Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont says passage of a state bond package is being held up by negotiations with lawmakers on his revised transportation infrastructure plan.
“We have to figure out whether we are going to pay for transportation through more borrowing or through a user fee and more funding from the Trump Transportation Department. Once we get that figured out, the bond agenda is going to happen pretty quickly.”
Lamont let Republicans in on the transportation plan, but Senate Leader Len Fasano says he was out of the loop on the bond agenda.
“I’m going to work with them on the transportation package and share with them the information, but I’m not giving them a damn thing on the bonding. Is that how this works?”
Fasano sent a letter to Lamont about this last week but says he has yet to receive a response.
Lamont says he has an open door policy to negotiations with both Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
Stamford, Greenwich mooring plan withdrawn after public outcry
STAMFORD — A controversial plan that would have introduced large sand-and-gravel-laden barges into Long Island Sound less than a mile off Stamford and Greenwich has been scrapped, according to numerous sources.
The proposal, from New Jersey-based Weeks Marine, was not yet submitted officially to the state, but would have installed a commercial mooring in Stamford waters where the company could park barges while they waited for tugboat transport into O&G Industries, which runs asphalt, concrete and other operations in Stamford Harbor.
Residents and local officials have been vocal in their opposition to the plan, saying it would ruin recreational boating in the area and create a hazard for people on the water and shellfish beds. Among opponents’ concerns was that barges could get loose, which has happened in the area in the past.
Weeks was set to present its plan at the Tuesday meeting of the Stamford Harbor Management & Shellfish Commission, but the item is no longer on the agenda.The company first brought up the idea of a new mooring earlier this year, when it proposed putting one less than half a mile from Greenwich’s Rocky Point back in May. Weeks ended up scrapping that plan after backlash from residents from Rocky Point and Stamford’s Dolphin Cove.Recently, Weeks came back with the new proposal, which would have placed the mooring about a quarter of a mile south of the previous location.On Wednesday, state Rep. Stephen Meskers, D-150th, whose district covers the Greenwich shoreline, confirmed that he had been told the application would not go forward.“What’s clear is that there is a problem with the location of this mooring,” Meskers said. “There needs to be a spot that is environmentally, navigationally and recreationally workable.”Meskers said Weeks Marine still has the ability to apply for the mooring in November and he is holding off declaring a victory until he sees where the company chooses to go.“Until I hear where they are going to try and locate this mooring, I will remain vigilant and concerned about it,” said Meskers, who added that he, like many others, objected to a commercial mooring so close to an estuary in Long Island Sound. The pressure to withdraw the proposal came from many sources.
Meskers said he has spoken to Gov. Ned Lamont and U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, both of whom are Greenwich residents, as well as Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes, and had received “excellent feedback” in response to the concerns that he and other residents had raised.
Chris Franco, the president of the Greenwich Point Conservancy, said he was “horrified” when he learned of Weeks’ plans.
“Its such a sensitive area,” he said. “There are shellfish beds throughout that entire area.”
A coalition of concerned residents, led by the Greenwich Point Conservancy and the Rocky Point Club, hired attorney Ann Catino of Halloran & Sage in Hartford to guide them in their battle against the plan.
“We just felt that we needed guidance and representation as we go through this process,” Franco said.
Meskers was quick to credit Franco for mobilizing Greenwich’s response to the mooring. He calledthe work of Franco and the Greenwich Point Conservancy “laudable.”
Bill Kelly, president of the Rocky Point Club, said he was thrilled with the news of Weeks scraping its latest plan.
“It’s just a testament to the residents of Old Greenwich and Riverside that they could unite on such a very important matter,” he said.
It was unclear Wednesday if Weeks would pursue a different location for a mooring, but one option could be to install one inside the Stamford Harbor breakwater, as brought up at a public meeting on the proposal Monday night. There is currently a commercial mooring in that section of the harbor, owned by Buchanan Marine, based out of New Haven, which also transports barges to and from Stamford.Some local officials have doubted there is another location of sufficient depth within the breakwater.
The request is one of several contained in a six-page letter sent Wednesday to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection's Land and Water Resources Division, the entity reviewing the port authority’s application to enlarge and update State Pier to accommodate the storage and assembly of elements of off-shore wind turbines.
“While the near-term opportunities for economic benefits associated with the use of State Pier to support the off-shore wind-energy industry are recognized, the Project should not diminish future port capabilities for docking, unloading, and storage of diverse cargoes,” the commission’s letter states. “In this regard, the Project should not diminish future opportunities for use of existing rail connections.”
Converting the pier into an exclusive-use facility has been a bone of contention among critics of the estimated $93 million project. David Kooris, acting chairman of the port authority's board, has said that during construction the pier would be used exclusively by the offshore wind industry but there is room for more diverse cargo coming in between and during lulls in that activity.
The commission’s letter is a compilation of comments and recommendations that the commission feels will better protect the city when the project gets underway, Harbor Commission Chairwoman Kathy Walburn said.
The New London Harbor Management Commission also acts as the New London Port Authority and is in the final stages of developing the city’s first Harbor Management Plan.
“We’re just concerned that even though it’s state property, this is in New London and we want to make sure New London gets some benefit from the project and assurances there are no conflicts of any kind as the project goes ahead,” Walburn said.
The Connecticut Port Authority’s application remains under review by DEEP and Walburn said she expects DEEP will take any concerns into consideration during its review process. DEEP deemed the port authority's initial application, received May 7, 2019, “insufficient” but has been working with the port authority to gather additional input to meet requirements, a DEEP spokesman has said.
