May 31, 2019

CT Construction Digest Friday May 31, 2019

Kevin Rennie: The tolls discussion won’t end any time soon.
The auction is open. Gov. Ned Lamont has signaled that he will pay any price and impose any burden on the public to get tolls placed on Connecticut’s major highways. The Greenwich Democrat has already told the legislature’s House Democrats, as part of his pitch for support, that he will raise money for their campaigns, and he’ll get business people to help, too.
It was a raw proposition that made some Democrats uneasy.
But the governor took time from purchasing votes to announce his summer reading challenge. It’s intended for students, but you should join in the spirit of a good idea by reading Lamont’s working draft of his tolls bill. It is a work in progress, so the version I read may have changed by the time this column is published.
The underpinnings of the proposal are unlikely to change, though, because Lamont needs to raise a lot of money, and there are limited ways to do that. There will be no more than 50 gantries — overhead tolls — on I-84, I-91, I-95 and Route 15. Depending on the time of day, the charge per mile will be 3.5 cents or 4.4 cents. Lamont’s proposal contains a list of priority transportation projects. They include major undertakings in Hartford, Waterbury, Danbury and New London. Funds collected from tolls have to be used on roads — they cannot be diverted to mass transportation projects. But those jobs are funded in other ways. The priority train projects include track improvements on the New Haven line and its branches in Fairfield County. There will also be new train cars for passengers. One of the surprises on the list is a second train station for Bridgeport. It’s known as the Barnum station, named after Bridgeport’s P.T. Barnum, the circus showman and Connecticut politician who believed there was a sucker born every minute. The Barnum station was announced five years ago by then-Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. It seemed intended to give then-Mayor Bill Finch a boost in his 2015 re-election campaign. It did not. Finch lost and the proposal disappeared. Five years ago, according to the Connecticut Post, the state Department of Transportation seemed surprised at the Barnum station announcement. The estimated cost of the Barnum station, according to the 2018 Post report, has reached $300 million. Bridgeport legislators and other local officials appear enamored of the idea, regardless of the cost. The Bridgeport delegation to the legislature is a large one, and Lamont needs their votes. What’s $300 million when you your shopping list for the initial projects is over $20 billion, according to DOT estimates? No one at DOT, I understand, expects the Barnum station will ever be built. It serves two contrary purposes: It pleases local officials and alienates the wider public. The public may feel shut out of this process, but it is not. The National Environmental Policy Act provides a place for you. Before a single toll gantry can be constructed, studies on the impact of tolls must be performed. The government must determine and weigh what tolls will do to the people who drive on the highways and the towns where the tolls will be placed. Experts must examine the effects of tolls on our continuing struggle with economic justice. Lamont’s proposal includes discounts for low-income drivers whose incomes are not more than 125 percent of the poverty rate. This year in Connecticut, that’s $26,663 in a household of three people. That leaves out a lot of working people who make daily use of the state’s major highways. They’ll have to pay because Lamont’s proposal gives the Department of Motor Vehicles the power to revoke motor vehicle registrations if they do not. Towns and cities ought to start preparing to show what tolls might mean for local roads, residents and businesses. Federal officials want to know what impact tolls will have on local roads. Some drivers will avoid highways with tolls and instead use local roads to reach their destinations. This can cause increased congestion in a community and diminish air quality.The federal government anticipated these issues, and under NEPA, it provides local residents and their leaders with a meaningful voice. Your opinions on tolls many have lost their influence on Lamont since he broke his trucks-only campaign vow, but you are not powerless.

Gov. Ned Lamont wants a vote on tolls by next week, the House speaker says that’s ‘unrealistic’

Despite strong pushback from veteran legislators, Gov. Ned Lamont was advocating Thursday for a vote on highway tolls before the end of the regular session next week.
With little time remaining and hundreds of bills hanging in the balance, some legislators say it is highly impractical to expect a long, extended debate about tolls before the session ends at midnight Wednesday.
House Republican leader Themis Klarides of Derby said an impassioned debate on tolls would essentially bring all other legislation to a screeching halt and prevent many bills from passing.
“Right now it is too late in the game with a budget that needs to be done and many other bills that need to be done to say we’re going to stop the presses, which will be a 24-to-48-hour debate, which means everything will be shut down because that’s how important it is,” she told reporters.
Klarides said she agrees with state Sen. Carlo Leone, a Stamford Democrat who co-chairs the transportation committee and oversaw the tolls debate, that time is running short.
Regarding Lamont, Klarides said, “I just think it’s very unrealistic of him, and it shows his lack of understanding how this process works, still in June.”
Lamont’s senior adviser, Colleen Flanagan Johnson, said he is keenly aware of how things work at the Capitol.
"The governor knows exactly how this process works, including the fact that the Republicans’ proposed budget is a blank sheet of paper, and their proposal on transportation infrastructure investment amounts to a massive loan that the state can’t afford, paid for Connecticut residents at 100 percent,'' she said. “When the Republicans put forth an actionable, realistic and responsible transportation or budget plan, the governor remains ready, willing and able to work with them on those critical issues. Until then, he’ll continue to work with Democratic leaders on an honest, balanced and on-time budget and a transportation proposal that will fundamentally alter Connecticut’s economy for decades to come.”
House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said Lamont is well aware of the sometimes slow-moving and deliberative process of the legislature, which often leads to long debates on controversial issues.
“It would take a lot of time. No one can deny that,” Ritter told reporters. “Members would have to struggle with what else would not go if that were to be put up quickly” for a vote in the House.
“I would say it would be very difficult to pull off a vote on tolls before we adjourn,” said House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin. “Not to say ... that somehow we reach that sweet spot and it moves quickly, but it’s highly unlikely.
“[Lamont] would like us to move forward as soon as possible, but I just don’t think it’s possible. There’s only six days left. ... It would be very difficult.”

Tribes, Bridgeport near casino deal that could replace MGM plan
Emilie Munson
HARTFORD — The city of Bridgeport and Connecticut’s two Native American tribes are close to a deal that would deliver a casino resort worth at least $350 million, a development that could unseat MGM Resorts International’s larger plan for Bridgeport harbor.
Mayor Joe Ganim, legislators and the tribes held several meetings Thursday to negotiate a deal. Those conversations are ongoing, but a preliminary proposal drafted by the city, and conversations with people involved in the talks, point to a midsize casino and large hotel resort.
The plan would need approval from the state House and Senate and governor to move forward — which could happen early next week. No location is named in a draft of the legislation, but the parties are discussing several sites, sources said.
This latest foray marks a new milestone in Bridgeport’s decades-long effort to host a casino, a history that included a developer in the early 1990s by the name of Donald J. Trump. Although the tribes’ plan would be much smaller than the $675 million MGM proposal on the harbor, it appears more likely to win approval in the General Assembly — where the tribes’ supporters have fought MGM vociferously for years.
“We’re trying to find a happy medium that is good for the state, good for the tribal nations and good for the city of Bridgeport,” said Rep. Chris Rosario, D-Bridgeport, who has participated in the negotiations. “The idea of the city of Bridgeport settling for a slot box, or some parlor, that’s out.”
A casino deal between Bridgeport and the tribes represents a shift for the city’s legislative delegation, who for years have maintained that they support an open, competitive bidding process to bring a new casino to the state’s largest city.
MGM has said all along it only wants the right to compete for a license. But that plan has been blocked for the last several years by supporters of the tribes. The agreement with the tribes, by contrast, would grant the license without competition. That would preserve the state’s compact with the tribes, under which the state receives 25 percent of slot machine revenue, or about $240 million this year.
It’s unclear what payments the tribes would make to the state under the new deal. MMCT, a joint venture of the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes, which own Foxwoods Resort and Mohegan Sun casinos, respectively, did not issue a comment Thursday night.
MGM, which has a contract to build its casino resort with the master developer of the harbor, including Steel Point, declined to comment Thursday night.
The bill would require the casino resort to be “fully operational” within 42 months of passage by the General Assembly. If that deadline isn’t met, there would be an open-bidding process.
Rep. Jack Hennessy, D-Bridgeport, said jobs are the “key” to the deal.
“We’re cautiously optimistic that we are going to be moving forward to provide revenue and jobs for the city of Bridgeport,” he said.The tribes would construct a Bridgeport casino with a minimum of 2,000 slot machines, 100 gaming tables, a 500-room hotel, with a spa, restaurants and retail space, according to a working draft of the legislation draft shared with Hearst Connecticut Media.
Any deal between the city and tribes faces enormous obstacles beyond approval at the state Capitol, where the legislative session ends next Wednesday.
MGM would be likely to file a lawsuit claiming its rights were violated. It is also unclear how large a gambling facility the tribes could finance in Bridgeport. Their revenues from Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun have declined recently and they have investments planned in a joint East Windsor casino venture.
Legislation would need the signature of Gov. Ned Lamont, who has not participated in negotiations over the past week after his own gambling deal fell apart.
In that sweeping effort, Lamont tried to persuade the tribes to drop the East Windsor plan in exchange for a license in Bridgeport. MGM would agree to walk away under thart scenario, and sports betting would be shared between the tribes, the Connecticut Lottery Corp. and Sportech, a New Haven-based maker of gaming technology that operates 16 off-track betting locations in Connecticut.
The tribes refused to agree to drop the East Windsor plan and refused to share sports betting activities with the other companies, claiming an exclusive right. It’s unclear how and whether the latest deal would affect sports betting.
Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, has helped broker the latest Bridgeport negotiations.
The joint venture won approval in 2017 for a midsize casino along Interstate-91 in East Windsor, which was designed to pick off customers driving to the $1 billion MGM Springfield casino 13 miles to the north. That project is not yet under construction.
MGM previously filed a lawsuit against the state over approval of a casino by the tribes in East Windsor, withdrew the lawsuit and has said it will file it again.
Hennessy said the delegation believes a deal can be reached to avoid an MGM lawsuit.“The key to the resolution is to avoid litigation,” he said.

Windsor Locks voters approve tax break for sports complex
Anthony Branciforte
Windsor Locks voters on Wednesday backed a plan to create a Tax Increment Financing district in the area of the proposed All Sports Village complex at the east end of the Route 20 corridor.
The vote was 969-719.
The sports complex, initially pitched to residents last July, will bring $27 million in spending to the town within five years, according to a study commissioned by the developer and performed by consulting firm Sports Facilities Advisory.
First Selectman Christopher Kervick and developer Andrew Borgia, principal of JABS Sports Management, have made it clear that the deal would require the establishment of a TIF district, which would allow the town to deposit new property taxes collected from the business into a special fund and then use that money to subsidize the business and make infrastructure improvements to the surrounding area.
Residents who’ve supported the complex at public hearings have argued that it is an opportunity for economic growth in town and would attract new residents.
But other residents raised a host of concerns about the TIF arrangement and the complex itself. Some oppose bringing in a business that is unable or unwilling to operate without such abatements, while others have said the complex would disturb neighbors and strain local resources.
The vote originally was to take place at a town meeting, but more than 300 residents signed a petition to force the referendum. Carl Schiessl, a former state senator who led that effort, also has raised concerns about contamination to the Waterworks Brook, a protected property neighboring the proposed site of the complex.
At Wednesday’s referendum, a majority of the almost 1,700 voters who came out supported the idea; several voters were still shuffling in and out of Town Hall only minutes before the polls closed.
“Many legitimate questions have been raised and we have to work together, within the framework of our land-use laws and the regulations of our local land use agencies to answer each of them,” he said. “We don’t know where that process will lead us, but we know that wherever it leads us we must get there with patience, mutual respect, and hard work.”
The town now must negotiate an agreement with JABS Sports Management as to what percentage of its tax money will be rebated each year. The agreement allows for a rebate of up to 90 percent, though the town could negotiate a lower number.

May 30, 2019

CT Construction Digest Thursday May 30, 2019

Lamont Not Giving Up on Tolls Vote VIDEO
Max Reiss
Gov. Ned Lamont is looking to get a vote on tolls before the end of the legislative session next Thursday, and not looking to a Special Session like he announced last week.
Multiple sources with knowledge of the discussions Lamont has held with Democratic leaders in the General Assembly told NBC Connecticut that Lamont believes there will be time, once the state budget is finalized, to get his tolls proposal through the General Assembly.
“I certainly hope this is not the case,” said Sen. Len Fasano, (R – North Haven), the top Republican in the Senate.
Last week, Lamont announced with the speaker of the House and the president of the Senate, their intention to hold a Special Session devoted to infrastructure planning and spending.
One source told NBC Connecticut, “with the budget at 98 percent done,” the governor feels there will be momentum, but importantly, the time to pass tolls through both the House and Senate.
Democrats in both chambers discussed the measure behind closed doors Wednesday.
Fasano said if the plan changes to hold a vote on tolls before lawmakers adjourn at midnight next Thursday, then there will be trust issues with the administration.
"You only have your word in this building and your word is your bond,” Fasano said. “That's what you live with in this building and if you break your word, it goes a long way to wreck your relationships in the future so I just hope if he's done this he rethinks this because that would be going back on a promise that he has made to me."
Later Wednesday, Lamont's Communication Director Maribel La Luz told NBC Connecticut, "The Governor met with Leaders last week to state that his immediate focus and priority was to pass a budget that was balanced and on time. Now that we’re close to an agreement the Governor has turned his attention to getting PFML and Transportation across the finish line which he has wanted all along. Once he heard from the minority leader there was no way any Republican would vote to improve our transportation system, he also figured waiting was pointless."
What do Newtown residents want most at Fairfield Hills campus?
Rob Ryser
NEWTOWN — If the town wants to convert the former state hospital grounds into the civic and cultural center of Newtown, it needs to have more places on campus to eat, drink and be merry.
That’s according to a new survey of Newtown residents about the 185-acre Fairfield Hills property, commissioned by planners to understand how the campus is meeting residents’ expectations.“I think that small businesses, restaurants, and shops would be a great asset to the campus, as people could go to these places while at events and help Newtown’s economy as well,” one resident said in the write-in section of the survey.
The survey results, which were discussed publicly for the first time Tuesday at a meeting of the Fairfield Hills Master Plan Review Committee, found that residents want more bathrooms, rest areas and outdoor entertainment at Fairfield Hills, along with more restaurants and pubs.
The survey found residents were strongly against building housing of any kind on campus.
“Fairfield Hills has always been one of the best places to go to relax and enjoy nature,” a survey taker wrote in the write-in section. “Putting in housing and big buildings for shopping will just ruin the whole campus ... a couple of small shops here and there are fine but please do not overdo it.”
The survey of 1,800 Newtown adults, conducted from mid-April to mid-May, comes at a time of transformation for Fairfield Hills, where contractors have nearly completed a $15 million community center and adjoining $3 million senior center.
First Selectman Dan Rosenthal declined to comment on the survey results until he had read the report, but said it was unlikely the hulking empty hospital buildings that dominate the campus landscape could be reused by the private sector for anything other than housing.
“I think we have to encourage mixed-use development,” Rosenthal said.
The town originally hoped commercial developers would renovate the red brick buildings when it bought Fairfield Hills in 2004. The reality is that it costs more to remediate hazardous materials and renovate the buildings than to build from scratch.
As a result, Newtown has been paying several million dollars apiece to tear down the old buildings, while marketing smaller buildings for reuse.
The 225,000-square-foot Canaan House was razed at a cost of $3.5 million.
That cleared the way for the town to begin construction on the community center and senior center, which are slated for a soft opening in July.
Smaller buildings are faring better. An outfit called Asylum Brewing Co. is renovating the 9,000-square-foot Stratford Hall — once the hospital’s library and executive dining room .
As for the remaining large buildings, residents are holding out hope for redevelopment.
Some 54 percent of survey takers were against demolishing the boarded-up buildings. “I strongly encourage the renovation and reuse of existing structures, as they have historical and cultural value and because it seems wasteful to demolish them,” one resident wrote.

