sanctuary on Feb. 4, 2022. Credit: Chris Schipper

The New Canaan Fire Department responded at about 12:16 p.m. on Feb. 4 to the Bristow Bird Sanctuary “for and odor and visible oil in the pond,” according to Interim Chief Albert Bassett.

Firefighters installed absorbent booms along the waterway to contain the oil, though the source of the spill could not immediately be determined, Bassett said.

Inland Wetlands and Watercourses & Floodplain Manager Kathleen Holland said that multiple town departments continue to work with DEEP staff “to assist them in locating the source of a home heating oil leak discovered Friday flowing into the watercourse that travels under Old Stamford Road and into Bristow Sanctuary.”

“Through a process of elimination, the potential source has been narrowed down to an area between Douglas Road and Orchard [Drive] but has not yet been able to be verified,” Holland said. “Once verified, the DEEP will instruct procedures for abatement.”

Bristow, one of the nation’s oldest bird sanctuaries, is on track to be fully restored for its 100th anniversary in 2024. The Friends of Bristow Park and Sanctuary is raising private funds for the work, and the town budgeted about $200,000 for last fiscal year for work at Bristow. The municipal parks fields budget has earmarks for $112,000 for next fiscal year, with $100,500, $82,500 and $15,000 to follow.

Oil leak polluting Bristow Pond and Bird Sanctuary on Feb. 4, 2022. Credit: Chris Schipper

Municipal officials in recent years have created and extended a number of sidewalks connecting downtown New Canaan with local parks and residential neighborhoods—for example, along Weed Street to Irwin Park. Bristow has been described by its advocates as an important piece of the town’s walkable “greenlink” loop that also winds through New Canaan Land Trust and New Canaan Nature Center property. (The town recently allocated $300,000 in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds for greenlink extensions.)

New Canaan’s Chris Schipper, the architect of the Bristow restoration, had been restocking bird feeders in the sanctuary when he saw sheen of oil flowing in the stormwater system there.

“What happens upstream affects everybody downstream, so we have to all be a little more careful about what we apply on our lawns, what insecticides we spray and how we handle dangerous chemicals,” Schipper told “We all need to be thoughtful about the downstream or external affects of what we do. As far as Bristow is concerned, it’s a real pity that the rehabilitation work that had been going on nicely, and the dredged pond, now has a ring of oil residue that will need to slowly evaporate or be remediated.”

Schipper said he was impressed by the town’s rapid response to the problem.

[Note: This article has been corrected to identify Orchard Drive instead of Orchard Lane.]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *