Nearly 150 people filled the Earthplace auditorium — including an environmental science class from Staples High School — to listen to candidates debate infrastructure and environmental issues on a state and local level.
Westport State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg (D -136) sat next to candidate Stephen Rubin (R-136), and State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R – 143) who represents parts of Westport, Norwalk and Wilton, sat next to candidate Ted Hoffstatter (D-143) as Westport Representative Town Meeting member Matthew Mandell asked questions that were provided by Earthplace members.
When questioned about pesticides used statewide and how they might impact Westport and its watershed, Steinberg said that he would be in favor of a pesticide law if he were reelected, but he was also concerned about the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s (DEEP) ability to enforce laws.
“The DEEP lacks the human resources to do affective enforcement,” Steinberg said.
Rubin said he would address the issue by educating people on how to recognize and report unlawful pesticide use.
“There is an absolute requirement for enforcement,” Rubin said.
When questioned about how Long Island Sound can be used in a more resourceful way, Lavielle mention renewable natural resources, like solar and wind power, two things Connecticut is in the process of exploring.
While Steinberg said wind farms would be more useful in eastern Connecticut, he does believe we should harness the wave power in Long Island Sound. Steinberg, who serves on the Shoreline Preservation Task Force, said waves cause erosion problems to the shoreline, but also that we should figure out how to use them to our advantage.
Being environmentally friendly can be a costly venture, and candidates were asked how they would ensure the DEEP is given the resources it needs to do its job properly.
“This has been a serious concern of Connecticut for many years, and we are fortunate to have Dan Esty as the commissioner of the DEEP,” Steinberg said, adding that we must get businesses behind green policies.
Lavielle said Connecticut needs to make sure all of the fees the DEEP collects remain in the DEEP budget rather than being used on something else.
When speaking about infrastructure improvements, Lavielle acknowledged the 39 million people that annually use Metro North and pointed out our high state employee benefit expenses.
“We need to look at those and renegotiate, or our electric grid, sewer systems and train systems are going to crumble,” she said.
Steinberg said that because Connecticut lacks the resources it needs to complete every project, we need to set priorities when it comes to infrastructure.
“As much as I feel it is a great idea to have a high-speed rail going from New Haven to Springfield, we are at the brunt of the traffic,” Steinberg said of Fairfield County, adding that Fairfield County should be benefiting from that project.
Hoffstatter noted his travels to Europe and how much more efficient their transportation systems are.
“Anyone who has traveled to Europe and seen their transportation systems – it’s like we are on a horse and buggy,” Hoffstatter said.
When questioned about genetically modified organisms in our food, all of the candidates agreed that there should be better labeling.
“Obviously science and agriculture move forward together, but we have to be very cautious and label these things,” Hoffstatter said, adding that this was a huge concern of his as he is a father.
“We have a right to know what is in our foods,” Steinberg said, adding that it is not something that should be expensive.
Following the debate Mandell urged the audience to get out and vote on Nov. 6.
“If you don’t vote, we don’t get a say in what is going on,” Mandell said.