In another shift, Lamont wants regular session vote on tolls
Ken Dixon and Emilie Munson
HARTFORD — Gov. Ned Lamont has asked lawmakers to fast-track electronic highway tolls, reversing a previous position to let the issue slide for a special session after the June 5 adjournment of the General Assembly.
In meetings with majority Democratic leaders this week, Lamont asked for them to return his signature legislation to the front burner. Doing so would threaten hundreds of other bills that would die at 12:01 a.m. June 6 if they don’t get legislative approval.
“He reached out to leadership to see if there was one last try, to see if the votes were there for this session, and to not have to go into a special (session) for the issue of tolls,” said Sen. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford, co-chair of the Transportation Committee.
This change now puts extra pressure on lawmakers, including Rep. Roland Lemar, D-New Haven, Leone’s transportation co-chair, who would have to lead passage of tolls through the House, before the legislation can advance to the Senate. Lemar was told by legislative leaders on Tuesday to get ready to run the bill in the House, he said.
“There is an opportunity, I think, to get tolls done in the regular session,” he said. “Now it’s just a matter of making sure the votes are there and people are prepared for, you know, it’s likely to be a long debate in the House.”
Leone said his chamber is also counting the votes in favor tolls now.
“The threat of doing nothing is real,” he said. “The infrastructure cannot stand the lack of investment.”
As recently as a week ago, there may have been time to finish crafting a far-reaching toll bill to address controversial items including in-state and commuter discounts, as well as the location of about 50 electronic gantries over Interstates-95, 91, 84 and the Merritt and Wilbur Cross parkways. But now, Leone said worries he may not have the time to “get it right.”
“I don’t think that the possibility of passing tolls right now is the best thing to do because other bills die and there has been a lot of work put into them,” he said. “So I think we’re at the point where a special session might be the only recourse. A lot of bills might not see the light of day if we talk about one bill for hours on end.”
Some leaders said they see Lamont’s request as the flip flop of a new governor who isn’t acquainted with the dynamics, or the personalities, of the 151 members of the House and 36 senators. The administration disagrees.
“I don’t think we’ve had a change of position at all,” said Colleen Flanagan Johnson, senior adviser to Lamont. Last week, Lamont wanted to prioritize passing an “honest budget,” and now that budget negotiations are wrapping up, he believes the best use of the last week of session is pushing for investment in the state’s transportation infrastructure, she said.
“The governor and leaders are close to finalizing a budget agreement in the next 24 hours,” she said.
Tolls are a top Lamont priority. They will have no Republican support in the House and Senate. They remain a divisive topic for lawmakers in border districts.
Lamont won his election last fall in a campaign favoring trucks-only tolling, which he abandoned upon taking the oath of office, admitting that it wouldn’t generate enough revenue to funds the state’s neglected transportation infrastructure. In recent weeks, Lamont seemed to submit to the reality that lawmakers might not generate enough support among Democrats, or get crucial questions from federal transportation officials in time to act on a a final bill before June 5.
Rep. Chris Perone, D-Norwalk, said beating the midnight June 5 deadline might be a good idea for the survival of tolls, which he supports.“We’re going to try to accomplish as much as possible by the end of session,” he said. “When you put things out into a special session, you’re putting things out in the summer months. It is not as easy to track down people in the summer as it is when we have everybody here now.”
He predicted the toll proposal may change again before it comes to the House floor for a final vote.
In the daily flow of paperwork for the legislature, including daily calendars and House and Senate journals from the day before, arrived the latest pieces of legislation to be written by the nonpartisan Office of legislative commissioner. Each active bill is given a file number. Wednesday mail included File 1012. Hundreds and hundreds of bills await action on the thick House and Senate calendars.
Leone said that Lamont might be surprised at the amount legislation that has been approved and awaits action in the House, Senate or both.
“I think he and many others just don’t understand how many bills get drafted and how much we try to get accomplished in a year,” Leone said. “Many will not pass because time runs out and I think he’s realizing that. But this was such a big issue, I just thought he tried to make it happen, if it had the possibility to happen. But now the clock is running out. We don’t have overtime in the session.”

Meriden City Council approves additional $2.2M for wastewater treatment plant upgrade
Matthew Zabierek
MERIDEN – The City Council’s Finance Committee unanimously authorized bonding an additional $2.23 million for upgrades to the city’s wastewater treatment plant, bringing the project’s total to $50 million.
Public Utilities Director Dennis Waz told councilors Tuesday night that the additional money is needed to cover $1.3 million in accrued interest the city will pay as part of a low-interest state loan for the state-mandated project. The remaining $900,000 is being included to cover any possible legal or financial issues.  Waz said some of that money may never be spent.
“My goal was, before I left, to make sure everything regarding this project was in place so that when (new Public Utilities Director Richard Meskill) came aboard, all the finances would be present and accounted for,” Waz, who is retiring next month, told councilors Tuesday. Meskill, who started Tuesday, also attended the meeting.
Waz doesn’t foresee any additional funding requests, noting that the $50 million price tag includes contingency funds.
Meriden expects a state grant to cover 38 percent of the project's costs. The city will receive a 20-year, low-interest loan for the remaining costs.
The project includes state-mandated upgrades to the phosphorus removal process at the city’s water pollution control facility, as well as a wholesale upgrade to the remote Silver Lake pump station, which Waz said is in “dire” need of repairs.
Meriden is one of several local municipalities completing upgrades to meet stricter phosphorus discharge limits being enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency. Phosphorus is considered an environmental hazard because it causes algae blooms, which deplete oxygen in water bodies and pose a threat to wildlife.
“Nobody wants to do this, but we’re mandated…” said Finance Committee Vice Chairman Walter Shamock. “So I just want the public to know that we’re not indiscriminately spending the money.”
The $1.3 million represents how much interest the city will accrue during construction, which is expected to begin this summer and last around 33 months.
Waz said he asked that the accrued interest be added to the project’s old price tag of $47.7 million at the recommendation of state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which has oversight over the phosphorus upgrades.
The city recently submitted its application to the DEEP for the grant funding and low-interest loan. Once the application is approved, Waz said the city will proceed with awarding a construction contract. Barring an unforeseen development, the contract will be awarded to the "lowest apparent bidder" — C.H. Nickerson & Co. Inc., a Torrington-based contractor that has completed wastewater treatment plant upgrades for several Connecticut municipalities.

