CT Construction Digest Friday December 20, 2019
Senate approves $1.4 trillion deal to avert shutdown amid impeachment fight
HTV National Desk
The Senate on Thursday approved a nearly $1.4 trillion spending deal to keep the government funded and avert a shutdown at the end of the week.
The Senate passed the deal by green-lighting two separate legislative spending packages, which are now both cleared for President Donald Trump's expected signature. Government funding expires at midnight Friday. The first measure voted on in the afternoon passed by 71-23. The second legislative package passed later in the day and approved by a vote of 81-11.
The sweeping legislative package for funding through fiscal year 2020 includes a military and civilian federal worker pay raise, federal funding for election security grants and gun research, and a repeal of three health care taxes designed to help pay for the Affordable Care Act, alongside a wide variety of other provisions.
House lawmakers passed the two legislative packages earlier in the week that together make up the overall spending deal and the 12 regular annual bills needed to keep the government running.
"A lot of hard work brought this appropriations process back from the brink," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in remarks on the Senate floor Wednesday, adding that it would result in "stable, full-year funding for our armed forces, including research and modernization" and "deliver on vital domestic priorities," such as funding infrastructure and transportation projects.
How the spending bills deal with the border wall and other immigration measures
The White House signaled in negotiations that it would accept significantly less money -- the current level of $1.37 billion -- than requested on the border wall in exchange for maintaining the authority to transfer funds from Pentagon accounts to finance new wall construction, according to people involved in the talks. That agreement made it into the final deal.
During a closed-door House Democratic caucus meeting Tuesday, debate over the spending bill was contentious, with liberal members from the Progressive Caucus and Congressional Hispanic Caucus objecting to any money for the border wall in the bill and the ability of Republicans to maintain transfer authority for the president.
According to one Democrat in the room who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal internal caucus deliberations, Reps. Pramila Jayapal, of Washington state, and Joaquin Castro, of Texas, each spoke up about their frustration that with Democrats in the majority in the House, they shouldn't be making such big concessions on the border wall. Leadership's message was this is the reality of governing with Republicans in control of the Senate and the White House.
The spending package also establishes a new position within the Department of Homeland Security designed to oversee immigrant detention.
The position -- dubbed immigration detention ombudsman -- serves a number of functions, including addressing complaints and conducting unannounced inspections of detention facilities. Over recent months, immigration facilities have come under increased scrutiny following overcrowding and deaths in custody. The position appears intended to address some of those concerns.
Deal includes wide variety of provisions
The sweeping deal includes an increase of $22 billion relative to fiscal year 2019 levels for defense spending and delivers a 3.1% military pay raise along with a pay raise for federal civilian workers. It provides $425 million in funding for election security grants.
Lawmakers also agreed to ban the sale of tobacco products to anyone younger than 21 and to repeal several health care taxes.
The medical device tax, health insurance tax and "Cadillac" tax on employer plans -- all of which have faced bipartisan opposition on Capitol Hill and have been targeted by health care industry lobbyists for years -- would be repealed in the agreement. Their opponents on Capitol Hill have been looking for a popular bill they can be attached to, and this spending package is the last train leaving the station in 2019.
The spending bill also includes $25 million for gun research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, which has long been a Democratic push. It maintains the long-standing prohibition on any funds being used to advocate for or promote gun control.
East Lyme officials still seeking residents’ input on conservation, development plan
East Lyme — Town officials tasked with rewriting the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development over the next year say they still need more resident feedback on issues such as growth and development, as well as conservation and sustainability.
The plan, which is required of every town in Connecticut and must be updated every 10 years, acts as a guiding document and roadmap for town leaders and officials on conservation and development efforts. Town officials, as well as boards and commissions, are expected to use and work from the plan as they make decisions regarding those issues, said Planning Commission member Michelle Williams, who also chairs the town’s POCD subcommittee tasked with rewriting the 256-page document by the end of 2020.
“This is creating a roadmap for the town so we all know the shared vision of where we are going,” Williams said. “But one of the things that we really want to do while we are updating (the plan) is to pull in as many people as possible, whether members of the public or representatives, to get them as a stakeholder in the document.”
So far, however, the subcommittee has received only a few hundred responses to an online questionnaire it formed earlier this year to help learn what direction residents think the town should be moving in. The hope, Williams said, is to get many more responses by the end of December, when the questionnaire will close.
