June 6, 2019

CT Construction Digest Thursday June 6, 2019

Lamont tells legislature not to act on last-minute Bridgeport casino deal
Emilie Munson
HARTFORD — The legislature should not pass a last-ditch measure for a Bridgeport casino operated by the tribes, Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration said Wednesday after being largely excluded from recent negotiations.
“This 11th hour proposal has not been fully vetted or reviewed, and with only one day until the end of session, it’s not in the public’s best interest to take up this matter,” said Maribel La Luz, communications director for Lamont. “Instead of resolving outstanding litigation, it puts the state at increased and immediate litigation risk from multiple parties.”
Rep. Chris Rosario, D-Bridgeport, said he was “taken aback” by this response from the governor’s office.
“When we had conversations with his staff, they had concerns about the deal or the proposal, but never did they say it was a bad deal,” Rosario said. “To be quite honest with you, I’m proud of the work the Bridgeport delegation has done.”
“It looks like the state would be handing over the keys to the candy store, relative to giving the tribes exclusivity not only with the casino, but with i-gaming and sports betting,” said Rep. Joe Verrengia, D-West Hartford, chair of the Public Safety and Security Committee, which oversees gambling.
The General Assembly adjourns Wednesday at midnight, but a casino deal could be revived in a special legislative session this summer. La Luz left open the possibility that the governor would support a future, different casino deal.
The city and tribes’ proposal describes a $100 million tribal investment in a casino, $100 million from the state and possibly the city for nearby infrastructure and $150 million for a resort hotel financed by a private company, that has not been selected.
The total project would bring $350 million in economic development to Bridgeport — about half the investment MGM Resorts International offered in its own casino plan.
“The idea is that the casino is the anchor,” said Andrew Doba, spokesman for the tribes’ joint casino venture, MMCT. “The goal is for an initial investment by the tribes to spur additional private development.”
But public money would be required too. A new Municipal Redevelopment Authority, a quasi-public group created in the state budget passed Tuesday, could help bond for part of the project.
Under the proposal, the tribes, who under a decades-old compact have exclusive right to run “casino games” in Connecticut, would gain the right to operate sports betting online and in person. They would also get exclusive rights to run internet casino games — although the Connecticut Lottery Corporation could expand Keno games to online.
The Bridgeport casino would be the tribes’ fourth in Connecticut — they would keep their authorization for a joint casino in East Windsor.
Tuesday night, Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim and tribal leaders, including Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequots, met with legislative leaders at the state Capitol, secretively distributing a one-and-a-quarter page summary outlining this proposal.
Legislators, who participated in the late night meetings, pointed to problems with the bold request.
Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, who was the impetus for the recent negotiations, said Wednesday it was promising that the tribes and Bridgeport were now on the same page. But he saw issues in the proposition that could make it unlikely to pass his chamber.
“As it’s written, I think it would be difficult to cobble the votes together, but is it an excellent starting point for negotiations and maybe some clarifications in some of the areas? Yeah,” said Aresimowicz. “I know my caucus in the past has been very leery of doing internet gambling, when its not sport gambling, just overall internet gambling. That’s been an issue. The 24-hour, seven days a week serving of alcohol that’s been an issue.”
Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, dismissed Bridgeport and the tribes’ proposal as a “wish list.”
Verrengia would not support a plan that did not offer sports betting to off-track betting operators, like New Haven-based Sportech, and the Connecticut Lottery Corporation, he said.
He doubted the level of investment proposed would create a thriving development.
“What can you build for $100 million?” Verrengia asked. “From a national perspective, this is exactly how not to expand gaming because the attraction for the casinos now is the entertainment value, not just the slots and gambling. How you would attract a private developer around that to me is questionable.”
The New Haven delegation, who would have won a job training center under the MGM casino proposal, is upset they have been cut out of the casino talks and, under the new proposal, would get nothing.
The proposed Bridgeport casino is smaller than the $675 million waterfront resort and gambling facility that MGM wanted to bring to the city. But Bridgeport leaders have abandoned a call for an open bidding process that would allow MGM to compete for a casino license — a move that could threaten the compact, which delivers hundreds of millions in revenue to the state each year.
Still, the new deal could invite a lawsuit from MGM and Sportech, who appear to be shut out.
“Litigation is part of the cost of doing business whether you are building a mall, a church or a casino,” said Doba, spokesman for the tribes.
The Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes now operate Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods casinos respectively. They have not yet started construction of their East Windsor casino, Tribal Winds, because it appears they do not yet have the financing.
In months of negotiations this winter and spring, Lamont’s administration wanted the tribes to abandon the East Windsor casino and open shop in Bridgeport instead. The tribes refused.

Connecticut lawmakers end session marked by partisan wins
Susan Haigh, Associated Press
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut lawmakers on Wednesday wrapped up a five-month legislative session marked by Democratic victories, the first in years with a sizeable Democratic legislative majority and a new Democratic governor.
Even though there was the typical flurry of activity on the final day — a rush to pass legislation before the midnight adjournment — many major bills had already been approved, most notably a new two-year, $43 billion budget deal reached between the Democrats.
Other big topics in this year's session, including the authorization of electronic highway tolls, possibly sports betting and other gambling, as well as unfinished bills that borrow money for school construction and other projects, appeared headed for a special legislative session.
Lawmakers also need to return to Hartford to approve a tentative agreement Lamont recently reached with the Connecticut Hospital Association to settle a 2015 lawsuit over a state hospital tax the facilities filed when former Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was still in office.
No dates have been announced yet for any special sessions.
For Gov. Ned Lamont, who praised state lawmakers for their hard work in an early Thursday morning address, Wednesday marked the end of his first legislative session. The wealthy former businessman, who had little political experience before taking on the job of governor in January, had vowed that a state budget would be approved on-time. The last two-year budget, a bipartisan one, passed after a nearly 17-week impasse, just before Halloween.
"Fiscal stability is key to economic growth," Lamont said. "This is a budget that gets us going in the right direction."
But Republican Senate Leader Len Fasano, of North Haven, said Lamont shouldn't take credit just yet for passing a new state budget. Fasano has raised concerns that the Democrats' plan counts on savings from state employee unions that hasn't been finalized."You didn't get a budget done on time because you didn't get a union deal," Fasano said. "If you're going to make a document that is false, that's kind of scary to me. And this budget in my view is unconstitutional. It certainly has a huge deficit and we'll be back in to fix it."
Lawmakers spent the final hours of the legislative session passing relatively non-controversial bills, such as a fee on boaters to raise money to combat invasive aquatic plants and another bill that continues efforts to address the opioid abuse problem. One of the longer and contentious debates of the day was in the House of Representatives, where mostly Democratic lawmakers passed a sweeping police accountability bill that updates the state's police pursuit laws, preventing officers from shooting into or at a fleeting vehicle.
"We should not be telling them what they need to do," said Republican Rep. Rosa Rebimbas of Naugatuck.
Democrats believe they scored some big policy wins this session, including setting aside $2 billion in a budget reserve account; restructuring teacher pension payments; passing a new paid family medical leave program and approving a plan to incrementally increase Connecticut's current $10.10 an hour minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2023.
"The minimum wage is something I'm really, really proud about," said Democratic House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, of Berlin. "To allow individuals, younger individuals, people that are working multiple part-time jobs to get a living wage, is really important to me."
Lawmakers, however, were unable to reached agreement on whether to legalize recreational marijuana. Some Democrats have suggested putting the question before the voters, possibly on the 2020 ballot. And while the House had a short debate on a bill to allow adoptees to obtain their birth certificates, it was withdrawn from consideration on Wednesday.
Despite last-minute efforts, lawmakers did not pass bills that would modernize the state's election system and make it easier for people to register to vote; authorize a tribal casino in Bridgeport; clamp down on alleged deceptive advertising by crisis pregnancy centers in Connecticut; or call for a new election in Stratford's 120th Assembly District, where Democrat Phil Young won by 13 votes in November. The Republican James Feehan challenged the tally because about 75 voters received the wrong ballots.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, of Derby, expressed dismay that Democrats used their greater numbers in the General Assembly this session to force their agenda through the process, noting how the new two-year budget includes roughly $2 billion in tax increases over two years and diverts from past bipartisan efforts to make Connecticut more business-friendly.
"I think the saddest part of this is, they have stuck to a consistent theme and that's disregarding what the people of this state want," she said. "This is just pushing more and more people out of the state."

Debate on CT construction project loans heads to special session
Jacqueline Rabe Thomas
Just how much should the state put on its credit card to pay for the construction of new public schools, affordable housing projects, college classrooms and various economic development initiatives?
A decision on this controversial issue will have to wait until the legislature convenes a special session this summer. That’s because Democratic legislative leaders and Gov. Ned Lamont have so far failed to reach an agreement on the state’s capital budget — and with only hours to go before the legislative session adjourns at midnight, it is clear that time has run out.
To the displeasure of many lawmakers, Lamont has been pushing to significantly scale back state borrowing to $1.3 billion a year from the $2 billion a year that was typical in the final term of his predecessor, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
Many legislators still haven’t come around to supporting Lamont’s so-called ‘debt diet’ since the Democratic governor first proposed it nearly four months ago.
“There are certainly some folks on the legislative side who still don’t agree with the debt diet. It’s just going to require us getting rid of all the distractions that are out there when [the legislative] session is in play and getting around the table and just focussing on the bond bill. Those discussions will start on Tuesday,” said state Rep. Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, the House chairman of the powerful Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee.“Our bond bill is certainly higher than the governor would prefer and we are just trying to figure out where the right point is. He has his number. We have ours,” Rojas said.
State Sen. John Fonfara, the senate chairman of the Financing, Revenue and Bonding Committee and one of the fiercest opponents of the governor’s debt diet, said reaching a compromise on capital spending was difficult since the first priority was reaching agreement on a non-capital General Fund budget.
“There is a lot of work that needs to be done and people have been focused on the budget and haven’t had a chance to put the time in necessary to get it to where it needs to be,” Fonfara said. “We will turn to that now.”
Spending for the construction of affordable housing took a big hit under the governor’s proposed debt diet, with Lamont recommending no new bonding for those projects next year. The bonding committee recommended about $400 million.“There is a continued need for housing money. Certainly we can find a number between zero and $400 million that we can agree on. I just don’t know if we can agree on zero and still meet the demands for housing,” said Rojas.
On school construction, which typically consumes a sizable amount of the available state bonding, there seems to be consensus in how much to spend. That’s because there were not a lot of communities requesting money compared to previous years.
“We got really lucky this year on that front,” said Rojas.
Lawmakers plan to call themselves into special session to pick up some of the issues they were unable to resolve during the regular 5-month session, such as tolls, transportation initiatives, and gambling.

Walk Bridge design phases behind schedule
Kelly Kultys
NORWALK — The design schedule for the Walk Bridge has been slightly delayed, according to Lisa Burns, the city’s principal engineer.
The 90 percent design schedule for the overall Walk Bridge Program ... is tracking later than the DOT is expecting,” Burns told members of the Common Council’s Public Works Committee on Tuesday evening.
The 90 percent design for the project was originally supposed to be ready in April, Burns said, but that got pushed back a few months.“Now the latest date I’ve been told is an August completion,” Burns said, about the 90 percent design.
Judd Everhart, a spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Transportation, said that the 90 percent design should be done this summer.
“We expect to reach 90 percent design this summer,” he said in an email. Final design will be completed by spring 2020 and construction on the bridge replacement should begin in summer 2020.”
The overall $1 billion program includes the replacement of the 122-year-old Walk Bridge, carries railroad tracks over the Norwalk River, with a vertical lift bridge, as well as a new 3,200-foot, four-track interlocking system is constructed on the New Haven Line near Norden Place, additional tracks and electrification of the Danbury Line, Fort Point Street Bridge replacement and roadway realignment, Osborne Avenue replacement and bridge rehabilitation and the East Avenue Bridge replacement and roadway improvements.
Burns said that there are a bunch of different designers, including the city, that have to weave their work together.
“Will this delay the project again?” Council President Tom Livingston asked.Burns said that there is the potential for some of the activities to have delays because of the design pushback. Right now construction on the Walk Bridge itself is scheduled to begin in 2020, but work associated with other portions of the project has already begun.Some of that ongoing work includes the interlocking system near Norden Place that’s affecting some of the nearby residents, particularly those in the Howard Avenue and Fordham Drive area, she said.
Many of those residents used to have trees that backed up to the tracks as a buffer, but those were taken down as a part of the project, Burns said.
“They’ve been basically drilling rock at night and these folks get not a lot of break,” she said.Burns said they’ve been trying to work with the state to put some vinyl fencing up to address some of the noise and light issues, and they’re hoping to have a neighborhood meeting there soon.
The Walk Bridge program also includes a “functional replacement” to replace the IMAX Theater that will be torn down at the Maritime Aquarium. The aquarium was supposed to take the lead on that project, according to the original agreement with the city and the state, but higher-than-expected estimates for the work led to a restructuring of the deal. Now, the city is primarily in control of the estimated $34.5 million replacement project.
Burns said that the city anticipated having the revised design development documents Wednesday for the new “functional replacement program,” which will be reduced from the last round of designs. They hope to get an initial cost estimate and do some preliminary engineering, with a goal of going out to bid on that project either in late summer or early fall.
Burns said she alone has been putting in over 45 hours of Walk Bridge-related meeting each month, since staff was asked to begin tracking their time related to the project.

Ceremony kicks off upgrades to New Britain's Chesley Park
Michelle France
NEW BRITAIN - City officials and residents gathered at Chesley Park Wednesday afternoon to announce the start of construction upgrades that will include brand new lighting, new walkways and a picnic pavilion.
“Our east side neighborhood is one of our most populous areas of town and the residents there deserve a beautiful place to relax and play,” said Mayor Erin Stewart. “I’m excited to finally enter Phase II of this project at Chesley Park.”
Upgrades to the park will also include a new handicapped accessible playground with a rubberized surface, newly lit basketball court and court resurfacing, replacement handball courts, new lawn areas with flowering and shade trees, as well as safety video cameras that feed back to the police department.
The project is being funded with capital improvement money the city receives from the state which had been allocated for the park last year, Stewart said.
Martin Laviero Contractors, who is also responsible for the construction of the city’s beehive bridge, was awarded the job following a bid in of almost $622,000.
“There’s a lot of great stuff happening on the east side of town and we are really excited to be able to do this,” Stewart said on Wednesday. “It’s all about quality of life for our city and for our citizens and our parks are obviously the biggest factor in the quality of life for our neighborhoods and we hope that everybody can enjoy it.”
Phase I included the addition of a 140,000 square foot synthetic turf field at the William A. DeMaio Sports Complex. The project was completed about four years ago after the city invested $1.5 million for the renovation, according to a release.
“I’m very ecstatic about the Chesley Park renovations,” said Alderman Kristian Rosado on Wednesday. “I give a lot of credit to Mayor Stewart, Erik Barbieri, and the Parks Commission for spearheading this effort and to the council for supporting it. This is very important for the residents in the east side and Ward 2 that there is progress being made at a place we have treasured for a long time.”
Construction is expected to be completed by the end of September, Barbieri said.

Portland official: Elmcrest project ‘is off the ground’
Jeff Mill
PORTLAND — Crews have begun fanning out across the Elmcrest campus to evaluate buildings that will be demolished as work begins on the Brainerd Place mixed-use development.
“That project is off the ground,” said town Economic Development Coordinator Mary D. Dickerson, adding that the projected investment in the property is likely to be more than $50 million.
Meanwhile, Daniel Bertram, the Brookfield-based developer of the property, announced he is “working on final contracts” with two commercial tenants for the site, Starbucks and CVS.
Bertram made the announcement during a commercial real-estate forum sponsored by the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce.
Bertram’s company last week pulled a demolition permit for the project, paying the required $5,703 fee for the permit.                           
Crews are inspecting buildings on the 14.7-acre campus as part of “an environmental assessment” to determine the presence of any hazardous materials in the buildings that will be torn down, First Selectwoman Susan S. Bransfield said Wednesday.