May 29, 2019

CT Construction Digest Wednesday 29, 2019

Yards hurt when gas lines get repaired, Stamford homeowner says
Angela Carella
STAMFORD — From Christmas until April, six streets around Rick Hughes’ home in Bull’s Head were all ripped up.
Utility company Eversource was replacing gas mains in a neighborhood where houses such as Hughes’ 1925 Cape Cod are approaching 100 years old.
Around the city and the state, Eversource is replacing old steel or cast-iron natural gas pipes with more enduring plastic ones, so Hughes’ story may ring true for many.
On Travis Avenue, pavement was torn out. Road beds were excavated. Heavy equipment was parked where it fit. Dirt piled up. Lawns were ruined. Streets were blocked, and police directed traffic through the detours.
“Just getting out of the driveway was a headache,” Hughes said. “It was chaotic. It was kind of a nightmare.”He was glad to see the road work end. But that started a new struggle, he said.
“A lot of my yard was dug up, with rocks in the middle, because they had to take my gas meter out of the basement and move it outside,” Hughes said. “They dug a trench from the street, through the front yard to the side of the house, where they put the new meter.”
Then there was the problem with his stone wall.
“Chunks of it are missing,” Hughes said. “Edge pieces are broken off in five places.”
When, after a few weeks, no one showed up to repair the lawn and wall, Hughes picked up the phone.
He called Eversource. He called Ferrara, the construction contractor working for Eversource. He called the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, which overseas Eversource.
Over perhaps three weeks, he made 15 or 20 calls, Hughes said.
“I couldn’t get anyone to call back. I just wanted some assurance that they would fix it like they said they would,” Hughes said. “At some point I told Eversource, ‘If you can’t do it, I will get a bid and send it to you so I can have the work done myself. Then you pay me back.’ They said they can’t do that.”Finally, he said, he got hold of an Eversource guy named George.
“He gave me his direct line,” Hughes said. “George was the one who helped. He even gave me a $25 credit on my next gas bill for all the rigamarole I went through.”
His lawn has been repaired, Hughes said. He’s just waiting for his grass to grow back, and for someone to fix his stone wall.
The pain of gas-main repair transcends Travis Avenue, Hughes said.
“I understand this is going on all over Stamford,” he said.
And Connecticut, Eversource spokesman Mitch Gross said.
“We replace gas mains regularly around the state, and we serve 74 of the 169 towns,” Gross said. “We are replacing the older system with the newer technology, which is the plastic mains. They are more resilient, and they resist swings in underground temperatures.”
Between 2016 and last year, Eversource replaced more than 600 feet of cast iron and steel pipe in downtown Stamford with plastic, according to the utility’s website. The plastic mains allow for higher gas pressure and increased supply.
Gross said Eversource has about 30,000 natural gas customers in Stamford, which is 13 percent of its 237,000 statewide customers.
Since 2012, the utility has replaced more than 175 miles of the 3,400 miles of gas lines it maintains in Connecticut, he said.
“The replacement is a year-round program taking place across our system,” he said. “Some of it is age, some is corrosion of the older lines.”
Results of a study by the Connecticut Chapter of the Sierra Club, released last month, showed that methane is seeping into the air from underground gas pipelines in the state. The study concluded it can lead to explosions similar to three last year in Massachusetts.
The study looked at three Connecticut cities, finding an average of 4.3 leaks per mile in Hartford, 3.6 in Danbury, and 2.6 in New London.
Stamford is closest in age to Hartford.
A spokesman for the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority said after the study was released that Connecticut residents don’t have to worry about pipeline explosions because the lines are strictly regulated, and Eversource and two other gas providers have committed to a 25-year replacement program.
“We take the safety of our systems extremely seriously. We maintain and operate at the highest standards,” Gross said. “We have an aggressive maintenance-and-inspection program and a leak-management program that exceeds the requirements of federal and state pipeline safety regulations.”
Gross said Eversource serves Danbury and New London, where pipes continue to be upgraded, but not Hartford.
Eversource, which also owns the electric and water utilities, has been busy in Stamford streets, according to the latest information from city engineers. Eversource’s gas division alone took out 64 percent of the total 656 street-opening permits in 2017, the department has reported.
A quick review of 2018 data shows that of the 806 permits issued last year, 59 percent were related to gas lines, City Engineer Lou Casolo said.
Gross said Eversource mails notifications to the residents of streets slated for road work, then hangs notices on the knobs of front doors just before it begins.
“We encourage residents, whenever they see a letter with the Eversource logo, to please open it,” he said. “The letter has a lot of information, especially who to contact if they have a question.”
Hughes said that might not expedite things.
“It took six weeks between the time they finished the road work and the time they sent a landscaper to fix the lawn,” he said. “It’s hard to understand why it would take that long.”

New Britain is on the road to progress with Public Works paving streets, filling potholes
Michelle France
NEW BRITAIN – The Department of Public Works said they will be paving nearly seven miles of roads next month as part of its 2019 paving program.
While weather will be a determining factor, the city plans to begin milling the streets beginning June 17 through June 28. Milling is the process of removing part of the road’s surface to prep it for paving.
The city is planning to spend about three to four weeks paving beginning July 8, with crack sealing scheduled to begin the second week of July. Crack sealing is a preventative process where hot sealant is applied to cracks in the streets to block water intrusion-the primary cause of potholes. When the water freezes and thaws, which happens often in New England, the ground breaks apart and causes potholes. Crack sealant is a rubberized sealant, which means it is flexible to withstand the expansion and contraction of the pavement.
According to Mayor Erin Stewart, this year’s paving program has doubled in size from last year because there were additional funds in the city’s public works maintenance bond.
“We are starting earlier to address road conditions which were negatively impacted by a very wet spring and harsh winter,” said Stewart. “Paving can be extremely expensive so our focus is on the roads that are in most need.”
A major project on the agenda is paving the full stretch of Farmington Avenue which will cost an estimated $800,000. Stewart helped put the cost of the repairs in perspective by stating that $6 million would not be enough money to pave 10% of roads in the city.
There is $2.3 million budgeted for paving in the mayor’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2019-20, which is awaiting approval by the Common Council.
About 6.8 miles of roads are expected to be paved in the program including parts of Stanley Street, Lincoln Street, Laurel Road, and Cabot Street.
Last month, the Herald asked its readers where they thought the worst potholes were in the city. We followed up on the condition of some of those streets which included East Main Street, East Street, and Stanley Street and found that many of the reported potholes have since been filled, however, many are in need of crack sealing.
The DPW has been able to address potholes quicker this year as a result of SeeClickFix app introduced by Mayor Erin Stewart last year. Residents have been actively reporting potholes and other issues such as blight and illegal dumping on the app which sends the information directly to the coordinating city department. According to the app, the city has closed more than 50 requests in the last 30 days.     

