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CT Construction Digest Monday December 5, 2022

Fairfield County City Says Goodbye To Historic Bridge

Kathy Reakes

Soon one of Fairfield County's most recognizable bridges will be gone when it's demolished for safety reasons.

The historic Pleasure Beach Bridge located in Bridgeport which once connected the city’s East Side of Bridgeport to the small island will be getting demolished within the next few weeks, city officials said.

City officials said they have contracted with Terry Contracting for the project, with the hopes of solving many safety issues.

Since the mid-1990s, the bridge has been out of service due to damage by a fire that tore through the bridge’s walkway. 

In addition, the bridge has been the focal point of being struck by oil barges numerous times since its closure, Bridgeport officials said.

“As much as we hate to see a piece of the city’s history be demolished, we are looking forward to taking increased safety measures to protect all who wish to continue to utilize Pleasure Beach," said Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim. "The demolition of the bridge will bring peace of mind to all marine travelers in the area.”

The bridge's demolition will cost approximately $2.7 million, with half of the funds coming from state bonding, a quarter from the city, and a quarter from the American Rescue Plan Act. 

The demolition will continue through the summer and possibly into the fall of 2023. 

The channel will still be open to all marine traffic unless noted otherwise by the Harbor Master and the US Coast Guard.

Lamont dines at White House, then lobbies Buttigieg over infrastructure

 Mark Pazniokas, 

An inveterate networker, Gov. Ned Lamont had a good trip to Washington, D.C. He shared a table at a state dinner Thursday with President Joe Biden’s chief of staff and met Friday with his transportation secretary.

“A lot of life is these relationships,” Lamont said in a telephone interview Friday, shortly before boarding a plane to return to Connecticut. “That’s what the last 24 hours has been.”

He took his wife, Annie, to the White House dinner honoring the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and his top transportation officials, Joseph J. Giulietti and Garrett Eucalitto, to meet with the secretary of transportation, Pete Buttigieg.

Lamont said the trio made a pitch to Buttigieg about how Connecticut, with an aging infrastructure and a share of one of the nation’s busiest commuter rail systems, can showcase the administration’s investments in transportation.

Connecticut is in line for a significant share of billions earmarked for modernizing the northeast rail corridor that passes through the state, used by Amtrak and the Metro-North commuter railroad. But it also is seeking competitive grants.

“You know, a lot of things are discretionary. They think about where the money would be best put with the most impact, where they can tell a story,” Lamont said. “And we can tell what that means to the state of Connecticut.”

Giulietti, the former Metro-North president, is retiring as the commissioner of ConnDOT in January, to be succeeded by his deputy commissioner, Eucalitto, who did a stint in D.C. as transportation coordinator for the National Governors Association.

Lamont said he also met with Steve Ricchetti, the White House counselor and long-time Biden confidant who negotiated the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal that will provide $550 billion into transportation, broadband and utilities.

The first governor to endorse Biden’s campaign for president, Lamont became acquainted with Ricchetti during the campaign and spoke with him the night Biden won the Democratic nomination.

“I think the flesh and blood is a big part of business in my previous life and politics in my current life,” Lamont said.

Paul Mounds, who is departing as Lamont’s chief of staff in January at the start of the governor’s second term, said Lamont’s personal touch has been evident in the attention paid Connecticut by the Biden administration.

Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and several cabinet secretaries have visited the state in the first two years of the Biden administration.

“That’s on a par with larger states like California and New York,” Mounds said. “And that flows from how Ned Lamont is as a person.”

Mounds and the deputy who will succeed him, Jonanthan Dach, said the governor habitually seeks information and perspectives from outside government.

“Being a principal like the governor can be isolating if you only get briefed on things by your senior staff,” said Dach, who worked in the Obama administration as an aide in the State Department. “I think the governor recognizes the dangers of that. And that’s why he spends a lot of time doing what seems like networking.”

Lamont was one of five governors at the state dinner. The others were John Carney of Biden’s home state of Delaware, plus John Bel Edwards of Louisiana, Philip Murphy of New Jersey and Jay Pritzker of Illinois.

Buttigieg attended with his husband, Chasten. The Lamonts spent time with another cabinet official, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, and his wife, Marissa. Cardona was Lamont’s first commissioner of education.

