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CT Construction Digest Monday January 17, 2022

CT DOT Awards $18.7 Million Contract For Main Street Reconstruction In Derby

DERBY — The state Department of Transportation last week awarded an $18.7 million contract to a New Haven construction firm to build a new Main Street in downtown Derby.

C.J. Fucci Inc. was awarded the job for the Route 34 widening project on Jan. 3. Construction is scheduled to start April 1, 2022, according to a DOT spokesperson. Route 34, a state road, is called Main Street locally.

“I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am,” Derby Mayor Rich Dziekan said in a Thursday morning interview with The Valley Indy. “The city has been wanting this to start for years, and it’s really been a team effort to get to this point.“

Dziekan thanked the DOT, the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments, and members of his administration, including outgoing chief of staff Andrew Baklik and Carmen DiCenso, the city’s economic development liaison, for their efforts.
Dziekan also thanked the public and acknowledged their patience waiting for the state-controlled project to get to this point.

The project includes the reconstruction of Route 34 (Main Street) from the Derby-Shelton bridge to the Route 8 interchange. 
The Derby-Shelton bridge is currently undergoing a separate, $6.3 million renovation project.

It is supposed to improve traffic conditions in downtown Derby — without turning Main Street into a highway.

The project will create two through lanes in each direction on Route 34 separated by a center median, with new, dedicated turning lanes at intersections. There will also be improvements to traffic signals, including the interconnecting of the signals to improve traffic flow, according to info posted on the website of the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments.

“Improvements will be made to Elizabeth Street, Minerva Street, Water Street, and Factory Street. Elizabeth, Minerva, and Thirds Streets will be converted to one-way circulation. Traffic will travel north on Minerva and south on Elizabeth,” according to the project’s description.

The work is expected to take two to three years to complete.

Rick Dunne, a Derby resident, is the executive director of the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments, the agency that has been managing the project under the supervision of the state DOT.

Dunne has been involved with the project since its conception in 2002.

Dunne said he’s ecstatic to see the project move forward, comparing Derby’s pursuit of the project to Captain Ahab’s pursuit of the white whale in “Moby-Dick.“

At the same time, Dunne said there will be complaints about the project once it starts because it’s a major project happening on a very busy road.

“But it will eventually make a huge difference in the performance of the roadway and the ability of the downtown to present itself,” Dunne said.

In November the city learned $12.6 million in federal money will be used to renovate and upgrade the Derby train station, which is off Route 34 next to Home Depot.

Dziekan said the projects — the Route 34 widening, the renovation of the Derby-Shelton bridge, and the upgrades to the train station — are important because they will encourage investment in downtown Derby.

The city’s planning and zoning commission is currently reviewing a proposal to build 105 apartments at the former Lifetouch property on Main Street.

C.J. Fucci Inc., in business for 47 years, has worked on numerous projects for the state and individual cities all over Connecticut. Click here for the company’s website.

C.J. Fucci Inc. was the lowest of six bidders, The Valley Indy reported in November.

The Valley Indy asked Dziekan whether, given the amount of time the public has been waiting for the project to move forward, the April 1 start date might be pushed a day or two after April Fool’s Day.

“Oh, I see what you’re saying. Don’t get me started,” the mayor said.

Will climate change have something to say about the Tweed Airport expansion? Experts think so

Jan Ellen Spiegel

Just two days after the details of a master plan to expand Tweed New Haven airport were released in July, there was a harsh reminder that in a showdown between climate change and Tweed, climate change may well win. Elsa, the first of three tropical systems this past summer that drenched the Connecticut shoreline, dumped a whole lot of water on Tweed.

The terminal flooded; the runways flooded; the access roads flooded; nearby homes flooded.

It nearly happened again when Henri came through and did happen again during Ida. And that was just one summer.

The problematic climate future Tweed faces actually is possible along just about all of New Haven’s shoreline. Parts of that shoreline - including the Long Wharf area — were once under water and may be destined for it again as the entire area faces increased battering from ever more-intense and frequent storms and the highest rates of sea level rise in the in the U.S. in the last 60 years, according to multiple studies, including data from NOAA.

But New Haven is moving ahead with new projects along Long Wharf and the east shore of the harbor, in addition to the airport, despite the climate risk, citing the need for economic development and city growth.

The city says it can handle growth and climate change at once. Science may say otherwise.

“I think in general we should have real reluctance to develop further in areas which are inherently vulnerable to flooding,” said Jim O’Donnell, executive director of the Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation, CIRCA.

O’Donnell has been sounding the climate alarm for years, calculating that sea level rise in Long Island Sound could reach 20 inches by 2050 - a metric the state uses broadly for its resilience policies.

Best case scenarios show Tweed and the New Haven shoreline to be among Connecticut’s areas most vulnerable to the rising waters from climate change. Interactive mapping by the climate research group Climate Central paints a grim picture of what the future holds. Even just the projected 20 inches of sea level rise, taking into account existing coastal protections, shows Tweed runways under water, in Climate Central’s map.

Add in factors such as moderate flooding and potential storm surge, and almost the entire airport is underwater by 2050, according to the group.

O’Donnell concedes, however, that development in flood zones, like the one where Tweed sits and the one along Long Wharf that extends inland through the New Haven rail yards to the train station, occurs all over the state. Shoreline properties with their views and waterfront access still command high property tax rates that cities and towns are loathe to forgo despite their vulnerability and repeated post-storm cleanup costs.

New Haven’s economic development administrator, Michael Piscitelli, is clear about the city’s priorities: “From an economic development perspective, we have learned over the years, in terms of moving forward on a global economic competitiveness of our city, that access to high quality and convenient air travel is very important both to people who are here now and people who are looking at our region.”

Piscitelli said everyone — from city officials to folks in the business community to those at Yale — agrees. “All point to the need for a much higher quality and more reliable level of scheduled air service in our region,” he said.

Worth noting is that the only commercial service so far in the initial expansion ramp-up is a startup discount airline, Avelo, with routes to Florida vacation destinations.

But the goal of more reliable service raises one obvious question: How reliable is an airport that finds itself — not infrequently — under water?

“No one on the city side or the airport side has any intention of looking away from that science. We’re working with an existing asset, investing in it to the point that we can make it resilient,” Piscitelli said. “The Elsa storm is a good indicator of what we need to plan for going forward — more intense rain events over short durations of time. It’s as equally a threat and a concern to our city as maybe some of the larger coastal storms.”

State Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, who became executive director of the Tweed-New Haven Airport Authority a little over two years ago, agrees that resiliency, not retreat, is the goal.

“That was never an option,” Scanlon said. “Because why do anything in the state of Connecticut or even with the shoreline? We’re not just going to give up and walk away.”

Scanlon said precautions are being taken in the master plan to account for climate change impacts, but there are still questions about whether those precautions and the changes planned for Tweed are worth the cost, will accomplish the job, and last in the face of worsening sea level rise and other climate change impacts.

For some, the answer to those questions is no.

The Tweed landscape

Tweed has been around since 1931. It sits in the middle of a neighborhood, crammed along with tightly-packed modest homes onto a spit of what was once salt marsh and wetlands at the edge of Long Island Sound. It’s more or less a peninsula between New Haven Harbor and the Farm River mouth that separates East Haven and Branford. Tuttle Brook and Morris Creek run through it. Part is New Haven; part is East Haven.

The airport sits in the low point — basically a bowl — that collects water. It flows in from all directions — from the Sound during storms or due to sea level rise, and from rain - much of it inland runoff from the kind of intense storms Connecticut experienced last summer.

It’s almost impossible to get rid of both types of water at once.

There are tide gates not far from the southern-most shore. They predate the airport and were last replaced about a dozen years ago. When they’re open, the water from the massive kinds of runoff that occurred in Elsa and Ida can flow out into Long Island Sound. When they’re closed, they keep high water from the Sound from coming in. But that means runoff can’t get out, so inland floodwater will stay pooled at the airport and elsewhere. And if it’s a really big storm — with surges that overtop the gates - all bets are off.

“It is a challenging place to have an airport,” said Brian Thompson, director of land and water resources at the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. “It’s not an ideal location.”

That has not gone unnoticed by the Federal Aviation Administration, which has the final say on what can be built where. In a 2002 decision authorizing runway safety area and taxiway upgrades to bring them up to federal standards, the FAA noted that the required environmental impact statement showed the changes would result in “unavoidable adverse impact to coastal resources” that included tidal and freshwater wetlands.

Wetlands are the natural sponges that soak up excess water and often prevent or mitigate flooding. Many have been lost to development in and around Tweed.

The FAA went on to say that there were no practicable alternatives that avoided wetland impacts or encroaching on the floodplain. And it called the plan it was approving “the least environmentally damaging practical alternative.”

Opponents of Tweed’s expansion worry the new master plan could be another round of “least damaging” and that, short of turning the airport back to nature, there’s no way to prevent an environmental impact.

“Probably not,” said Chris Kelly, a legal fellow with the environmental advocacy group Save the Sound, when asked this question. “The answer to climate change isn’t always retreat. But smart planning also requires that you don’t just pave over all the land that you have.”

Paving more of Tweed or even changing what’s paved and what isn’t, he said, may mean more of the neighborhood could flood.

New Haven officials often say it’s better to have the water pooling on airport property instead of people’s homes and the streets around them.

“As soon as there’s any storm surge at high tide, no water is getting out of the neighborhood back into the water (of Long Island Sound),” Giovanni Zinn, New Haven’s city engineer told the Connecticut Mirror in 2019. “So water has to go somewhere. In this case it goes into the airport.”

But the water more and more is winding up in roads and homes too. Last summer, residents documented flooding not only on East Haven’s primary evacuation route - which is a regular occurrence - but also along roads closer to the airport that are likely to be access roads for the new terminal planned for the East Haven side.

In the past, East Haven mayors have fought the expansion of Tweed. But Mayor Joseph Carfora has been quoted as saying the concerns of his community have been addressed, and he was among the many local, state and federal politicians - including both U.S. senators, who consider themselves environmental champions - supporting the airport expansion plans when they were first announced in May.

Ray Baldwin, East Haven’s economic development director, noted that there are still many layers of approval - including some from East Haven - before any runway expansion or terminal relocation can proceed. “The mayor has always said right along this is not a done deal, by any means,” Baldwin said. He said the mayor has consistently said “whatever happens, he’s going to fight to get the best deal for the people of East Haven.”