DOT urges alternate routes ahead of I-395 bridge closure
Benjamin Kail
Waterford — The northbound section of Interstate 395 where it crosses Route 85 in Waterford will close for 10 days starting at 6 p.m. Friday as part of a $6 million bridge rehabilitation, prompting the state Department of Transportation to advise caution and urge commuters to avoid the area altogether to cut down on expected delays.
The two roadways — which combined handle more than 50,000 vehicles daily in the area — will feature a makeshift intersection at the I-395 north Exit 2 off- and on-ramps and Route 85 during the northbound phase of the project. DOT plans a similar 10-day project for the southbound lanes of the bridge tentatively scheduled to begin July 19.
The state-hired contractor, Plantsville-based Mohawk Northeast Inc., will replace the bridge deck and parapet, and install a precast concrete median barrier that will be safer than the current railing, according to project engineer Andrew Millovitsch.
During the closure, state troopers on the highway will detour I-395 northbound drivers down the Exit 2 off-ramp toward a light, managed by Waterford police for 24 hours a day, on Route 85. Highway drivers then will cross Route 85 and enter the northbound on-ramp to hop back on I-395. Southbound I-395 traffic will not be impacted. Waterford police in a recent Facebook post said they expect significant delays overall and Route 85 to be heavily affected.
Millovitsch said the state and commuters were lucky to have a rare layout of both north- and southbound off- and on-ramps "directly across from each other," enabling the temporary intersection.
"Traffic engineers looked at traffic counts and created cycled timing of lights to facilitate good flow for both Route 85 and I-395," he said. "It should work. If for some reason we find there's more or less traffic than expected, we are going to have Waterford police controlling the light. We don't want backups to I-95."
About 35,000 vehicles travel daily on I-395 near the bridge, known as Bridge No. 00255, while Route 85 sees about 24,000 vehicles a day in the area, according to DOT. DOT hopes to cut down on as much as 20 percent of traffic in advance by spreading the word to surrounding towns and states, public safety agencies, nearby businesses and regional trucking companies to suggest diversion routes, such as Route 161 to and from the Montville area, or Route 32 to and from Interstate 95 in New London. Electronic signs along the highways have alerted drivers to the upcoming construction the last few weeks.
"We're hoping the locals who know these areas take the diversion routes," Millovitsch said. "We're really asking for the public's help. Anybody who's able to avoid that area for 10 days, help yourself and help everyone and stay away. If you work at Charter Oak Federal Credit Union or nearby, leave home a little early."
The project has been in the works since 2017, when routine inspections of the 1957 bridge revealed the deck was due for a replacement. Mohawk Northeast, which has performed repairs on the Gold Star Memorial Bridge, also will blast clean and paint the steel, protecting it from the elements and extending its longevity.
"We're hoping that this rehab is going to give us another 50 years before we have to touch the bridge again," Millovitsch said in an interview. He added that the substructure, girders and almost all the structural steel on the bridge were solid, with only minimal repairs required.
Millovitsch said the bridge closure required by the Accelerated Bridge Construction process approved by DOT might seem painful for commuters, but it's a fraction of the frustration that could be caused by the alternative: a costlier four- to six-stage construction including a year or 18 months of bridge lane shifts and lane closures.
For safety reasons, commuters getting off Exit 2 from I-395 south will not have two left turning lanes available, Millovitsch said, because DOT occasionally will close lanes near the bridge on Route 85 when doing work overhead. The contractor may temporarily halt traffic for up to 10 minutes on Route 85 while a crane hooks up to precast bridge deck panels, swings them out over the empty roadway and onto the bridge, he added.
"The contractor will work around the clock and hit it hard with staff," he said.
Messages left with Mohawk Northeast Inc. and the Waterford Police Department were not immediately responded to on Tuesday.
Anyone with questions regarding the project should email, and the email subject line must include project number 152-158 or 0152-0158.

Sen. Chris Murphy says rail financing system “fundamentally broken” after Mystic River bridge gets stuck and delays Amtrak train
Neil Vigdor
Just in time for the end of the Memorial Day weekend, Amtrak passengers got another glaring reminder of Connecticut’s transportation infrastructure woes -- the Mystic River swing bridge got stuck.
The malfunction delayed southbound Amtrak train 139 Monday night, according to a Amtrak’s Twitter account, which said the train was being held up in Westerly, R.I., while the railroad troubleshooted the problem. The train arrived 1 hour and 16 minutes late at New Haven’s Union Station, Amtrak’s website said. “Some of these Amtrak brides were built during the Grover Cleveland Administration (no joke)," Murphy tweeted. “It’s time to admit that the current financing system for rail in the northeast is fundamentally broken and needs to be rebuilt from scratch.” The truss-style swing bridge was built in 1984 and replaced a previous span that dated back to 1875. This is not the first time it has gotten stuck.
WATERBURY – The Board of Education will convene a special meeting Thursday to vote on a contract with Hartford-based Newfield Construction – the firm the city had selected to oversee the construction of a new Wendell Cross Elementary School.
The Board of Aldermen is expected to vote on that contract as well in a meeting set for June 3.
The proposed contract outlines $3,164,916 in fees and costs – most of them related to pre-construction and construction services. The total also includes $1,139,971 in reimbursable costs, according to the contract.
A ten-member selection committee, comprised of city and school officials, and Board of Education members, chose Newfield out of five firms that in April submitted responses to a request for proposals advertised by the city.
A letter from city finance director Michael LeBlanc stated the request for proposals yielded five responses, which he said “were thoroughly reviewed and discussed” by the committee.
The committee considered each of the bidding firm’s experience and expertise in comparable projects as well as service offerings and other considerations.
Representatives from Newfield, Friar Architecture – the architects selected for the project -, the Waterbury Development Corporation and other officials will attend both the Board of Education and Board of Aldermen meetings
Newfield had previously overseen four other construction projects in existing Waterbury Public School buildings
The proposed contract with Newfield represents another step to breaking ground on the long-awaited proposal to expand Wendell Cross from a pre-K to five school to a pre-K to eight building.
The city’s original plan was to renovate the existing Wendell Cross building on Hamilton Avenue and construct a 40,000-square-foot addition. The plan was expected to cost $46.2 million. The project was recently revised, with state approval, as a primarily new school construction project – an 88,289-square-foot building that will house three classrooms per grade. Cost estimates for that revised project have not changed.




May 28, 2019

CT Construction Digest Tuesday May 28, 2019

Wallingford approves $60M for phosphorus treatment project
Lauren Takores
WALLINGFORD — The Town Council approved an ordinance last week to appropriate $60 million for wastewater treatment plant upgrades aimed at reducing phosphorous discharge.
The net cost to the town may be significantly lower, if the town receives state aid.
Upgrades to the water pollution control facility, 155 John St., have been in the works since 2011, when the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection introduced stricter discharge regulations.
Several towns, including Wallingford, are required by DEEP to perform upgrades to their wastewater plants to improve phosphorus removal systems. The new stricter limits take effect April 1, 2022.
Neil Amwake, Water and Sewer Division general manager, has said there have been no significant upgrades to the plant since it opened in July 1989, other than adding a nitrogen removal process in 2005.
The wastewater treatment plant  is on a 153-acre site and empties into the Quinnipiac River. The project also includes associated capital improvements.
Amwake said during the May 22 public hearing that the funding covers construction of a tertiary treatment process for phosphorous removal, two secondary settling tanks, a secondary pump station, ultraviolet disinfection and a post-aeration process, along with standby generation, site work and electrical upgrades.
The first phase of the project is estimated to cost around $60 million.
State funding
The town has submitted the project to DEEP for a grant from the Clean Water Fund. With a state grant of $19.9 million and state loan of $38 million, the net cost to town would be $2.1 million, according to the ordinance.
Amwake said the phosphorus removal season is April 1 to October 31.
The current limit is .7 milligrams per liter. At a design flow rate of 8 million gallons per day, Wallingford needs to get down to .13 milligrams per liter, a mass balance of 8.9 pounds per day of phosphorus.
From April 1 to April 30, 2019, Amwake said, the influent phosphorus limit was about 44.5 pounds per day.
Amwake said the removed phosphorus turns into a biomass that’s hauled offsite and is incinerated.
The Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously approved a site plan in February after the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission granted a wetlands permit in December 2018.
Dickinson objects
Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. has said he doesn't believe phosphorus discharge is an immediate health or environmental threat, and believes the state should pay for the upgrades completely.
Despite this belief, Dickinson said on May 22 that he “could not recommend that we do not move forward” with the $60 million bond, since there’s a a $25,000 daily fine if the upgrades aren’t made.
“We have sent a letter to the governor requesting a variance,” which the state would have to request from the federal EPA, he said.
“I haven’t heard anything from the governor’s office at this point, but I am very much opposed to this project,” he said.