“He’s great. He’s a very good friend,” Lamont said.

The guest list was drawn from the worlds of politics, diplomacy, business and entertainment. One of the attendees was Stephen Colbert, who interviewed Lamont during the 2006 Senate campaign on his old Comedy Central show, The Colbert Report.

Jon Batiste, the Grammy winner who recently left his role as bandleader on Late Night with Stephen Colbert, provided the music. 

Seated at the Lamonts’ table was Ron Klain, the White House chief of staff, and Klain’s wife, Monica Medina, the assistant secretary of state for environmental and scientific affairs.

“I sat with Ron Klain at the dinner,” Lamont said. “That’s not a bad relationship to have. As you’re having a glass of wine and listening to Jon Batiste, you’re also talking about what’s happening in Connecticut. So that’s pretty helpful to get to know him.”

Lamont hastened to add, “It’s also a hell of a lot of fun.”

Emily DiSalvo

FARMINGTON — Town voters will return to the polls this week to decide whether to approve the nearly $10 million more that's needed to fund the construction of a new high school. 

Residents will vote Thursday whether to approve an extra $9.7 million for a new Farmington High School, just over a year after approving the original $135.6 million to fund the project.

Voters and members of the Farmington High School Building Committee met last week to discuss the resolution. A slideshow presented at the meeting listed inflation and supply chain issues as the main drivers of an increased cost for the project.

In June 2021, voters passed the referendum for a $135.6 million appropriation for construction of a new 239,000-square-foot high school on Moneith Drive, including the demolition of the existing building and some changes to the property.

Megan Guerrera, chair of the building committee, explained that the base bid amount for the project exceeded the budgeted amount by about $5.9 million. Additionally, the committee requested the budget include the replacement of the tennis courts and other projects totaling about $3.7 million. 

During the 2022 legislative session, Farmington’s reimbursement rate for the project changed from 18.93 percent for new construction and 28.93 percent for renovation to 30 percent for the entire project. As a result, the proposed municipal cost is projected to be less than what voters first approved in June 2021 referendum. 

The projected impact to the average taxpayer went from $466 over five years to $491 over five years with the addition of the $9.7 million. This is an additional $5 each year for every taxpayer, if the measure is approved Thursday.

The additional appropriation drew mixed reviews from the approximately 70 attendees at the meeting last Monday. 

“As a resident of Farmington, I feel deserted and unprotected by the town,” Peter Jones said at the meeting. “As a taxpayer, I feel cheated by misinformation. Who will be fired? Who will be held accountable for these grave oversights?”

Ned Statchen, of Farmington, said he will support the appropriation because inflation and supply chain issues are outside of the town’s control and are a problem nationwide.

However, others, including Farmington resident Pierre Guertin, said the recent developments are troubling. While he ultimately supports the project, he said some of the information was deceptive and confusing, particularly since taxes will increase while municipal cost is decreasing.

“These recent developments are disappointing at best and a bit troubling on the worse side,” Guertin said at the meeting. “We’ve progressed to this point, but unfortunately, I am not sure we have the opportunity to say no. Hopefully, we do a better job managing the project once it is underway rather than this initial process.”

Residents can vote at their normal polling places Thursday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Absentee ballots are available at the town clerk’s office.

‘Putting together the pieces’: Archaeologists survey site prior to bridge work in Old Lyme

Old Lyme – A plan to move Route 156 about 60 feet to the north as part of a bridge replacement on the East Lyme border means moving history, too.

The proposed project, first floated in the spring of 2019, involves the bridge over the Four Mile River.

Roughly half an acre on the Old Lyme side of the river has been undergoing phased archaeological surveys since late that same year.

The home of a 19th century sea captain once occupied the site, according to the archaeologists conducting the survey.

A request to the state Department of Transportation made Wednesday for details on scope of the bridge replacement project – including an estimated timeline and any anticipated road closures – was not fulfilled by press time.

A report documenting the first two phases by Mansfield-based Archaeological and Historical Services, Inc. was obtained by the Day, but is not publicly available. Federal law allows agencies to withhold documents relating to the nature and location of permitted archaeological sites.