Baldwin said flood mitigation is a key environmental concern for East Haven, just as it is for New Haven.

“Flooding, flooding, flooding, water streaming across the roads,” said Rachel Heerema, a key organizer of local opposition, who lives on the New Haven side. She moved there in 2012 and days later had to evacuate in advance of storm Sandy. “I’ve had water in my basement, the roads have flooded. I think not only is the issue that flooding happens, right in this area, it’s that we are definitely in climate disorder. It’s here and it’s now and it’s happening, and we are having tropical storms more than we did.”

Zinn, who lives just beyond the northern end of Tweed’s main runway, said what happened during last summer’s storms was a “validation of some of the hydrology.”

“The airport does act as a reservoir, if you will, for stormwater during these big storm and rain events,” he said.

But he admitted a few of the lowest spots of the neighborhood did have standing water until the tides went out. The best plan, he said, would be to use the airport to protect the surrounding neighborhood from stormwater and create resiliency. To that end, Zinn said, the city has asked the airport authority to increase the stormwater retention capability on the site a little. “Not a life-changing” amount, he said.

“Quite frankly, I’d much rather be flooding an airport than flooding people’s homes. One is a nuisance for a few hours for travelers. The other one is someone’s house.”

But climate change predictions point to conditions experienced last summer becoming even worse. And some fear the airport expansion plans may make it worse yet as areas that are now grassy are paved, roads are re-routed and the terminal is moved, possibly displacing existing wetlands.

The plan calls for a 2-to-1 replacement of wetlands that are destroyed. But the compounding effect of doing any or all of these on the existing ecosystem really isn’t known. Nor is how much excess water runways and other airport facilities can withstand before they degrade and become a danger or safety risk.

“Everyone is worried about climate change. Everyone is interested in us being more resilient, but we’re not going to give up our way of life simply because of something that’s happening. We have to adapt,” Scanlon said. “We will take a look at the issues that are affecting everybody, not just our airport, and figure out how they can be adapted.”

Plans and battles

Talk of expanding Tweed has gone on for years, if not decades, as commercial carriers and flights have come and gone in seemingly never-ending cycles. At times, only general aviation has operated there.

Neighbors have fought expansion throughout, most often citing a litany of longstanding concerns, many of them environmental: noise, pollution, traffic — the kinds of concerns that come up around any airport.

But in this latest skirmish, which has expanded to a wider circle of residents, flooding and climate are more of a focus. Opponents have coalesced under a new group - 10,000 Hawks, signifying the raptors that migrate over Tweed every fall. They are among a dozen on more species that could be at risk from changes to the area as documented less than a decade ago.

Some worry repeated floods will wash residue from chemicals used to control overgrowth near the runways as well as sewage overflow from storms onto their properties and elsewhere.

There’s concern that the wetlands and marsh - both salt and freshwater - are so diminished and overburdened by the repeated rounds of flooding that they will no longer be able to adequately do what they’re supposed to - soak up excess water.

“We all have access to the information on climate crisis. We all have access to the information on how to mitigate the damage. And we have government officials both at the state level and even federal, even Chris Murphy, who should know better, supporting this,” said Gabriela Campos, who lives on the New Haven side of Tweed. “It doesn’t just affect the immediate area. It affects the entire region.”

The expansion master plan anticipates a significant increase in commercial air service, extension of the runway at both ends and a larger four-to-six-gate terminal to be located on the East Haven side of the runway. The existing terminal has been on the New Haven side for decades.

The new plans for management and financing of Tweed are also very different from previous iterations.

Tweed is owned by the city of New Haven, which leases it to the airport authority, which in turn hires a private company to run it. That company is Avports, which has managed Tweed for a couple of decades. In 2018, Avports was acquired by West Street Infrastructure Partners III, an arm of Goldman Sachs.

But it may have been a move - or more accurately, a non-move — by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2020 that paved the way for the current situation. In choosing to not hear an appeal, the high court ended a 10-year dispute over whether the state had authority to limit the size of the runway at Tweed. The final answer was it doesn’t. And so an expansion master plan moved forward in earnest.

The financial changes switch the airport to a private funding model. In a couple of years, New Haven will be off the hook for the annual $325,000 operating subsidy it had been paying to the airport authority. It will no longer have to supply the match for federal grants. Avports will do that.

The airport expansion, anticipated to cost about $100 million, will be privately funded by Avports, as well as with funds from the FAA, already in use for the master plan and an environmental assessment, just getting underway. The FAA will likely pay for the runway component.

Because of the federal component, the project will need to comply with guidelines under the National Environmental Policy Act - NEPA. But because no state money is involved, a state flood management certificate will not be needed.

It’s not clear yet what state oversight will kick in, but officials at DEEP said most likely the state role will include water quality certification and issuing federal permits such as a stormwater permit for construction and an industrial stormwater permit, if needed.

The state will be able to comment throughout and look at other environmental impacts, such as on wildlife. And it will be able to ensure work is in compliance with state programs and mandates.

As for issues likely to come up, “Certainly flooding is going to be a biggie,” said Fred Riese, senior environmental analyst in DEEP’s Office of Environmental Review, who acknowledged the project is likely to face political pressures in addition to environmental ones.