Town report details challenges, benefits of Smiler’s Wharf project
Joe Wojtas
Mystic — In order to secure town approval, the developers of the proposed Smiler’s Wharf project in downtown Mystic will have to overcome issues such as providing enough parking, changing the traffic pattern on Cottrell Street, ensuring there is enough sewer capacity and addressing concerns from Groton officials that the buildings are too high.
Those concerns as well as touted benefits such as increased tax revenue and jobs for the town, increased public access to the water and improved costal resiliency are expected to be part of the discussion Tuesday night when the Stonington Planning and Zoning Commission holds a public hearing on the controversial application at 7 p.m. at Mystic Middle School.
Details and an analysis of the application to rezone a 7.5-acre portion of Seaport Marine’s 11-acre site off Washington Street from marine commercial to Neighborhood Development District for the project are part of a detailed 35-page report prepared for the commission by Town Planner Keith Brynes.
According to Brynes’ summary of the master plan submitted by Noank Shipyard, the owners of Seaport Marine, the project calls for demolition of all current buildings on the site except for the popular Red 36 restaurant.
The plan calls for a five-story, 45-unit hotel, a 16,590-square-foot, three-story marine service and community event space, a three-story, a 200-seat restaurant, a six-story, 25-unit apartment building, 16 townhouses, six units of multi-family housing, a kayak rental building, an open-air plaza, a park, 120 boat slips, a 200-foot public boardwalk extension, 130 feet of new coastal access, a new boat basin that will require the removal of 13,000 square feet of current land and a new bulkhead to protect against storm surge.
While the marine commercial zone, which is the current zoning designation for the portion of the site that would be developed, limits the height of buildings to 20 feet to protect coastal views, the proposed plan calls for one building to be 72 feet high and another 63 feet. 
That's because the Neighborhood Development District designation, which the developers are seeking, is a floating zone tool established by the town in 2005 to "encourage redevelopment of underutilized commercial properties" and supersedes the existing zoning designation.
The application for a master plan, though, gives the PZC a great deal of flexibility in determining what will be allowed on the site. Under the NDD, a developer needs both master plan and site plan approval. The former is an overall plan for the site while the latter contains detailed engineering, architectural, lighting, landscaping and other plans. Both require a public hearing.  
The NDD's statement of purpose also is intended to "preserve and enhance the Town's historic character, sensitive environmental resources and those neighborhoods in the village cores."
Brynes' report points out that the Mystic sewage treatment plant is nearing capacity and cannot accommodate any additional flow for projects such as Smiler's Wharf until upgrades are made to divert sewage to the underutilized borough plant. While $1.7 million has been appropriated in the 2019-20 budget for part of the work, the remaining $865,000 is projected for inclusion in the 2020-21 budget but has not yet been approved.
Brynes wrote that the PZC could approve the master plan with the stipulation that construction cannot begin until the capacity is increased or reject the master plan because the project is not supported by the needed infrastructure.   
Brynes also wrote that the narrow roads in the area and residential character of much of adjacent Washington and Willow streets make traffic an important issue as the area can experience significant congestion during the tourist season.  
He pointed out that the developers' traffic study, which found that traffic on several nearby streets will not experience undue congestion due to the project except for during a few peak hours, is based on the town making Cottrell Street one way southbound, something the town has not yet approved. Brynes suggested that if the PZC approves the master plan, it may want to link the approval to the town changing the street to one way.
Brynes wrote that the development would typically require 387 on-site parking spots but just 318 are planned with 54 more off site within 500 feet for a total of 372. The NDD, however, gives the PZC discretion over details such as the amount of required parking.   
An additional 56 spots would be available at the nearby Mystic Packer Building with shuttle service for special events, bringing the total to 428. Last year, the PZC told the Coogan Farm Nature & Heritage Center that it could not use off-site parking with shuttle service for larger special events.   
Brynes' report also points out the property is located just outside the Mystic Bridge National Register Historic District. A 1920s-era home and boat sheds are slated for demolition.
The report states the project would generate $493,977 of annual tax revenue for the town of Stonington, with a net revenue of $120,719, or $40,146 more than now, after projected town and school expenses are deducted. 
The net revenue could increase as the economic impact study assumes $210,000 in school expenses, based on the residential units containing 12 schoolchildren. The project, though, is not aimed at families with children. The project is also estimated to create 155 full-time jobs and 166 construction jobs.        
The apartment building, projected for 72 feet, would be the tallest in Mystic, and the Groton Planning Commission has expressed concerns about that building and the 63-foot-high hotel, saying they are "significantly out of scale and character" with other development in the downtown.  
Opponents, many of whom live in the Washington Street area, maintain the project does not conform to the town's Plan of Conservation and would damage the character of the village. They also charge that many of the residential units will be placed for rent on sites such as Airbnb and VRBO. Although such short-term rentals are not allowed under Stonington zoning regulations, the town decided a few years ago to not enforce any violations.

Downtown North dilemma: Can you knock down an ugly building near Dunkin’ Donuts Park and save the parking garage underneath?

As a trial over control of Downtown North development looms in early June, a study is being launched to determine whether it is possible to demolish the vacant, decaying concrete building to the east of Dunkin’ Donuts Park but save the parking garage under the building.
The Capital Region Development Authority says preserving the parking could create more than 300 spaces -- at least temporarily -- while the Downtown North development unfolds. If the building is completely demolished, a surface lot of about 180 spaces could be created.
The idea, according to CRDA executive director Michael W. Freimuth, is to replace parking that would be lost with the development of the lot just south of the stadium.
The lot, to the rear of the Red Lion Hotel and known as “Parcel C," would be the first, mixed-use phase of Downtown North. Plans for the first phase now call for 200 mixed-income apartments, 11,000 square feet of retail and community space and a 250-space parking garage. The estimated cost is $46 million.
“It would give you some elbow room to take the parking off Parcel C to develop Parcel C,” Freimuth said.
The data center is located on what is known as “Parcel D.”
Earlier this year, there was a push for the demolition because the actual development has been stalled amid a legal tangle with the previous developer, Centerplan Construction Co. Centerplan was fired by city from the ballpark project after missing key construction deadlines. Centerplan later filed a lawsuit alleging wrongful termination. The suit seeks $90 million in damages.
A trial is now scheduled to get underway June 5 in Superior Court in Hartford and is expected to last about a month.
The data center is a familiar sight to fans attending Yard Goats games, rising just beyond the bleachers in the stadium.
Freimuth said the cost of preserving the existing parking at the data center will be a prime consideration. It simply may be too expensive to shave the top of the building off.
Providing adequate parking for the ballpark during the construction of Downtown North has been a crucial element as plans for the neighborhood development move forward.
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said it makes sense to explore the option because, in addition to ballpark patrons, the existing lots also are used by employers in the city.
The demolition of the bunker-like data center is integral to Downtown North, one of the largest redevelopment projects in the city in decades. If successful, the redevelopment could reconnect downtown with the city’s northern neighborhoods, split by the construction of I-84 in the 1960s. The parcel where the data center sits is one of four near the ballpark in a project that could eventually include 800 apartments, 60,000 square feet of retail and parking garages. The cost is estimated to be $200 million, possibly including as much as $60 million in public subsidy. Developer Randy Salvatore of Stamford-based RMS Cos. has been chosen as the preferred developer to succeed Centerplan. The city has negotiated a development agreement but city council approval is still needed.
The State Bond Commission had approved CRDA lending $12 million in state funds for the first phase of Downtown North. Faced with a delay in the first phase because of the lawsuit, the bond commission later backed using the funds to demolish the data center.
The cost of demolition is still to be determined. But if any of the $12 million is leftover funding, it would be devoted to development elsewhere in the area.
Demolition -- first projected to begin this summer -- is now not expected to begin until the fall, pending the results of the study. The demolition should be completed in time for the 2020 minor league season.
Courant Staff Writer Steven Goode contributed to the story.

