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Sewer line collapse threatens Ansonia businesses
Michael P. Mayko
ANSONIA — The collapse of a nearly 100-year-old sewer pipe near the Riverwalk on Pershing Drive is threatening the Naugatuck River and nearby businesses, including several restaurants along the busy street that runs into Derby.
An emergency bypass has been built around the broken pipe, allowing a pump operated around the clock by four Public Works employees to redirect the raw sewage away from the river to the treatment plant.“This is an emergency situation,” said Frank Pepe, owner of Pepe Construction in Derby and the on-call emergency contractor for the city and its Water Pollution Control Authority. “You got a heavy flow coming down from Clifton Avenue. If one of your (bypass) pumps sucks up a rag or a wipe in its propellers you’re going to have raw sewage going into ... basements.”
A sewage flood in the basement of the Lemko Club late last week led to the discovery of the break. Pepe said the owner of another building near the social club reported hearing gurgling in his pipes but experience no flooding Pepe said any discharge into buildings could result in lawsuits against the city. Discharge into the Naugatuck River would result in state fines.
“Raw sewage is nothing to fool with,” Pepe said. “You’ve got a large liability if you get backed up downstream.”
As a result, the Board of Aldermen and the Water Pollution Control Authority Commission met in an emergency session Tuesday night at City Hall. They approved hiring Pepe, who had already begun some work, in a no-bid contract.
The city is incurring costs of at least $8,000 a day between Pepe and stationing Public Works employees at the site, according to calculations made by Dan King, a 1st Ward alderman.
This is the third major break in the city’s sewer lines since December. Two lines collapsed on Wakelee Avenue during the re-construction of that street. One took place near the intersection with Mary Street and the other near the Dwight Street intersection.
“That’s what happens in cities with old, unmaintained infrastructures and no capitol improvement plans,” said Sheila O’Malley, the city’s economic development director and grants writer.
Pepe estimated the work to lay 98 feet of pipe will take “25-30 days” and cost at least $760,000 “and that’s if your manholes are in good condition and don’t have to be relined.”
But he warned they are lined with 100-year-old brick.
Pepe also suggested inspecting and if necessary relining the trunk line that goes from the sewage treatment plant on North Division Street under the railroad tracks while the equipment is there — “that way you’ll be able to sleep nights.”
He said vibrations from the trains rattling the tracks may have caused some instability.
Pepe hired the Baker Group to do the engineering on the structural support of the trench and Quick Pick Crane and Rigging in Derby. He said once the state Department of Transportation approves this method he will start digging — perhaps as soon as Monday.
The collapsed line is about 37 feet underground. “Pershing Drive was raised 15 feet after the (1955) flood, that’ why its so deep,” Pepe said.
That Flood of 1955 destroyed much of the downtown. Still Pepe said an attempt was made Saturday to cut the pipe and repair it without excavation but that was unsuccessful.
GOP, McCaw spar over tolls, tax hikes in Lamont budget
Keith M. Phaneuf
Gov. Ned Lamont’s budget director, Melissa McCaw, ran the gantlet Wednesday as she discussed tolls and taxes with the legislature’s Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee.
Republican legislators charged the new Democratic governor with straying too far from his campaign promises.
McCaw countered that Lamont wants to end Connecticut’s cycle of deficits, and said legislators have a bad habit of promising programs and tax cuts in future years — with no plan for how to pay for them.
Lamont, who said during the campaign that he would support tolls only on trucks, not only offered an option last week to toll all vehicles, but also argued that the trucks-only option doesn’t work financially.
At the same time, he also proposed canceling nearly $270 million in vehicle sales tax receipts pledged to the transportation program over the next to years.
“How is the governor justifying that with what was passed at the polls?” asked Rep. Chris Davis of Ellington, ranking House Republican on the finance panel.
Davis was referring to a new constitutional amendment ratified by nearly 90 percent of voters last November that creates a legal “lockbox” to prevent transportation revenues from being used for other purposes.Lamont’s recommendation to keep the car sales tax receipts in the General Fund is legally permissible. The lockbox rules wouldn’t apply to this sales tax transfer until July 1, when the new fiscal year begins.