Riese said the state would likely be looking at the change in what’s paved and what isn’t, what might happen to runoff and drainage rates as well as water quality as a result of any changes, and increases in storms and rainfall intensities.

The Airport Authority has recently named a project advisory committee that includes one resident each from New Haven and East Haven, New Haven’s Zinn, Baldwin from East Haven, O’Donnell of CIRCA, Kelly of Save the Sound and someone from the FAA.

The state will be able to comment throughout and look at other environmental impacts, such as on wildlife. And it will be able to ensure work is in compliance with state programs and mandates.

As for issues likely to come up, “Certainly flooding is going to be a biggie,” said Fred Riese, senior environmental analyst in DEEP’s Office of Environmental Review, who acknowledged the project is likely to face political pressures in addition to environmental ones.

Riese said the state would likely be looking at the change in what’s paved and what isn’t, what might happen to runoff and drainage rates as well as water quality as a result of any changes, and increases in storms and rainfall intensities.

The Airport Authority has recently named a project advisory committee that includes one resident each from New Haven and East Haven, New Haven’s Zinn, Baldwin from East Haven, O’Donnell of CIRCA, Kelly of Save the Sound and someone from the FAA.

CIRCA’s O’Donnell said: “It’s a complicated region, that’s for sure. Its existence is tied to the fact that it gets flooded on a regular basis, like all other salt marshes. So it’s just going to get flooded more frequently as sea level rises. And if you stop flooding in a marsh, the marsh dies, and so you can’t do that.”

If the marsh dies or is removed, it would mean there would be no natural means to moderate the effects of climate change, though O’Donnell points out there are limits to what can be done. A catastrophic hurricane, for example, can’t be protected against. “There’s basically nothing we can do about those in Connecticut.”

He and others have suggested that elevating the runways might be necessary at some point. But that would lessen, if not eliminate, the “bowl” function the airport provides now, and the surrounding neighborhood would certainly flood. He’s suggested better tide gates but also points out that as with elevating the runways, every mitigating action is likely to set off reactions that may be less desirable.

The rest of New Haven’s shoreline

As if dealing with the expansion of Tweed isn’t enough, New Haven is also facing a reckoning for its entire coast because of climate change.

The next battle seems to be plans for two large waterfront apartment buildings at the northern end of Long Wharf.

Elsa and the other storms this summer inundated the Long Wharf area. Union Avenue in front of the New Haven train station and police headquarters (at the intersection of the appropriately named Water Street) was impassable. That area, all the way out to the harbor, was once harbor itself - and is now low-lying fill that includes I-95 and the rail yards, both of which flood regularly.

The city and state have chosen to double-down on investment there anyway, infusing money into the rail facilities and the Long Wharf Responsible Growth Plan, an updated version of a renewal and redevelopment plan first conceived of in the early 1980s. A small amount of what was originally envisioned has been built, though reconnecting the waterfront side of the highway and train tracks with the rest of the city has not.

Since then the area has flooded repeatedly. After Irene and Sandy in 2011 and 2012, plans for so-called living shorelines were put in motion at Long Wharf and the East Shore Park in Morris Cove, which was also battered in both storms.

Living shorelines use natural-style constructions such as dunes, slopes and marsh grasses to temper the impact of water. But there are limits to what they can accomplish. New Haven’s theoretically will moderate wave action and in turn the erosion it causes. But they can’t temper sea level rise. And they are of no use for inland flooding runoff - and in fact can make things worse by not letting water out. In large violent storms, waves can easily over-top them.

“They’re not intended to do anything for that,” city engineer Zinn conceded. “We’re looking at really a layered approach in New Haven.”

He said one layer would be natural systems like the living shorelines and the hundreds of bioswales installed around the city to soak up a little excess water and prevent it from becoming runoff. New development would also be required for industrial scale runoff systems, including some way to hold excess water until it can be removed without flooding buildings and streets. The city is considering building new pipe under the railyards into the harbor to help get rid of flood waters.

Another component the city is counting on is its selection by the Army Corps of Engineers for a floodwall project along the highway at Long Wharf, and a large pump station. The concept and selection have been underway for a number of years. The Corps, which is also involved in the living shorelines, declined to discuss the project, only providing material already on its website.

Zinn expects work on the East Shore shoreline to begin in the first half of this year. The two together are expected to cost about $8 million.

While not a development issue, an item added to the city’s shoreline headaches are two federal lawsuits filed by the Conservation Law Foundation over some of the massive petroleum product tanks on the water at the port of New Haven.

Just two days before Elsa hit, CLF sued Gulf and Shell, contending they have not prepared properly for the flooding and extreme weather that is now more prevalent due to climate change. Gulf has 13 acres containing 16 tanks at or below sea level. Shell has 39 tanks on 38 acres.

Even a Category 1 hurricane could inundate the area and damage tanks filled with petroleum products, CLF alleges. CLF has filed similar suits in the Boston area and Rhode Island.

But already making figurative waves are the two apartment buildings - up to 500 units total - proposed by Fusco Development Corporation as part of the redevelopment of Long Wharf.

The site is a high-density flood zone in an area already prone to flooding — which means it will likely get even worse - that DEEP designated for water-dependent use under the Connecticut Coastal Management Act. That means something like a marina or ferry service.