Construction is slated to start in 2020 on the project, which includes the filling in of 7 acres between the facility's two piers — the Admiral Harold E. Shear Marine Terminal and Central Vermont Railroad Pier — along with demolition of buildings, maintenance dredging of berthing areas and installation of new drainage and stormwater treatment systems.
The Connecticut Port Authority initially sidestepped a requirement to garner local input on the project, the harbor management commission claims, failing to submit pre-application plans for review locally as required by the DEEP application process.
Representatives from the Connecticut Port Authority — board member Joseph Salvatore and retired Navy Capt. Paul Whitescarver, a consultant for the port authority — met with the New London Port Authority on Sept. 26.
Among other recommendations by the commission is a “robust public review process, and a detailed economic analysis of maritime industry opportunities and constraints.” It asks that the plan be consistent with the 1999 State Pier Management plan, though state officials contend that the plan does not apply. The commission also calls for environmental stewardship and sustainability, mitigation of the impacts of construction and preservation of “scenic quality in the New London Harbor Management Area...”
The commission asks that DEEP’s review process include formal consultation with local stakeholders, including the Coast Guard, Navy, General Dynamics and Cross Sound Ferry, to avoid conflicts between use of the pier and ferries operating in Winthrop Cove.
The commission requests that consideration be given to the movement of the commercial fishing fleet now operating at the Central Vermont Railroad Pier. At least four vessels operate from that pier. Mayor Michael Passero said he is working with stakeholders to explore the idea of Fisherman’s Pier, on the city’s waterfront, as a new location for the fleet.
Walburn said the commission has not taken a formal vote to express support or opposition to the state’s plan.
Passero said that his sense is the commission “overall, broadly supports the offshore wind industry investment in state pier ... and recognizes all of the opportunities that presents.”
“There’s no issue we’ve raised that isn’t already a challenge that the parties are working through,” Passero said.
The New London Port Authority members are Walburn, Passero, Kenneth Edwards, Samatha Egger, John S. Johnson, Michael Kegler and Karl J. Saszik. Edwards said he has recused himself from discussion of State Pier issues because of his employment at ThayerMahan, a Groton business that stands to benefit from the pier improvements.
Johnson is also a member of the Connecticut Port Authority.
Bristol Hospital moves ahead with $15M emergency-room overhaul
Bristol Hospital is preparing to embark on the next phase of a $15-million expansion and renovation that will roughly double the size of its emergency department.
The 169-bed hospital, part of Bristol Health, recently applied to the city for a special permit. The hospital hopes to begin construction before year’s end on an approximately 13,000-square-foot expansion of the existing emergency department (which Bristol calls its Emergency Center).
The addition would largely be built on what is currently a road that runs through the campus.
After that, the final phase of the project would begin -- a major renovation and redesign of Bristol’s existing emergency department, with an anticipated completion date of late 2021 -- coinciding with the independent hospital’s 100th anniversary, Bristol officials told HBJ on Wednesday.
The hospital is aiming to increase patient volumes in the emergency department, which currently sees upwards of 40,000 patients per year, improve the experience patients and their families have in the department, and increase safety and reduce stress for doctors and other providers working there.
The redesigned, expanded department will allow providers to better see and monitor the several dozen patient rooms from a central location. It will also allow for better handling of fluctuations in patient demand, such as during flu season, which sets in around now, Lim said.
“Our current set up is a little bit piecemeal,” he said. ”I think we’ll have a lot better flow.”
The design calls for the new and old square footage to be one unified space, said project manager Tom Roche.
“We’re treating it as one big emergency department renovation,” Roche said.
It has also been fundraising.
Mary Lynn Gagnon, executive director of the Bristol Hospital Development Foundation, said she is aiming to raise between $4.5 and $5 million in donations. Since the campaign launched in April, the foundation is up to $3.8 million, she said.
There is a virtual tour of the project on the foundation's website.
SJW closes $1.1B deal to acquire CT Water
A California company has closed its $1.1 billion acquisition of Connecticut Water, a Clinton-based utility that provides water services to more than 136,000 customers in Connecticut and Maine.
The buyer, San Jose-based SJW Group, now claims 1.5 million customers across California, Connecticut, Maine and Texas.
“This transaction brings together employees from two companies who share a passion for water and wastewater service, for being good corporate citizens and for preserving natural resources to sustainably serve current and future customers,” David Benoit, president of Connecticut Water, said in an announcement Wednesday. “We will have the benefits of national scale while maintaining the experienced local leadership teams and employees to meet our customers’ needs.”
Since it’s now a subsidiary, shares of CTWS’ common stock have ceased trading on Nasdaq. SJW remains a publicly listed company.
PURA’s approval bars CTWS from drawing on its water stores to supply any systems or customers outside of Connecticut without prior approval from the regulator.
For the past month, the two companies had been awaiting approval from utility regulators in Maine, where CTWS subsidiary Maine Water Co. serves approximately 32,000 customers.
That approval came on Oct. 4, according to the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s website.
Late last year, PURA signaled that it could block the transaction, arguing the deal (which was originally proposed as a merger of equals rather than an acquisition) would leave Connecticut Water in worse condition both “financially and managerially.”
SJW and CTWS withdrew their application and returned months later with a revised deal structure and additional commitments to sweeten the offer for Connecticut ratepayers.
Another challenge along the way for SJW was that Connecticut’s largest utility operator, Eversource, wanted to acquire CTWS. Eversource cast several competing bids last year, and opposed the SJW deal before PURA commissioners.