But Davis also questioned whether this violates the spirit of the amendment, if not the letter of the law.
This proposal of the governor is “essentially making it meaningless, or certainly not achieving what was proposed and passed by the people of Connecticut,” he said.
McCaw responded that unless the legislature acts, the state will face a budget deficit of $3.7 billion over the next two fiscal years. And part of that problem, she added, was caused by prior legislatures promising transfers to the transportation program — with no plans to “backfill” the hole it creates in the General Fund.
“The legislature passes laws on a regular basis that make future promises,” she said, adding if there is no plan to pay for these promises and keep the budget balanced, the governor “finds that to be problematic.”
To avert the projected deficit, Lamont also wants to cancel dozens of sales tax exemptions. Connecticut has billions of dollars of sales tax exemptions on the books — a system long criticized by many on both sides of the political aisle as unfair.
Lamont “preferred not to pick winners and losers,” McCaw said, adding that a more equal sales tax base should strengthen Connecticut’s economy in the long run.
But Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, balked at proposals to end the exemption for winter boat storage and repairs, predicting it would lead Connecticut boaters to Rhode Island next winter.
“The loser here seems to be the state of Connecticut and the individual boat owners,” Cheeseman said.Sen. Henri Martin, R-Bristol, objected to Lamont’s recommendation to suspend previously approved income tax cuts for seniors. This relief — enhanced exemptions on Social Security income, pensions and annuities — was enacted 16 months ago, but scheduled to take effect in 2019.
“It just seems counterproductive to the message we are trying to send to the general public, that we are trying to get our fiscal house in order and we don’t want you to leave the state of Connecticut,” Martin said.
Davis also questioned why Lamont didn’t follow through on a campaign pledge to reduce the state’s capital stock tax. Also known as the capital base component of the corporation tax, it is a tax on a business’s net worth or capital holdings. Connecticut imposes the nation’s highest rate at 0.31 percent.
But McCaw said closing the projected deficit simply took top priority. “I think that the challenge was … to solve the $3.7 billion gap,” she said. “There has to be a shared sacrifice.”
Police station problems mount frustration in Bethel
BETHEL — The new police station opened in October, but its trim boards are already cracking, water drips into the firing range when it rains and a handful of items are unfinished.
Members of the Public Site and Building Committee are frustratedwith Downes Construction Company, which the committee on Tuesday night said has been slow at responding and completing the remaining work.
The incomplete items include the lights that illuminate the flagpole to a critical railing for a retaining wall.
Downes, which built the station, has come to the headquarters “little by little” over the past few months to complete the work, said Josh Adams, chair of the Public Site and Building Committee.“The whole momentum of the project has significantly fallen to the wayside,” he said. “It’s slowed right down getting this final pass completed.” The committee had hoped Downes would come to its Tuesday evening meeting, but a representative from the construction company was only available by phone. Downes did not immediately return a request for comment from Hearst Connecticut Media on Tuesday.
Dave Patrick, of Downes, told committee members a contractor would examine the water problem in the firing range on Wednesday.
Adams said the architect has told him water could be trapped in the panels of the range, but it is still unclear what is causing the problem.
Meanwhile, the trim boards in some parts of the building are cracking, with gaps forming between the boards. Adams said he suspects this is because Downes installed the material improperly.
But the railing is the most important piece because it is needed for the building to earn its full certificate of occupancy.
“These other items, they are not a safety issue,” Adams said at Tuesday’s meeting. “This is a safety issue.”
The manufacturer who was supposed to build this railing is out-of-business, so the construction company has ordered a new railing, which is expected to arrive in four weeks.
Patrick said he would send the committee written confirmation of when the railing will arrive.
“Let’s get that thing installed and let’s be done with it,” he said.
The headquarters already has a temporary certificate of occupancy and is allowed to stay open under that, Adams said.