But in November, the Board of Alders approved a zoning change to allow for the apartment buildings, inaccurately claiming DEEP had found the plan consistent with the CCMA. DEEP had not.

The department, in fact, filed a letter reiterating that the development district “is located within Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) special flood hazard zones. Sea level rise and other effects of climate change will increase the District’s coastal flood risk and associated damages, loss, and disruption.”

The letter further noted that “sea level rise will increase the probability of future flooding in the area” and that the Long Wharf area “has at least a 50% chance of flooding in any given year and local data from the Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation (CIRCA) at the University of Connecticut that predicts a 50% to 20% chance that some or all of the District will be flooded by storm surge and wave action in any given year.”

And it provided maps showing the risk.

“We raised concerns about coastal hazards putting residential development in an area that is vulnerable, prone to flooding and exposed to wave action,” said DEEP’s Thompson, whose signature is on the letter.

The alders ignored him. But the project faces a long regulatory road.

“They will come back to us with a site-specific coastal site plan review. So a more detailed plan for the development of the site,” Thompson said. “We review and comment on it. And their comments go back to the city, and they make the decision.”

But they could very well ignore DEEP then too.

The site faces the same kinds of forces as Tweed: saltwater incursion, freshwater runoff, wave action and sea level rise, all moving in different directions.

“It’s really a planning and engineering challenge to manage all that. I think the Long Wharf area is probably a really good example of where those forces meet,” Thompson said.

But because conditions are changing so dramatically and so quickly, planners can’t rely on old trends and patterns. New models need to be developed.

Thompson said he thinks the various factors can be addressed. “But,” he said, “I think there needs to be a lot of assessment and potentially some hard decisions on what to do.”

Dave Anderson, the lands campaign manager for Save the Sound, who has years of experience doing municipal planning on the Connecticut shoreline, also filed a letter with the Board of Alderman expressing concerns about the apartment buildings.

“DEEP actually does have the ability to take legal action if the local boards and commissions are not actually enforcing the provisions of the (Connecticut Coastal Management) Act,” he said. “I think probably DEEP needs to take the lead on identifying priority water-dependent use sites on the shoreline and have a stronger regulatory control of how those sites get developed.”

But on the matter of Long Wharf - as with Tweed - New Haven remains committed to the economic development necessity.

“The preservation focus of Long Wharf has to be front and center,” said Economic Development Administrator Piscitelli. “We have 5,000 jobs in this district. We have the Interstate 95 corridor, and we have the rail yard. And when you pull the lens back and you look at New England relative to the United States, it’s much more plainly evident how important this corridor is.”

“The absence of a strong resilient strategy here exposes this corridor and truly complicates the movement of goods, people, services to our entire region.”

But he pushes back against the often-raised distinction between protecting what’s already there and putting more infrastructure in harm’s way.

“I think it’s an overreach to say it’s putting people in harm’s way. There is a significant resiliency strategy associated with that development,” he said. “This is a very important moment for public governance to identify and then fund resilient strategies, where they’re most needed.”

No shopping centers or apartments? Mas property zone change could go for Shelton vote soon

Brian Gioiele

SHELTON — Zoning officials are preparing a zone change proposal for the city-owned Mas property and abutting sites that would be part of what Mayor Mark Lauretti envisions as a future manufacturing hub.

Once complete, the city would file the zone change application with the Planning and Zoning Commission for its verdict.

Initial wording, presented as part of a report to the commission Tuesday, calls for the area to fall under the Industrial IA-1 district, replacing the Planned Development District approval granted for the site decades earlier.

Planning and Zoning Administrator Alex Rossetti told the commission that the zone change, if approved, would guarantee no shopping centers, restaurants, gas stations or multi-family housing.

“Removal of this PDD zone is necessary to eliminate any perceived threat of multi-family residential development and/or retail shopping centers and to preserve the area for quality industrial and related economic development,” the report reads. “The IA-1 District is no longer in use anywhere in the city and therefore can be modified and tailored for use on the Mas property as well as related parcels.”

Zoning staff and the city are completing a final zone change draft that will be on a meeting agenda for the entire Planning and Zoning Commission. If the commission accepts the final draft — or a slightly modified version after its input — it will then be referred to the appropriate state and regional agencies and a public hearing will be scheduled. That public hearing could be in February.

In December, Lauretti told Hearst Connecticut Media three firms have expressed interest in calling the Mas property home.

A significant part of making this happen is extending Constitution Blvd. West — with bids coming in last month at between $4.5 million and nearly $10 million for that work, according to Lauretti.

Extending the roadway and use of the Mas property has been on the table for years, but Lauretti began the most recent push in April when he presented preliminary plans for creating the road leading into the city-owned land, which would be developed into a manufacturing corporate park.

Lauretti said he expects the cost to be about $5 million for the road work, which would allow for access into the 70-acre, city-owned Mas property. Lauretti said three “good sized” manufacturers are interested and deals with two could be struck soon.

Shelton state Rep. Jason Perillo helped secure $5 million in funding for the road extension in the state’s 2021 bond package. The funding will be available once approved by the state Bond Commission, according to Perillo.

The Inland Wetlands Commission, at its meeting in November, approved the city’s permit application for extension of the roadway, with street construction occurring within regulated wetlands areas.

