Killingly power plant approval good news for ‘bridge of flowers’
DANIELSON — A plan to transform a Danielson footbridge into a flower-festooned tourist destination, while not a certainty, recently took a leap forward after state events proved out in favor of power plant developers.
The approval earlier this month of certificates of environmental compatibility and public need by the state Siting Council for the development of the proposed Killingly Energy Center facility means thousands of dollars partially earmarked for a “bridge of flowers” on the Water Street bridge could eventually be dispersed.
A Community Environmental Benefit agreement approved by the Killingly Town Council in 2017 calls for NTE, the plant’s developer, to provide $30,000 for the bridge project as well as for the installation of benches on the town’s River Trail path – or for “another appropriate outdoor project,” Town Manager Mary Calorio said.
Calorio said the money won’t be released until the plant is operational, which, if funding for the project is garnered, is likely at least a couple of years away.
“We still need to determine what the cost of that bridge project would be and if more money would need to be raised to get it done,” she said. “Once we determine that cost, the Town Council would need to vote to allocate the funding.”
Ginny Chase, head of Mother Nature’s Garden group, has been pushing for the bridge project for years. Her group has already helped beautify sections of town with pocket gardens, especially along the river area along Water Street.
Chase said adding hanging plants along the span was the “biggest dream” of former Killingly Planning Director Linda Walden, who died in 2015.
“We’re basing the idea on a couple of flower bridges, including ones in Simsbury and Shelburne Falls, Mass.,” she said.
“It all boils down to costs and as a nonprofit, that’s especially important,” Chase said. “Our next step is to get concrete cost numbers for welders and other work so we have them on hand when the council asks.”
Calorio, who supports the bridge renovation in theory, said she does have maintenance concerns.
“This is town property and with similar projects, volunteers typically step up in the beginning, but that enthusiasm sometimes wanes,” she said. “But these kinds of additions do look beautiful.”
Chase said she’s already got a pool of volunteers in the wings for such projects.
“We do have resources, like the students at the local vo-ag programs that have already helped us so much with garden planting,” she said. “Something like this has the potential of being a draw, not just for Killingly residents, but from people out of town. And that’s beneficial to our economy.”
Officials in the Valley dismayed by Gov. Ned Lamont’s reversal on fire training center
After nearly two decades of delays, the Valley Firefighter Training Center appeared to be back on track and Chuck Stankye III wanted to celebrate.
His late father spent the last years of his life advocating for the fire training school so about three weeks ago, Stankye brought a beer and a shot of whiskey to his dad’s grave to mark the moment.
But last week, Stankye and other advocates of the regional training facility slated to be built in Beacon Falls were disappointed to learn that the project has been stalled yet again.
Stankye, a former Derby fire chief like his father, said it felt like “a kick in the chest” when he heard funding for the $14 million training center would not appear on the agenda for Wednesday’s State Bond Commission meeting.
Training centers are crucial for firefighters to learn the complex rules of the fire service, from drills and rescue protocols to OSHA requirements. Most of the firefighters serving communities in the Valley are volunteers who also hold full-time jobs and often cannot get away during work hours to train at facilities in other cities, most of which are only open during the day.
The Beacon Falls project has been in limbo since 2000, when the region’s previous training facility, located on an island at the confluence of the Housatonic and Naugatuck Rivers, was shut down due to environmental concerns.
Stankye and other supporters were encouraged last fall, when Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont came to Derby and pledged to support the center. “This part of the state has long been neglected,” Lamont said at a campaign stop in Derby, as reported by the Hearst Connecticut Media. "You’ve got to set priorities. These are priorities. We bond a lot of things that have nothing to do with public safety, things like operating expenses. ... Fire training is public safety.”
After the election, Lamont told House Republican Leader Themis Klarides the state’s fiscal challenges have caused him to reassess which projects merit state bond funds. He has embarked on a so-called debt diet that dramatically scales back state borrowing.
"Unfortunately our fiscal challenges, which you have consistently acknowledged, require us to reexamine our prioritization of bond funds,'' Lamont, who chairs the State Bond Commission and sets its agenda, wrote to Klarides. “At this time we are unable to support this new project.''
Officials in the Valley blasted the governor’s turnaround. “This is not sitting well with people in this part of the state,” Klarides said. “The word ‘politician’ has gotten a very bad reputation in recent years. The one thing people cannot tolerate is when you say one thing and do anything.”
Rep. Kara Rochelle, a Democratic freshman from Derby, also expressed disappointment.
“The Valley Fire School is an issue of deep importance, and a project long overdue its bonding,” she said. “Since taking office I have spent hundreds of hours coordinating efforts ... [and] will continue to work tirelessly through proper legislative channels in my efforts to advance this project.”
Rochelle noted that she has a personal connection to the project.
“I grew up in a fire family, I know intimately what volunteer firefighters do on calls, and how hard they work to maintain proper fire service and ensure public safety," she said. "It is a way of life that is selfless and it is a family. I will continue to fight for the fire school, our firefighters and the public’s safety at every turn, as a faithful and diligent daughter of the fire service.”