“Theoretically, there are a lot of buildings in the area that still have a temporary C.O. (certificate of occupancy), but our goal is to get it completed and get our final C.O.,” he said before the meeting. “Downes is on board with that. They are just having a hard time getting everybody together to get the work done.”
The committee considered Tuesday night delaying paying Downes about $31,000 to pressure the company. But the majority of this money would have gone to contractors who have completed their work, so members said that would not be fair.
Adams said the committee has held up paying Downes for the last three months, but it was ineffective.“It’s still not helping the situation,” he said. “We’re at a point where we maybe need to pass it along to the town attorney and look at what leverage we have.”
Lighting in the training room also needs to be fixed, while a camera also needs to be installed to monitor the impound lot. Some landscaping work is unfinished, but the plan was always to do that in the spring.
The new police headquarters has long been controversial, with voters initially narrowly rejecting a 2014 proposal to build a new station and then a year later approving a less expensive, $13.5 million plan.
But last year the building ran about $889,000 over its budget, leaving residents to approve additional money so the headquarters could be completed.
The station also took longer to open than officials had hoped, with officers moving in a couple months later than the goal.
Meanwhile, the firing range cannot be used because it lacks a specialized HVAC unit and other equipment. These features were not part of the project voters approved, but the town aims to purchase this equipment eventually.
At one point, the equipment was estimated at $600,000, but that figure was expected to change.
What’s Going On With Truck Tolls In Rhode Island?
Last June, Rhode Island kicked off the nation’s first statewide truck-only tolling program, at two spots on Interstate 95, and so far, it’s been successful. This year, it plans to expand to ten more locations: tolling large tractor trailers. Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont is looking at mimicking the plan in his state. But the trucking industry is challenging the arrangement in federal court.
Rhode Island legislators decided to toll trucks to help balance the books on a 10-year plan to fix its bridges, which are some of the worst in the nation.
“We don’t need to toll cars,” said Charles St. Martin, a spokesperson for the Rhode Island Department of Transportation.
But state officials did need more transportation money. St. Martin said existing funding wasn’t enough to keep pace with the rate at which Rhode Island’s bridges wore out, or became what the federal government calls “structurally deficient.”
“We needed a little more revenue to make that happen,” St. Martin said.
So in 2016 the legislature voted to put up two truck-only tolls along Interstate I-95 in the southwestern part of Rhode Island. Those have been up for about six months and more are expected to come online soon. About one new gantry a month starting in mid-spring and running into next year.
“The tolling locations are associated with individual bridge - or bridges - depending on where they’re located,” St. Martin said. “The revenues that are collected at those locations will go to pay for the work happening on those bridges, until they’re paid for.”
So far, the RI DOT says program has exceeded expectations: pulling in about $600,000 per month.
But the American Trucking Associations and several other trucking industry groups believe the whole arrangement is unconstitutional. They’re part of a federal lawsuit saying Rhode Island’s tolls give breaks to in-state truckers, while singling out the large tractor-trailers typically engaged in state-to-state business.
“This plan of theirs violates the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, which prevents states from imposing these kinds of burdens on interstate commerce” said Rich Pianka, a lawyer for the American Trucking Associations.
“We want to make sure to establish that other states don’t get the same idea and try to use interstate commerce - and interstate trucking - as a piggy bank for their funding issues,” Pianka said.
A spokesperson for the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office declined to comment on the federal challenge in that state, citing the ongoing litigation in the case.
But this summer then-State Attorney General Peter Kilmartin filed a motion to dismiss the trucking industry’s challenge, arguing federal courts lack authority to strike down collection of tolls approved by a state government.
Oral arguments on that challenge happened in January, and a spokesperson for the Office of the Attorney General said a decision on that challenge is pending.
Still, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont is considering the truck-only tolls idea.
He raised the concept repeatedly on the campaign trail and brought it up again in his recent budget address. But he also pivoted, saying last week truck-only tolls won’t bring in the money he needs to repair Connecticut roads. So he’s considering tolls on cars, too.