Given the age of the building, it is quite likely the crews will find both asbestos and lead.
They will be removed under strict protocols before demolition of the buildings can begin, she said.
“The plan is to complete demo work this summer, with construction to begin in the fall, and the first businesses planned to open in in spring/summer of 2020,” Dickerson said.
Dickerson was speaking at an informational meeting for residents on continuing or planned projects in town, that also included presentations by Bransfield and Director of Public Works Robert J. Shea.
When the Elmcrest project is completed, it will represent an investment by Bertram closer to $50-$60 million than the original estimate of $35 million, Dickerson said.
The original estimate was compiled in 2016 and was based on the anticipated costs of permits for the project.“But it did not include infrastructure costs,” Dickerson said Wednesday.
Those costs include “demolition, improved drainage and storm-water run-off, the expansion of water, sewer and gas service, in addition to development of roads and traffic improvements,” she said.
“This is going to be a major addition to our grand list,” Dickerson said.
The project calls for a mix of retail/commercial properties and 240 one- and two-bedroom apartments that are aimed at attracting a mix of millennials and residents 65 and older who wish to downsize yet still remain in Portland.“I have a waiting list of 18 (people) so far,” she said Tuesday.
The work will be done in two phases.
“The stated timeline for completion of both phases in five years,” Bertram told the Chamber of Commerce’s forum, “Middlesex County & Beyond: Commercial Real Estate’s influence in Economic Development.”
The work will start “with the buildings on the perimeter of the site,” Dickerson said.
The first phase alone is expected to yield $250,000 that will be paid to the town in permitting fees, she said.

Another hotel proposed near I-91 and Route 68 in Wallingford
Lauren Takores
WALLINGFORD — In an area with many existing hotels, a sixth one is being proposed for the Barnes Road (Route 68) area near Interstate 91.
The Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission received an application Wednesday from Wallingford Lodging Partners, LLC, for a hotel at 4 Miles Drive.
The 4.36-acre vacant parcel abuts the Interstate 91 southbound onramp. Adjacent to the north is the Fairfield Inn by Marriott and to the west is Homewood Suites by Hilton.
Nearby are the Courtyard by Marriott and the Hilton Garden Inn. A new hotel at 1175 Barnes Road, slated to be a TownePlace Suites by Marriott, received a site plan permit last month.
The hotel at 4 Miles Drive would be a Hampton Inn & Suites. The 63,481-square-foot building would be four stories and 105 rooms, with an indoor pool and electric vehicle charging stations in the 105-space parking lot, according to the site map and application
The proposed development would take up 3.37 acres, or about 77 percent of the site, with a footprint of 17,474 square feet.
Shailesh Patel, of Orange, is president of Wallingford Lodging Partners. The property is currently owned by CSI Wilson Limited Partnership.
The property is assessed at $759,400, according to town records.
According to the permit application, there are no wetlands on the property, and no anticipated wetland disturbance. Scott Stevens, a professional soils scientist from Rocky Hill-based company Soil Science and Environmental Services, conducted an on-site inspection.
There would be some grading that entails cutting and filling and importing granular fill for base materials under the parking lot, according to the application.
Some rip-rap or limited retaining walls may be used to maintain town access to the sanitary sewer, the application states. Storm water would discharge into the upland area across a manmade drainage channel.
The commission did not discuss the application in detail Wednesday night.

Environmentalists tout offshore wind, plastic bag, solar measures
Benjamin Kail
Hartford — Environmental groups on Wednesday touted several measures soon to hit Gov. Ned Lamont's desk, including a major push to compete for offshore wind, a phased ban on notoriously nonbiodegradable single-use plastic bags and an extension of net metering, which compensates people with rooftop solar systems at retail rates for power they feed into the grid.
By 2030, Connecticut will rely on at least 2,000 megawatts of electricity from offshore wind farms, with Lamont expected to sign legislation long pushed by renewable energy advocates and unanimously backed by the state Senate as the 2019 legislative session closed Wednesday night.
House Bill 7156, which passed the state House 134-10 in May, will ignite a bidding war among offshore wind developers two weeks after it becomes law, helping Connecticut quickly join New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Virginia in bringing between 2,000 and 9,000 megawatts of offshore wind power in the coming decade.