The POCD “is the plan for our town,” Williams said by phone Thursday. “And residents should be pulled in to have their opinion heard.”
As part of the efforts of the subcommittee, composed of about a half-dozen members and formed earlier this year, Williams said the group recently held a workshop advising the town’s boards and commissions on how to submit their input on the POCD. The subcommittee also plans to hold several public forums allowing for more resident input. The first is scheduled Jan. 25.
In years past, the town has budgeted tens of thousands of dollars to hire outside help to distribute and conduct professional surveys to residents. But because the town did not budget for such services this year, the POCD subcommittee has been tasked with creating and distributing the informal questionnaire it is working with now, Town Planner Gary Goeschel said last week.
“We are hoping to get a general sentiment and some good ideas,” Williams said. “Mainly, we are hoping it will give us some clues as to what issues are very important to people and that we should dive into more.”
Williams said one of the biggest issues she’s heard residents talk about recently is town growth.
“There’s a lot of opinions out there, and I don’t think we have a handle on, or a clear mandate on, the pace of development,” Williams said. “We have been a growing town for the last 10 years plus. Is that something we want to continue doing? Or should we slow it down?”
“I think that is the key question that will lead into all kinds of other questions. If we don’t want to develop, how can we maintain our open space? Are we protecting our water quality? Are we utilizing our coastline effectively? Are we protecting our coastline from strengthening storms?” Williams said. “We need resident opinion about all of this.”
“This is really a questionnaire to guide our research and show us what we need to dig into more. We wanted to give people an opportunity to think about what’s in the POCD and tell us what they think in an open-ended and anecdotal way,” Williams said. “A good idea can come from anywhere. What is your great idea for the town of East Lyme?”
East Lyme residents can fill out the questionnaire online at bit.ly/ELPOCD.
Bond Commission Approves Funding For Landfill Work Including PFAS Remediation
Shawn R. Beals
The commission unanimously approved $750,000 Wednesday, adding to a previously-approved $700,000. The money will go toward a variety of upgrades needed at closed landfills in Hartford, Ellington, Waterbury, Wallingford, and Shelton.
Included in the project is work at two homes near the Ellington landfill, where PFAS chemicals have leached into the drinking water. The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has been supplying bottled water to those homes, but will add filtration systems to remove PFAS (per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances), the potentially hazardous substances found in thousands of consumer products.
DEEP has been responsible for the landfills since a 2014 reorganization of the former Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority that created the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority.
Work in Ellington also includes repairs to the methane collection system on the site and filtration at the nearby homes. Work is also being done to determine whether other homes in the area are also seeing PFAS contamination.
DEEP staff said runoff is not collected or treated at the Ellington landfill like it is elsewhere in the state, but testing will be done throughout 2020 to determine where groundwater systems might be affected.
Landfills have been identified by the Governor’s PFAS Task Force as one of many significant sources of PFAS presence in the environment, and the Nov. 1 task force report recommends extensive further study of the contamination they can cause.
In Hartford, extensive work to the groundwater and runoff collection and treatment systems will be done, DEEP said. The North End site off the side of I-91 appears to need the most extensive list of improvements.
The Metropolitan District Commission filed its second lawsuit against the state, alleging that DEEP is responsible for PFAS contamination in the groundwater from the closed Hartford landfill.
Legislators and the state must carefully monitor and address Connecticut’s waste needs, said State Sen. Kevin Witkos, R-Canton. He said the needed work at the closed landfills is just one part of a long list of deficiencies, including major renovations needed at the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority’s trash-to-energy plant in Hartford.
“We do have an ongoing issue at the MIRA plant with not only its two turbines but the possibility of relocating it or tearing that down and rebuilding on the same location,” Witkos said during the meeting Wednesday. “At the end of the day it’s incumbent on us in the state to address our trash to energy versus shipping our stuff out of state to landfills.”
MIRA’s two turbines have been out of service many times in the last few years due to their age and heavy workload. The massive overhaul necessary to modernize the system that burns trash and captures the energy is expected to cost around $330 million.
Executive Director Thomas Kirk said Wednesday that if the agency’s current schedule holds, it could begin a three-year construction project by the end of 2020. Cost estimates came in recently higher than initially expected, so towns will need to be convinced that they should be a part of a regional trash infrastructure even though it will likely mean large disposal fee increases, he said.
MIRA will hold a meeting on Jan. 8 with municipalities to pitch the remodel plan, which needs long-term agreements with towns in order to finance the renovations.