The firm was contracted to do its investigation after the state Department of Transportation’s environmental planning division requested a review of the site’s “archaeological sensitivity,” according to the report.

The third and final phase of the firm’s work began this past September on a patch of lawn where the homestead of a 19th century working class mariner and farmer once stood.

Mary Guillette Harper, president and owner of Archaeological and Historical Services, said in a phone interview Friday that “thousands and thousands” of artifacts are being transported from the sandy soil on the western banks of the river to her laboratory in Storrs.

There, Harper’s archaeologists will clean, identify and catalog the artifacts. Then they can start “putting together the pieces” of history, she said.

“Because when you’re in the field and you’re pulling out broken shards of pottery, there’s no time to say ‘hey, let’s see if it all fits back together’ because stuff is shattered and it’s all over the place,” she said. “But back in the lab, you can start to do that.”

Kate Reinhart, an archaeologist with the firm, was at the site this past week as staff members spent the final month of the project digging into a largely untold story. She said details of the kind of artifacts they’d discovered are being kept under wraps until the excavation is complete.

“Basically we’re just here to investigate the remains of a 19th century sea captain’s house,” Reinhart said. “Captain John Waite.”

She was one of several staff members wearing reflective vests atop winter coats as the wind blew over trenches where displaced earth revealed to them evidence of a “middling mariner” family more than 200 years ago.

Harper said the site is important because it tells the story of the mariner-farmer: A combination of hardscrabble livelihoods common at the time but invisible in most history accounts.

“If you’ve been around Old Lyme, you can see some really fancy sea captain mansions,” she said. “This was not that kind of ship captain.”

A filing with the Connecticut Historical Commission appended to the report detailed the site’s significance.

“Many families in 18th- and 19th-century Connecticut, especially those living near the coast and along tidal rivers, combined seasonal farming and maritime activities in their household economies,” the document said. “Despite the great scale and scope of Connecticut’s maritime history, very few domestic sites of this type have been identified archaeologically.”

Harper said the effort to recognize the site as historic included the DOT’s Office of Environmental Planning and the State Historic Preservation Office. Both of those agencies concurred with the archaeological firm’s determination that the site was eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

“If a site is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, that says it’s very significant in terms of what kind of information it can tell us about the past,” she said.

When it comes to archaeological matters like this, Harper said it’s eligibility – not actually applying for and being added to the National Register – that matters. That’s because a site only has to be determined to be “National Register-eligible” by the State Historic Preservation Office and the DOT’s environmental planning office in order to incur all the protections that a National Register-listed site gets, according to the archaeologist.

US law governing highways requires “all possible planning to minimize harm” if there is no feasible alternative to preserving a historic site as part of a federally-funded project.

But Harper said strict federal standards and topographical constraints left the DOT engineers without room to deviate from their original design for the bridge replacement.

“So I think they were pretty much trapped,” she said of the agency. “They could pretty much only go right where they’re going now.”

So the archaeologists are stripping the site in order to preserve it, according to Harper: “It’s not in the ground anymore, but all the information is being taken away.”

Communication gap

Old Lyme Town Historian John Pfeiffer, an expert in the history of the local Nehantic Tribe, said this week he was surprised “that they came in without any notice” to the town historian or the historical societies.

“They have basically kept us out of the loop,” he said. “We could have been in a position to assist them in documentation at the very least.”

Harper acknowledged Pfeiffer’s concerns when she said her team’s arrival “is usually something the municipal historians find out about when we get there.”

She said state guidelines don’t mandate or encourage coordination with local historians “because it’s really a state project.”

Pfeiffer lamented the communication gap.

“It is unfortunate that when cultural resource studies are carried on in various communities that are most interested in their own histories, the data derived from studies rarely makes it back to the local agencies and societies,” he said.

A 2021 list of pending bridge projects from the DOT put the cost of the replacement at $7.3 million to be covered by federal and state funds. Construction was estimated then to begin in 2023.

DOT’s online bridge database rated the overall structure of the 1982 bridge as poor.

Both Old Lyme First Selectman Tim Griswold and East Lyme First Selectman Kevin Seery said they hadn’t been updated on the status either. Both recalled that an initial presentation indicated the project would allow one lane of traffic to remain open throughout to eliminate the need for a detour due to road closure.