"We will look back at this as a historic moment in the effort to tackle climate change in Connecticut with pride," said Samantha Dynowski, Connecticut state director at the Sierra Club, one of many environmental groups touting the bill. "The Connecticut legislature has shown that clean and renewable energy is a bipartisan issue that supports the environment and good jobs."
John Humphries, executive director of the Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs, said that after a much smaller-scale solicitation for offshore wind power last year, lawmakers had finally sent a "loud and clear message that our state is serious about securing a major share of this emerging industry."
"The rapid transformation of the state's interest in offshore wind development is good news for Connecticut's workers and their communities, because it can jumpstart the needed transition to a thriving clean energy economy with good local jobs," Humphries added.
The push to seize on a burgeoning industry along the East Coast comes as lawmakers look to eventually replace Millstone Power Station's 2,100 megawatts with renewable energy, though a recent deal struck between utilities and Dominion Energy should secure Millstone's continued operation for another decade.
The offshore wind bill comes a year after the General Assembly and former Gov. Dannel Malloy set aggressive targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions (45 percent below 2001 levels by 2030) and renewable energy (40 percent of the state's power production, also by 2030).
"To meet Connecticut's greenhouse gas reduction targets, we must broadly diversify and promote clean climate initiatives like energy efficiency, solar, and wind," said Leah Schmalz, chief program officer for Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound.
"Investing in offshore wind now means we will have clean alternatives to fossil fuels, natural gas and nuclear energy in the decades to come," said Connecticut League of Conservation Voters Executive Director Lori Brown.
The bill also comes a month after the Connecticut Port Authority, pier operator Gateway and developer Bay State Wind announced a $93 million private-public investment to turn New London's State Pier into an offshore wind hub with upgraded infrastructure and heavy-lift capability for a range of cargo.
Connecticut will already receive 300 megawatts of electricity by 2023 from the Revolution Wind project south of Martha's Vineyard, in development by Bay State Wind, a joint venture between offshore wind giant Ørsted U.S. Offshore Wind and Eversource Investment LLC, an unregulated Eversource subsidiary. That project was initiated by Deepwater Wind — purchased by Ørsted for $500 million last fall — which built the 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm, the first completed offshore wind endeavor in the U.S.
With increased scale and competition, offshore wind prices have dropped significantly since Deepwater Wind built the Block Island Wind Farm, which delivered power at 24 cents per kilowatt hour in its first year of operation with a 3.5 percent annual escalator built into the contract.
In Massachusetts, New Bedford-based Vineyard Wind's 800-megawatt offshore project will sell power to three Massachusetts utilities at a fixed rate of 8.4 cents per kilowatt hour, according to EcoRI News. In Rhode Island, which will receive 400 megawatts from Revolution Wind, National Grid will pay 9.84 cents per kilowatt hour for 20 years.
State-regulated utilities Eversource and United Illuminating will buy electricity produced at Revolution Wind and deliver it to Connecticut consumers, but the proposed price per kilowatt hour — which is also fixed, unlike the Block Island Wind Farm — remains undisclosed while the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority reviews the proposal.
Some fishermen, including Joseph Gilbert, owner of Empire Fisheries of Milford, expressed caution in public testimony that "potential problems abound" unless the offshore wind companies, lawmakers and the commercial fishing industry work together to "ensure that the proper protections are in place — environmental, industrial, commercial and the safety of our fishermen."
In statements Wednesday, state Sen. Norm Needleman, D-Essex, co-chair of the Energy and Technology Committee, the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club and Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound noted the offshore wind legislation includes protections for labor and mitigation for impacts on wildlife and the environment.
The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which leases federal waters to offshore wind developers, also requires developers to conduct extensive geophysical and archaeological surveys, and contracts stipulate that construction schedules must not impede right whale migration patterns, and vessels must maintain certain distances from a range of wildlife, including sea turtles.
Ørsted, U.S. Offshore Wind and Eversource in a recent statement called the legislation "another step in the right direction for the state to play a leading role in the United States' fast-growing offshore wind industry."