Four developers submit bids to renovate Waterbury’s Odd Fellows building
WATERBURY — Four development groups are interested in renovating the former Odd Fellows building at 36 North Main St. with the backing of $10 million from the state.
In April, the city put out a call for developers interested in taking on the ornate, but crumbling, five-story building on the northeast corner of the city’s downtown Green.
Four proposals were received by the city’s May 15 deadline.
The roughly 40,000-square-foot building has been empty for several years and needs extensive repairs. The state has volunteered $10 million to subsidize its redevelopment.
Finance Director Michael LeBlanc said he couldn’t reveal the identity of the respondents at this point.
A vetting committee of top city employees, along with leaders in the downtown and business communities, will be formed to vet the proposals and develop a recommendation to Mayor Neil M. O’Leary. LeBlanc said the committee would get to work in June. He hopes to wrap up this portion of the review in summer.
“We are looking to move along this process as efficiently as possible,” LeBlanc said.
It could take a considerably longer to finish negotiating an agreement that satisfies the city, the developer and the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development. The DECD holds the purse strings on the $10 million provided by the state to incentive reuse of the building.
The city’s Board of Aldermen would ultimately be required to sign off on any sales agreement for the city-held property.
The state provided $7.7 million to incentive the redevelopment of the former Howland-Hughes Department Store last year. Mayor Neil M. O’Leary has said this was the most difficult negotiation of his seven-year tenure, but one of the most promising. Post University is leasing most of the Howland-Hughes under a guarantee it will bring “approximately 400” staff downtown.

May 24, 2019

CT Construction Digest Friday May 24, 2019

Connecticut’s largest labor organization endorses Gov. Lamont’s toll plan

The state’s largest labor organization has officially endorsed Gov. Ned Lamont’s plan to install electronic tolls on Connecticut’s highways.
The Connecticut AFL-CIO joins other labor groups in backing tolls as a way to fund transportation upgrades and repairs.
“Anyone driving on Connecticut’s roads can see that our transportation system is in dire need of repair,” said Sal Luciano, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO. “A modern transportation system is vital to our state’s economic growth and prosperity. In order to repair and build out our aging transportation system, a reliable and long term funding source needs to be secured. Electronic tolling, estimated to raise $800 million dollars per year, is the most sensible way to fund these critically needed investments.” In addition to fixing the roads, those projects would stimulate the state’s economy and create jobs, labor leaders said." The Building Trades represent thousands of skilled construction workers across Connecticut who are trained and certified to meet our state’s workforce demands,” said David Roche, president of the Connecticut State Building and Construction Trades Council. “We are ready to go to work to bring our state’s infrastructure into the 21st century and beyond.”

Lamont is all in on tolls

Chris Powell Paying a surprise visit to the Connecticut House Democratic caucus with news reporters in tow at the state Capitol last week, Gov. Ned Lamont made some observers uneasy by promising to raise campaign money for caucus members who will cast difficult votes on the highway tolls he has proposed.
“We’re going to raise money for this caucus,” Lamont said. “I’m going to have the business guys coming in. Labor’s going to be standing up for you, and I’m going to be standing up for you.”
While campaign money in exchange for legislative votes might sound like bribery, there really was nothing new in what Lamont said. It was jarring only because such offers seldom are made publicly and candidly by high officials.
But the great profit that stands to be made from tolls and the transportation projects they are supposed to underwrite is clear, since construction companies and their labor unions are spending heavily on an advertising campaign supporting tolls.
Indeed, the whole government class will pitch in, since tolls are not entirely for transportation. They are also for establishing new revenue streams large enough to eliminate the need to economize elsewhere in state government.
Lamont keeps saying opponents of tolls should specify their alternatives for financing transportation, but he already has rejected all of them, starting with the Republican legislative minority’s proposal to use the usual bonding and to stop diverting gasoline-tax revenues to the General Fund.
Lamont has rejected all other alternatives to tolls by refusing to economize anywhere in his budget.
The budget increases state-government-employee compensation, continues to give state-employee pensions priority over all public needs, and increases “aid to local education,” the euphemism for pay raises for municipal teachers, regardless of student-test-score trends.
Welfare and urban spending are to continue as usual, though city demographics and living conditions keep declining.
What exactly did Lamont mean by saying he would recruit “business guys” to raise campaign money for Demo-cratic legislators? Did he mean only the construction-company operators, or the business executives who lately have been clamoring for state government to raise taxes on themselves and other wealthy people?
Since the state income tax was enacted in 1991, Connecticut’s “business guys,” led by the Connecticut Business & Industry Association, have failed to oppose state government’s tax hunger. As a result, Connecticut is in a long economic decline.
In any case, the “business guys” don’t need higher tax rates if they want to enrich state government. They can mail donations to the state treasurer as easily as they can mail donations to Democratic state legislative campaigns.
But since the government class is united in favor of what would be in effect another massive tax increase, contributions from the “business guys” probably won’t be necessary to unify Democratic legislators. For as H.L. Mencken wrote a century ago, “The typical lawmaker is a man devoid of principle – a mere counter in a grotesque and knavish game. If the right pressure could be applied to him, he would be cheerfully in favor of polygamy, astrology, or cannibalism.”
Or tolls.
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.

Bozrah residents OK gas line, sewer asset deals

BOZRAH - Voters approved several aspects of the sale of water and sewer assets between the town and an assisted living partnership at a special town meeting Wednesday that will bring municipal utilities to Route 82 and contribute a positive cash flow to town coffers.
In a 37-11 vote, residents approved the $95,000 purchase by the town of a natural gas line between Norwich Public Utilities’ connections and the Bozrah Senior Living LLC property at Route 82 and Noble Hill Road, and also approved a $1.7 million appropriation for the sale of water and sewer assets to the town from Bozrah Senior Living, Selectman William Ballinger said.
Bozrah Senior Living, an arm of the Southampton, Mass.-based Optimus Senior Living LLC, is constructing a 100,000-square-foot, $17 million assisted living facility in town.
Voters approved the purchase of water and sewer rights from the company in October 2017 over a five-year period, but officials proposed buying them outright through bonding with 10-year financing at a lower interest rate in efforts to save about $180,000 in tax revenue.
The arrangement will bring a positive cash flow to the town each year, Ballinger explained, as the Bozrah Senior Living’s tax liability will be approximately $360,000 per year once its facility is completed, which will more than cover the annual cost of bonding the project.
“It’s more financially advantageous to the town to do it with the bonding,” he said.
The company also agreed to keep the facility on the tax rolls for at least five years, meaning they cannot switch to nonprofit status during that time frame.
Voters also approved the installation of 700 feet of additional water line to connect the NPU feed from Montville to the senior living facility, at a cost of $200,000, and agreed to an ordinance that would designate the Board of Selectmen as the town’s Water Pollution Control Authority, 42-6.
Town officials have wanted to bring public water and sewer assets to Route 82 for several years in the hopes that it would spur economic development, they’ve said. The lack of town water and sewer hookups has been a hindrance to businesses in recent years, and has even prevented some businesses from opening in town.
With Wednesday’s approvals, “I think we’ve laid the foundation for what we believe is a good future for the town,” First Selectman Glenn Pianka said. “It’s a major step for the town to create an environment for businesses to come.”
Well-water contamination is another issue that will be addressed by the new public water utilities, officials said, which will be able to be accessed by businesses and residents. While some remediation has been completed, Pianka said, levels of methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MBTE, which is found in gasoline, and other contaminants, can still be found.
“We’ve got people over there having their water monitored by the state,” Ballinger said.
The ultimate goal over the next several years, he added, is to bring water assets down to South Road, or in the vicinity of the Montville town line. Other small towns, including Franklin, Lisbon, Sprague and Preston, are also in talks to craft an intermunicipal agreement with Norwich Utilities. The agreement, which would be for a term of 40 years, outlines provisions of water, sewer and natural gas service provided by NPU to participating towns.