Joe Sculley with the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut said, either way, it’s one more tax on state truckers.
“We pay a per gallon diesel tax in Connecticut. We pay the petroleum gross receipts tax. We pay registration fees. Those things are all supposed to be funding our roads,” Sculley said.
Sculley also said out-of-state truckers already pay to drive on Connecticut roads.
“There’s a misconception that out-of-state trucks travel through Connecticut for free, which is not true,” Sculley said, citing fuel costs and registration fees through the International Fuel Tax Agreement and International Registration Plan, which apportion money from out-of-state trucks back to states based on the amount of in-state miles driven.
But the efficacy of fuel-based revenues to pay for highway improvements is debatable.
In a 2018 Economic Report of the President, the White House said, “with the increasing prevalence of electric vehicles and high fuel economy vehicles, and with some fuel-based revenue sources not being indexed to inflation, the existing financing mechanism is becoming increasingly unsustainable, with funding needs growing faster than dedicated revenues.”
“The economic arguments in favor of using toll revenues to pay for roads and highways,” the report concludes, “are solid.”
Seaport Marine to file plans for major Mystic redevelopment
Mystic — The owners of Seaport Marine on Washington Street expect to file a zoning application this week to demolish their 11.5-acre site and redevelop it with a second restaurant, a marine services building, a 45-room boutique hotel and a mix of 47 apartments, townhouses and single-family homes.
Plans for the Smiler’s Wharf project also call for a large boat basin to accommodate additional docking space and a public-access boardwalk, plaza and kayak pavilion.
On Wednesday, Harry Boardsen, who manages Seaport Marine and its sister property, Noank Shipyard, with his wife, Abbey Holstein, whose family owns the properties, outlined updates to the plan since a workshop was held with the Stonington Planning and Zoning Commission last spring.
The only building that will remain on the site will be the popular Red 36 restaurant. Boardsen said that Angela Kanabis, who runs Red 36, also will operate the new 200-seat restaurant.
While there will be additional dockage space with the new basin, support services such as painting and mechanical work will move to Noank Shipyard. The hotel would be built at the foot of Cottrell Street, where large white boat sheds now are located. There will be no commercial space, something that had been in an earlier plan.
“Main Street is for retail,” Boardsen said, pointing out the seven new storefronts in the newly reconstructed Central Hall block.
Boardsen said he wants his property to provide amenities to attract people to town to patronize other businesses, especially those who arrive by boat and do not impact roads and parking in the downtown.
The project’s 316 parking spots are blocked from view from the street and the location of the single-family homes and other residential units are designed to provide a transition with the adjacent neighborhood.
The project would be built in phases over five years. Boardsen said he would like to break ground on the residential and dock portion of the project this fall if he can obtain the needed zoning and state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection permits.
A fiscal analysis done of the project shows it would generate almost $500,000 a year in tax revenue for the Town of Stonington, about $400,000 more than it does now. It also would generate an estimated $18 million annually in consumer spending related to its uses and create an equivalent of 155 full-time permanent jobs.
The property is zoned marine commercial but the application is seeking to use the town’s Neighborhood Development District tool, a floating zone that requires a master plan and site plan approval, public hearings for both and gives the Planning and Zoning Commission wide discretion in what it approves.
Boardsen praised the town and Director of Planning Jason Vincent in assisting him in getting the project to this point.
One hurdle the project could face is that the Mystic sewer treatment plant is nearing its capacity to process sewage. But there is a total of $1.5 million in the proposed capital improvements budgets for 2019-20 and 2020-21 for upgrades to send sewage from the Mystic plant along an existing pipeline to the borough treatment plant, which is operating at 50 percent capacity. This would create extra capacity at the Mystic plant and allow new projects, such as the Seaport Marine project and two hotels proposed for Coogan Boulevard, to tie in to the system.
Boardsen explained the project’s name comes from a Prohibition-era rum runner named Arthur Rowland, whose boats were built at a shipyard on the property at the time. It was said Rowland was always smiling.