Vineyard Wind, meanwhile, is proposing to tap into the state's offshore wind market with upgrades to Bridgeport Harbor.
That proposed project lost out to Deepwater Wind in the state's first solicitation for offshore wind last year. But Vineyard Wind — backed by Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners and Avangrid Renewables and partnered with Bridgeport Boatworks — hopes to compete again, with Chief Development Officer Erich Stephens saying the proposal would invest millions of dollars into Bridgeport and "put the state at the center of an industry that's poised for tremendous growth."
Tax, then ban, for pesky plastic bags
The two-year $43 billion budget package adopted by the state House and Senate this week includes a Lamont-proposed 10-cent tax on single-use plastic bags that would go into effect this summer and earn the state about $30 million in revenue, followed by a ban beginning July 1, 2021.
The proposal, backed by many lawmakers, environmental groups and the Connecticut Food Association, whose members operate 300 retail food stores and 135 pharmacies, would make Connecticut the fourth state to outlaw the nonbiodegradable bags, following New York, California and Hawaii.
"We're pleased with the final measure," said Bill Lucey, Long Island Soundkeeper for the Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound. "It will impose a ten-cent fee on plastic bags for two years and ban them after that, encourages recycling paper bags, and will study compostable bags. And critically, it continues to allow towns to pass stronger ordinances if they wish. That's a win for wildlife."
Lucey previously said the bags and other plastic items, which never truly decompose, can choke wildlife and cause starvation, and sometimes eventually break into tiny pieces that threaten both wildlife and humans. The bags also frequently clog recycling processes.
More than two dozen Connecticut communities, including Waterford, Stonington and Groton, have considered bag bans, and several local restaurants have given up plastic straws in favor of paper or metal ones.
The statewide ban will eventually force stores to provide only single-use carryout bags made of 100 percent recyclable paper containing at least 40 percent previously recycled material. The paper bags must "conspicuously display ... 'Please Reuse and Recycle This bag," and stores could be slapped with $250 fines for any violations after an initial warning from a town, health district or officials with the Departments of Consumer Protection or Energy and Environmental Protection.
Environmental advocates and solar businesses also applauded the General Assembly's passage of House Bill 5002, which included energy storage and land inventory provisions, improved energy efficiency regulations for state-funded construction projects, extended several existing renewable energy programs that help homeowners save on efficiency, solar and other environmentally-friendly projects, and kept net metering alive instead of phasing it out as planned according to a bill that passed last year.
The Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound said ending net metering, which credits homeowners' energy bills at retail rates for the extra power they produce beyond what they use, imperiled the state's 2,200 solar workers and would make installing solar panels less appealing to residents.
"It's a move that will save jobs and help keep rooftop solar practical for Connecticut residents who want to reduce their energy bills and protect our air," Schmalz said.

Oxford’s Quarry Walk continues to expand
Jordan Grice
The Quarry Walk is shaping up to be the downtown hub that developers and Oxford officials had hoped.
“Our whole concept of creating a village within a town and constant foot traffic for our tenants and all these services amenities of our customer base is proving out,“ said Kathy Ekstrom, development manager for Haynes Development, which is building the $70 million town center project along Route 67.
Haynes is preparing to add another batch of medical and service businesses to its lineup at the 30-acre hub in coming months.
Window Treatments Unlimited and Rydzik and Rydzik CPA will open this month while Rose Insurance Co. and the Wellness Center of Oxford are expected to join in July, Ekstrom said.
“It’s always been our dream to open a behavior health facility in Oxford,” said Michael Allen, CEO of the Wellness Center, which will offer behavior health-base services, like family, marriage and individual therapy, for clients.
Allen plans to house roughly 20 healthcare providers in his 2,500 square-foot space across from the Quarry Walk’s 50,000 square foot medical office space that opened in May.Sally Orthopedic Specialist opened as the first tenant in the medical office in the project last month. Griffin Faculty Health, which is connected to Griffin Hospital, will be opening in July.
Several eateries will also be opening this summer, including Sitting Duck Tavern and “Shake This,” a smoothie and juice bar. Seymour-based Tea with Tracy is expected to open another location later this year.