No recession soon for Connecticut, economist says
Luther Turmelle
BRANFORD — The chief economist for the National Association of Realtors told members of a housing trade group Thursday that despite some of the challenges Connecticut’s economy is facing, he doesn’t expect the state to fall into a recession either this year or next.
Lawrence Yun told members of the New Haven-Middlesex Association of Realtors that employment growth in Connecticut is one percent lower than it was in January 2000. Over the same period, employment at the national level grew by 13 percent, Yun said.
BRANFORD — The chief economist for the National Association of Realtors told members of a housing trade group Thursday that despite some of the challenges Connecticut’s economy is facing, he doesn’t expect the state to fall into a recession either this year or next.Lawrence Yun told members of the New Haven-Middlesex Association of Realtors that employment growth in Connecticut is one percent lower than it was in January 2000. Over the same period, employment at the national level grew by 13 percent, Yun economic growth in the state if home builders rise up to fill the void.“If we build new homes, it will support the economy,” Yun said. “If you build these homes, more people will be working. We’re not building enough single-family homes.”
Yolonda Lowe, a Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties in Essex, said she’s seeing a good deal of sales activity with moderately priced, single-family homes. Lowe is the president of the New Haven-Middlesex Association of Realtors.
Yun’s assessment of the state’s housing market came even as the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development reported that new housing permits for 613 units were issued last month, more than twice the number of permits that were approved in April 2018. And of the new housing permits issued last month, more than 70 percent were for multi-family housing in buildings of five units or more, according to the data from DECD.
There is a slow shift to a rental society in Connecticut,” Yun said. And that shift, he said, is being driven by the housing preferences of members of the millennial generation, born between 1981 and 1996.
“There is a general preference among millennials for downtown living, for walkable cities,” Yun said. “They have put off having children so that meets their needs. But once they have kids, they’re going straight out to the suburbs.”Connecticut benefits from having housing prices that, compared to more popular urban areas such as Boston, are relatively affordable, he said. If the state is able to find a consistent engine for job growth, Yun said that factor could be beneficial to the state’s economy.
Among regions of Connecticut, the New Haven area has been a job growth engine compared to other parts of the state, he said.
The New Haven area has seen 4 percent growth in employment since 2000, according to Yun. By comparison, he said the Stamford-Norwalk area saw a 3 percent employment decline, while the Hartford area had a one percent gain.

Meriden wraps up Pratt Street Gateway project
Matthew Zabierek, Record-Journal staff 
MERIDEN — As crews put finishing touches on the new-look Pratt Street, city officials and local businesses say they’re pleased with how the project turned out.
“I think it looks extremely nice,” said Jim Rinaldi, an employee of Prentis Printing Solutions on Pratt Street.
“We’re very happy with it,” Public Works Director Howard Weissberg said. “We essentially gauge it based on the types of comments we get and, for the most part, the comments we’ve gotten upon completion have been positive.”
Weissberg said the project, which began in December 2017, is scheduled to finish next week.  The only work left to be done, he said, is some “aesthetic treatments” to the landscaped medians installed as part of the project.
While construction for the project caused headaches for travelers, Steve Chehotsky, owner of Little Rendezvous pizza shop on Pratt Street, said many of his customers feel the finished product turned out OK.   
“The same consensus most people have is that it’s nice now that it’s done,”  Chehotsky said. “It does look better than when we had manholes sticking up and an obstacle course out there.”
The city pursued the project, Weissberg said, primarily to improve traffic safety and cut down on motor vehicle accidents along Pratt Street by reducing the number of travel lanes and adding turning lanes.
“It’s a traffic safety, access management project first, it's a paving project second, and it's a beautification project third,” Weissberg said.
The project transformed Pratt Street from a four-lane road with no turning lanes into a boulevard-style roadway with one lane in each direction separated by turning lanes and landscaped medians in between.
Speed reduction
Having only one “through” lane in each direction has significantly cut down on average vehicle speed, according to Weissberg.
“The speed reduction is amazing. It no longer feels like a road where you’re taking your life into your hands crossing or driving on,” he said. “Human nature is just to drive faster than the guy in front of there’s no ability to race because it’s a single file.”
Vehicle speed has dropped despite the road’s speed limit of 25 mph remaining the same.
“You want to have the roads designed so that you almost don’t even need to know what the speed limit is,” Weissberg said. “...What was happening was we had an airport landing strip as our road and people drove it as such.”
Pedestrian safety
The project improves pedestrian safety by widening parking lanes and creating more distance between oncoming traffic and people getting out of their cars. The new medians also give pedestrians crossing a “safe space” to stand when they cross the street away from a crosswalk, Weissberg said.
The city needed to install medians along Pratt Street for the project to fill in the gaps between the center turning lanes. The city, in part, chose landscaped medians over painted and other types of medians because they’re more environmentally friendly and a “much more attractive solution,” Weissberg said.
“It was a traffic safety project first and foremost. What you always want to do is separate your turning movements from your through movements, so that results in the turning lanes. Then the question is, ‘How do you handle what’s left.’ So you can either go with a flush median or a painted median or you can go with a raised median. And then once you go with a raised median, you start asking what type of material do you want to put in?”
Mulch and vegetation were planted inside each median. A “rubberized material with granite in it” encapsulates the mulch in each to keep the mulch from spilling out. The rubberized material is pervious, allowing it to absorb water from melted snow.
“The goal is to make it attractive but keep it low maintenance as well,” Weissberg said.
Gateway to downtown
With the improvements, city officials want to see Pratt Street serve as a “gateway” greeting motorists who exit off Interstate 691 and drive downtown.
Many members of the public, though, haven’t been as optimistic.
“Now that it’s done, the thing I’ve heard the most is ‘waste of money,’”  Chehotsky said about customers’ reaction. “They know it’s (grant funded) but you still have to maintain it. They feel that the middle is just going to end up being overgrown bushes and nip bottles. Most people just have a really sour view of Meriden as a whole.”
The work on Pratt Street cost $3.2 million, all of which is being covered by state funds allocated for the project.
“I think most people are not really in touch with how things work because they figure, ‘Why waste (the money) on this when we could have used it on something else.’ But that’s not how it works. I think people are just quick to say, ‘Waste of money, could have been better used,’” Chehotsky said

New mixed-use apartment building opens in New Haven
NEW HAVEN — There’s new link in the Hill-to-Downtown neighborhood.
The opening of “Parkside at City Crossing” was celebrated Thursday with a look at the new four-story mixed-use building that is billed as “the first completed project of the city’s Hill-to-Downtown Community Plan.”On hand for the ribbon cutting at 22 Gold St. were Mayor Toni N. Harp; Randy Salvatore, president and CEO of RMS Companies, the developer of the property; David Lehman, commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development; Nathan Karnes, development manager for the Department of Housing; New Haven Alders Delores Colon, D-6, and David Reyes, D-5; and Serena Neal-Sanjurjo, executive director city Livable City Initiative, according to a release.                             
The project was designed by New Haven-based Kenneth Boroson Architects, and includes 110 apartments. “The building has a mix of one-, two-, and three- bedroom apartments, tenant amenity rooms and a first-floor retail space at the corner of Gold Street and Washington Avenue,” the release said.
“This project has quickly transformed a street-level parking lot into a vibrant, mixed-use neighborhood,” Harp said, in the release. “It brings critical improvements to a key area of the city and advances a shared vision for a vibrant future throughout the Hill to Downtown corridor.The state Department of Housing provided $5 million in “Just in Time” funding for the project, allowing 30 percent of the units to be offered as affordable housing, the release said.