The application approved by Inland Wetlands is for phase one roadway construction only, with a portion of Bridgeport Ave. to be widened along with intersection improvements. Portions of Cots Street and Blacks Hill Road will also be reconstructed as part of this project.

This work also calls for the city to purchase 55 and 56 Blacks Hill Road, according to the application submitted to Inland Wetlands.

The property sits near Bridgeport Ave., and the roadway plans include extending Constitution Blvd. to reach Shelton Ave./Route 108. Lauretti said a zone change would be needed, requiring plans to go before the Planning and Zoning Commission at some point.

The Mas property is now vacant. It is mostly wooded with considerable stone ledges and several ponds, including one some 600 feet long and 250 to 300 feet wide, and lies between Bridgeport Aven., Cots Street, Tisi Drive, Sunwood Condos on Nells Rock Road, Regent Drive, Walnut Ave., and Kings Highway. Part of the land abuts the back of the Perry Hill School property.

Biden’s energy policy takes shape with wind and power line projects

Jennifer A. Dlouhy

The Biden administration this week outlined an array of initiatives to advance clean energy, including plans to hold the largest-ever sale of offshore wind farm rights in U.S. history and accelerate the construction of new power lines to transmit renewable electricity across the nation.

The efforts, which span at least seven federal agencies, could help fulfill President Joe Biden's climate ambitions to decarbonize the power grid by 2035 and at least halve U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the decade. The initiatives are being unveiled as key elements of Biden's climate agenda are stalled in the Senate.

"We're at an inflection point for domestic offshore wind energy development," Interior Secretary Deb Haaland told reporters this past Wednesday. "It represents a unique opportunity to build a brand-new industry that can combat climate change and create robust and sustainable economies -- economies with good paying union jobs that support families and put food on our table."

The power grid initiative includes billions of dollars in federal funding -- some of it from the newly enacted bipartisan infrastructure law -- to upgrade and replace transmission lines nationwide. Some $10 billion would be earmarked for states, tribes and utilities to enhance grid resilience and help prevent power outages amid extreme weather and wildfires, the White House said in a fact sheet.

Past efforts to build high-voltage power lines so renewable power can be transported from the rural Midwest to coastal cities faltered in the face of local opposition, landowner concerns and permitting requirements. The Biden administration is seeking to overcome those obstacles by strengthening coordination with local residents and officials and encouraging investment in the most needed projects, according to the fact sheet.

The effort dovetails with another new administration plan to expedite and prioritize government reviews of renewable energy projects on public lands managed by the Agriculture and Interior departments -- part of a bid to authorize 25 gigawatts of solar, wind and geothermal energy across that territory by 2025. Five federal government agencies, including the Defense Department, are agreeing to coordinate on environmental reviews and prioritize resources toward the project reviews.

The planned offshore wind lease sale next month would give renewable developers a shot at buying leases to install turbines in shallow Atlantic waters between New Jersey and New York's Long Island. The six tracts that will be auctioned off in the so-called New York Bight have the potential to generate as much as seven gigawatts of electricity -- enough to power 2 million homes -- according to the Interior Department.

"With its potential to supply large-scale and dependable clean energy, the responsible development of offshore wind is still our best strategy to quickly decarbonizing our economy and mitigating the effects of climate change," Liz Burdock, president of the Business Network for Offshore Wind, said in a statement.

For the first time, the Interior Department will bar companies from bidding on more than one of the leases in the sale -- a decision designed to encourage broad participation and help build out the nascent offshore wind industry in the U.S. The restriction was opposed by some large offshore wind developers that might otherwise have nabbed adjacent leases in the hopes of sharing resources across neighboring projects.

Other new lease terms will encourage winning bidders to enter into agreements with labor unions and use U.S.-built turbine blades, towers and other equipment.

"The benefits of the lease sale will go beyond New York and New Jersey and will support jobs and businesses throughout the U.S.," said Erik Milito, president of the National Ocean Industries Association that represents offshore energy developers.

Interior officials scaled back the overall size of the auction -- with leases now set to span 488,201 acres (197,570 hectares) -- in response to concerns the development could harm commercial fishing in a region home to some of the world's richest scallop beds. "We have really sought to ensure that these lease areas lead to the coexistence and in fact the thriving of other ocean users," said Amanda Lefton, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

Still the modifications appeared unlikely to resolve concerns from fishing interests who have challenged the agency's earlier offshore wind decisions and warned the plans imperil their business.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said he is working to address concerns of the commercial fishing industry as well as Long Beach Island residents worried about the visibility of nearby turbines. "We think the concerns are manageable; we think there are solutions to the concerns of both communities." Murphy told reporters in a conference call. "But we absolutely take them seriously."

Fishing interests argued that more needs to be done.

"The New York Bight is a hugely conflicted area," said Anne Hawkins, executive director of the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance that represents fishing interests. "Issuing new leases before putting processes in place to mitigate the clear risks this scale of development poses to historic food production and ecological resilience will result in devastating impacts that would have been largely avoidable with careful planning."

‘The singing highway’: It’s not your tires

Erica Moser 

Stonington — It's a whale! It's a ghost! It's an alien!