“People now have a place to go to get those services,” Ekstrom said.Prior to Quarry Walk, Oxford lacked a commercial town center, but town officials said transforming the former stone quarry into the new downtown has breathed new life into the town’s business and community appeal.“It’s really kind of exciting,” said Oxford First Selectman George Temple. “I’m happy with the way things are moving forward here.”
Haynes was approved earlier at the start of 2019 to build 150 units of one- and two-bedroom apartments along with purchasable penthouses. The company has started construction of the first building, slated for 78 units of luxury apartments in January.
Apartment rents will range from $1,800 to $2,300 a month; purchase of the penthouse units will cost between $250,000 and $375,000.
Temple said the growing list of stores and restaurants gives residents several reasons to hang out in the Quarry Walk commercial hub. The town center also includes a grocery store and other retailers.
Temple said he is hopeful that the Quarry Walk will kickstart future development throughout the town.
“Once other people see the success that the tenants have down there, they’ll be all over it, and I think that will transfer up Route 67,” he said.

GOP, Dems clash over Transportion Fund
HARTFORD – Democrats and Republicans clashed sharply on the legislature’s last day Wednesday over transportation funding yet again.
The political quarreling was over characterizations of a budget provision that reduces the amount of sales taxes that previously had been designated to be deposited in the Special Transportation Fund.
Republicans are branding the move as a raid on the transportation fund, and Democrats are saying Republicans are all wrong.
Democrats and Gov. Ned Lamont altered a schedule for gradually transferring sales tax receipts from new car sales to support the dedicated fund that Democrats and Republicans in the last legislature negotiated.
The change reallocates $171.6 million to support general fund spending in the two-year, $43.4 billion budget that Lamont and Democratic leaders negotiated.
The Republicans see this rerouting of funding as a raid on the transportation fund. Democrats disagree because no deposited funds are being pulled out of the fund itself.
“I think the difference is that they’re going into a grocery store and eating the cookie and walking out and not paying for it, versus taking the cookie, stealing it, and eating it outside. That is difference. Both are thefts, but we’re arguing about how that theft occurs,” said Rep. Vincent J. Candelora, R-North Branford, the deputy House GOP leader.
Democrats and Lamont revised the transfer schedule as they have been arguing highway tolls are needed to keep the transportation fund solvent because revenue sources are drying up, House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said.
Republican legislators have questioned if the budget change was meant to starve the transportation fund to justify highway tolls. Democrats have dismissed such conspiratorial GOP musings. The legislature’s budget office projected operating balances in the fund through the 2024 fiscal year.
The original transfer schedule dedicated 8% of the receipts from new car sales for the current 2019 fiscal year, and then increased the deposit to 33% in 2020, 56% in 2021, 75% in 2022, and finally 100% in 2023 and after.
The revised plan transfers 17% of the receipts next year and then 25% the following year, and it maintains the levels originally proposed for subsequent years.
The change results in reductions of $58 million in the transfer for the 2020 and $113.4 million for the 2021 year.
“I don’t care if you call it raiding, diverting, or just not keeping your word, the money that is supposed to go in there is not going in. Call it whatever you want,” Klarides said.
Democrats care a lot that Republicans are categorizing the budget change as a raid on the transportation fund.
“It wasn’t a sweep. It wasn’t a raid,” House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said.
House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, challenged Republicans to sue to block the revisions.
Voters approved a so-called lock box amendment to the state Constitution last year that requires money deposited into the transportation fund be used only for transportation-related purposes. The amendment crucially does not prohibit the diversion of revenue designated for deposit.
“If they’re going to call it a sweep, then they’re saying we violated the constitutional amendment that passed last November,” Ritter said. “Get yourself a lawyer and file a lawsuit. You will lose. It is not a sweep. If they can make a legal argument, I’d love to read the brief. They’re not, so it is a political talking point.”
Senate Minority Leader Leonard A. Fasano, R-North Haven, said Democrats are engaging in partisan semantics.
“They think if you say if money is going to go into the transportation fund and then you divert it that is not a raid. To me, it is raid. It just hasn’t hit that fund so it isn’t in the lock box yet,” he said.