E. Hartford completes $3.3M purchase of blighted Showcase Cinemas; redevelopment eyed
The town of East Hartford has completed its $3.3 million purchase of the abandoned Showcase Cinemas along I-84 east, according to the mayor, who says the site will be razed and redeveloped.
Mayor Marcia Leclerc on Tuesday confirmed the town bought the "blighted structure" on Jan. 31, from Mass.-based National Amusements Inc., which closed the 14-screen movie complex in 2006 after operating it since 1973. The site includes 942, 944, 946 and 960 Silver Lane, and 285 and 291 Forbes St.
East Hartford purchased the 25.6-acre site, and 66,000-square-foot building, using state dollars previously allocated to redevelop the Silver Lane site.
The town now plans to demolish and clear the vandalized movie theater this summer with hopes of luring a new mixed-use development there. Leclerc said it will go out to bid after its demolition plans are completed.
After several years of planning, Leclerc said the town has an "aggressive path" for the redevelopment. She said the area's dense residential base could support several commercial uses, but didn't offer any specifics.
The town will soon advertise a request for qualifications in search of a developer.
"We are looking forward to turning the page to the next chapter for this most important corridor in the town…" Leclerc said.
In recent years, the former movie theater site was being considered to house Connecticut's first off-reservation casino.
In 2016, developer Anthony J. Ravosa Jr., a member of Silver Lane Partners LLC, submitted an application to use the former East Hartford movie theater site for a $200 million casino with 2,000 slots, a 2,100-space parking garage, restaurants and bars.
The group's proposal included leveraging then Hartford Radisson Hotel, which is now the Red Lion Hotel, for lodging.
In May 2017, Leclerc also pressed state lawmakers and the Mohegan Sun and Mashantucket Pequot tribes to build the jointly operated casino at the East Hartford site, but the tribes ultimately selected a vacant Showcase Cinemas property in East Windsor.
Meantime, another planned East Hartford mixed-use project fizzled last year, when Illinois developer Horizon Group Properties Inc. pulled the plug on a proposed $105 million outlet mall near Rentschler Field, citing a rocky U.S. retail environment and lack of financing.
Cheshire bond sale brings in $14.6 million for municipal projects
Luther Turmelle CHESHIRE — Town officials have successfully completed a $14.6 million bond sale.The proceeds from Wednesday’s bond sale will be used to pay for about 50 different capital projects around town, said James Jaskot, Cheshire’s director of finance said Friday. The money from the bond will be available to town officials after March 6, which is the settlement date for the sale.
“A lot of it is for infrastructure and building improvements,” Jaskot said.
A total of 12 bids were made for the municipal bonds, with BNY Mellon submitting the winning bid. The interest rates bid on the bonds ranged from a winning bid of 2.71 percent to a high bid of 2.91 percent, he said.
A lower interest rate benefits Cheshire, Jaskot said, because it means the town has to pay the bond holders less money.
Matthew Spoerndle, senior managing director of Phoenix Advisors and Cheshire’s municipal advisor, said in addition to the town’s healthy credit rating, the success of the bond sale was also the result of “prudent long term financial management.”
“Many issuers would be happy with three or four bids,” Spoerndle said in a statement. “Getting twelve is about as good as it gets.”
Town Council Chairman Rob Oris said the results of the bond sale “shows there is a lot of confidence in the town’s credit worthiness.”
Jaskot said that evidence of the town’s financial management capability came following completion in 2015 of a $32.15 million upgrade of the town’s Wastewater Treatment plant. There had been concerns about the amount that the town makes in debt service payment each year would spike as result of the cost of the wastewater treatment project, he said.
Prior to the change, the town’s financial policy was to have a fund balance level of between 8-to-9 percent of the actual expenditures for the prior fiscal year, he said. The policy now requires a fund balance of 9.25 percent of actual expenditures for the prior fiscal year.
“We’ve added a little more cushion there,” Jaskot said.