No, it's the sound of your car traveling on the stretch of Interstate 95 north between exits 91 and 92 in Stonington, perhaps accompanied by the sound of a rising heartbeat as you wonder whether something is wrong with your tires or bearings.

After the stretch was paved between Oct. 28 and Nov. 6, drivers started noticing unusual noises. On social media and in correspondence with The Day, they shared their impressions on what it sounded like.

"It sounds like a pod of humpback whales is with us as we drive northbound between exits 91 and 92," said Jen Panosky of North Stonington. Maria Bareiss of New London commented, "As I approached exit 92, I heard WHALES! Then, I interpreted it as my BRAND NEW CAR having a problem!"

Connecticut Department of Transportation spokesperson Kafi Rouse said in an email Friday afternoon that sound may often be the result of high-frequency rolling — "when a vibratory roller is used to help compact hot-mix asphalt when paving" — that is completed in cool temperatures. Contrary to some public speculation that this was done to slow down drivers or keep people awake, she said the sound wasn't intentional.

"Potholes and crumbling pavement are very difficult to repair during cold weather therefore this resurfacing was performed as a temporary fix ahead of the winter season," Rouse said. "This resurfacing is a temporary solution until full-scale milling and resurfacing paving can be performed as part of a larger project."

She said full-scale paving likely will occur in 2024. She said DOT "is monitoring this issue closely" and expects the noise to subside over time, due to factors such as temperature, vehicle traffic and plowing. 

State Rep. Greg Howard, R-Stonington, said he got a concerned call from Wequetequock Fire Chief Ed Dennett, and Howard said Thursday he has been in contact with DOT and expects to hear back with more information soon.

"This is just like a howling noise. It almost sounds like you have a flat tire," Dennett said. "Twice now I've seen people over the side of the road, checking their tires out. I'm just worried someone's going to get hit up there."

Dennett said he's never heard anything like this on another road before.

People have asked whether a sign could be put up to warn drivers that the noise is just from the road and nothing is wrong with their cars.

But Rouse said DOT must adhere to national standards set by the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways, a document issued by the Federal Highway Administration, "and this type of signage would not be allowed since the noise is not a safety concern."

State Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, said Friday morning that she has gotten a few comments about the noise and knows DOT is looking at it. Later in the day, she said she heard from DOT, and "they made it clear that this is not unusual with weather changes, to have a different noise pattern that is not typical but is not a safety issue."

Rouse said the contractor for this paving was American Industries. A DOT attorney said in response to a Freedom of Information Act request that the total cost of the purchase order was $1,688,801, and the request for proposals and contract were done through the Department of Administrative Services.

The I-95 paving in Stonington came under a broader $69 million award. DAS spokesperson John McKay said all 17 suppliers that responded to the bid were awarded the contract.

American Industries didn't respond to a voicemail or emails Friday seeking comment. The company, based in Jewett City, is the same contractor that had to repair a section of Route 1 in Stonington that it improperly paved in 2018, at no cost to the state. After the $870,000 project was completed the first time around, drivers noticed an uneven or "washboard" quality on the road, and then-DOT spokesperson Kevin Nursick said a pavement analysis expert determined the problem was related to how the pavement was installed by the contractor.

According to the Connecticut Office of the State Comptroller, the state has paid $251.66 million to American Industries since 2011. The company says on its website that it "became a leader in paving projects through out the state," including on I-95, I-395, I-84, I-91, Route 2, Route 9 and Route 6. A list of some projects can be found at americanind.net/our-projects.

Stonington resident Joe Cascio frequently drives this stretch of I-95 to visit his daughter in Hope Valley. He got new tires around the time of the paving, and the noise made him think, "Oh jeez, did I get some sketchy tires?" he said. "But no, I get up a little further, once you cross into Rhode Island, you don't notice it anymore."

On Dec. 2, he contacted the DOT Customer Care Center via email and asked, "Was this a construction fault or an intentional treatment of the finished pavement to increase traction, or for some other reason? It has created a potentially dangerous situation as some drivers appear to have thought there is something wrong with their cars or tires and pulled over to the breakdown lane to check the vehicle."

Cascio got a response that day from Bob Kropp, transportation general supervisor with the Groton Maintenance Garage, which Cascio shared in the Stonington Community Forum on Facebook.

"It is the result of high frequency rolling when paving in cool temperatures, and though noticeable now that its fresh and new, will soften with time as the heat from the sun and that generated by traffic helps to 'smooth' it out," Kropp replied. "The roadway, itself, is structurally sound, and there is no cause for concern regarding the riding surface."

State police Trooper 1st Class Sarah Salerno said a query of the reporting system from December through Thursday showed one traffic service call on Dec. 27 in which a motorist mentioned hearing a noise and stopped to check their tires. She said other than that, events in the Stonington area were typical.

Drivers fear flat tires, failed wheel bearings

The Day posted a query Monday asking if people have heard the noise and if they thought something was wrong with their vehicle, and we clearly struck a chord: More than 100 people sent emails. This reporter's inbox began to look like an I-95 noise support group, with multiple people expressing relief that they weren't alone in hearing this noise.

"It sounds like some ghostly music emanating from the car. The little girl from Poltergeist might say 'they're here!'" said Micky Williston of Pawcatuck. Rick Waters of Noank called it "an astral sound like the suspense part of a horror movie."

Katie McQuarrie and Sue Goldstein are among those who call it the "singing highway," while Harry Watson said it's known as the "singing road" in his Groton home.

One person said she ended up getting $1,800 of unnecessary work done on her car. A New London man said he and his wife were driving to Boston to see their son after Christmas but postponed their trip to get the car checked out, and then spent $2,850 on needed work that was mostly unrelated to the noise.

Elisa Coppelman is one of the people who pulled over onto the side shoulder. She had just left a "leisurely weekend at our cottage in the Mystic area" and was driving back to Massachusetts. She felt unsafe, as it was getting dark, her dog was anxious and she had a 2-hour drive ahead. Coppelman said a man pulled up behind her and asked if he could help, and he explained that the noise was a common experience.

Tom Benoit of Mystic said he thought something was wrapped around one of his tires and pulled off at the next exit, and he almost canceled his plans. Tory Christian of Mystic said a friend nearly missed a plane, thinking his car was damaged and trying to find out why.

Bob Manzella of West Haven said he was driving to Westerly for dinner on Thanksgiving and was near the Elm Ridge Golf Course when his 2018 Camry started making a loud noise. He thought a wheel bearing had failed, so he got off at Exit 92 and immediately checked his wheels for heat.

"Glad to hear others are hearing the same noise," he said. "Creepy."

Anne McMullin of Mystic said the noise was the hot topic of a family cookie swap just before Christmas. She and multiple others thought they had a flat tire at first. John Groton of Stonington thought it was maybe ice under the chassis.

Like Cascio, Majda Begonja and Wendy Kelleher thought it was an issue with their new tires. Kelleher said she pretends it's a whale song, like from Dory in "Finding Nemo," and sings along with the "whales" on her runs to the airport and Trader Joe's in Rhode Island.

Kelleher was one of at least six people who referenced intentionally engineered "musical highways," such as one in Lancaster, Calif., with groves that produce a portion of the William Tell Overture.

A few people said they've heard a noise like the one in Stonington on other roads before.

Paul Parulis of Niantic ended on a positive note: "Better a singing highway than one with potholes."

Kent Streetscape Committee sends bid package to selectmen


KENT – The long-awaited sidewalk renovation project is one step closer to completion, following the recommendation of the bid package by Streetscape Building Committee Thursday evening to the Board of Selectmen.

Member Jack Nelson, who is a contractor by trade, recommended a review of the insurance requirements stipulated in the bid package.

“The insurance is a little sketchy,” he told the committee. “The limits looked low and the town is not indemnified or held harmless.”

He suggested, and the committee agreed, to recommend to the selectmen that the town’s insurance company or the town attorney review the insurance requirements in the bid documents.

The bid package was created by Milone & MacBroom, the firm the town has worked with since 2013 when the first plans were drawn up to renovate sidewalks and enhance the walkability of the town. Since that time, there have been many changes to the scope and geographic boundaries of the plans. The town has three grants to help fund the improvements, in addition to approval from the townspeople to bond up to $2.95 million, which was approved in May 2019.

Mike Dougherty, Milone & MacBroom’s project manager working with Kent, was not present during the most recent meeting. Committee Chairman Mike Gawel said that it will be up to the selectmen to work directly with Dougherty to get the bid package advertised and set up the dates for when it is due back to the town.

“We recommend the selectmen accept the bid package,” Gawel said, and the rest of the committee agreed in the motion. The bid package seeks quotes for concrete construction with granite curbing and an alternative using asphalt.

The stars may have finally aligned so that 2022 will be the year when the ground is broken and residents start to see new flat walking surfaces in the center of town. First Selectman Jean Speck said during a recent interview that the state Department of Transportation (DOT) now has all the legal paperwork it needs for easements in order for the town to get approval and be able to send the project out to bid. One of the most recent delays was obtaining easements on three pieces of property, one owned by St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church and two others by the Kent Center LLC, which owns the Kent Barns complex and several other parcels on North Main Street.

Speck told the committee that she will coordinate with the selectmen’s administrative assistant Joyce Kearns, Road Foreman Rick Osborne and Town Treasurer Barbara Herbst to make sure all the steps are taken. There are some things that are specified in the grant documents.

Speck categorizes the sidewalks in three phases and this is based on both geographic boundaries and funding sources. Phase one is along North Main Street from the Civil War Monument to the railroad tracks and is connected to a $400,000 grant associated is the state Community Connectivity Grant Program, which is administered by the state DOT. Herbst explained that this grant’s expenses need to be restricted to the description in the grant application which states that it is to “replace sidewalks and curbs and create safe crosswalks in the core area of Main Street/Route 7 in the heart of the Kent Village.”

Phase two of the sidewalks is South Main Street and Route 341 east to Maple Street Extension and this is funded with a $2.35 million grant from the federal Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP). Phase three is the municipal bonding that will pay for the remainder of expenses, according to Speck.

The other grant is $500,000 from the Main Street Investment Fund administered by the state Department of Housing. Herbst has successfully asked for three different extensions on the grant since it was first awarded Oct. 13, 2016.

In response to her last request, Nov. 12, 2021, she said received a response that “seemed to indicate that an extension was being prepared.” As of early January, she had not received any formal notification that the extension has been granted. However, the town is proceeding with the belief that it will receive the funds.