CT Construction Digest Monday July 26, 2021
NEW LONDON — The renovation of the State Pier into a launching-pad for offshore wind energy projects is well-underway, state officials said last week, despite concerns from some lawmakers over the project's $235 million price tag and efforts by local opponents to halt the development.
Work crews began the process of remediation in February at the century-old pier, which is owned by the Connecticut Port Authority. Existing buildings on the site have been demolished, according to authority officials, while earth-moving equipment is in place to re-grade a portion of the property known as “the hill.”
The later stages of the project, meanwhile, still face permitting approvals from state and federal regulators even as the final round of state bonds were approved on Friday.
The not-yet-permitted work includes one of the project’s most significant undertakings: Filling in the central wharf and adding several acres of space to handle massive heavy-lift equipment involved in the assembly of wind turbines.
“Ultimately, what we are left with is a much more capable facility that will be able to handle in addition to wind-turbine components, a wide variety of general cargoes,” said John Henshaw, executive director of the Port Authority.
Henshaw said the authority expects the project to be completed “near the end” of 2022, at which point the 30-acre site will be turned over to a joint-venture by Eversource Energy and Ørsted, which signed a 10-year lease to use the pier as a staging area for three wind projects off the coast of Rhode Island and New York.
The three wind power projects are expected to employ more than 100 people at the pier, according to Justin Mays, a spokesman for the venture. One of the offshore sites, Revolution Wind, will supply 304 megawatts of energy to Connecticut and 400 to Rhode Island — enough to power 350,000 homes.
Construction over the next year is expected to add another 400 temporary jobs, officials said.
“I thought long and hard about the scale of this project, I think it’s transformative not just for New London and New London Harbor, I really think it’s transformative for the state and the region,” Gov. Ned Lamont told the state Bond Commission on Friday “It’s one of the most extraordinary deep water ports in the country, that’s why wind is going to be built out of there, what a difference that makes.”
Criticism of the project has focused on its soaring costs, which have risen by nearly 50 percent since the Port Authority reached a deal with the wind-energy developers last year at a total cost of $157 million.
Lamont conceded Friday that development of the project “did take a little longer and it was more expensive than we wanted.” Still, the bond commission, chaired by the governor, approved the final tranche of bonds for the project worth $50 million, bringing the state’s total investment to $160.5 million. Eversource and Ørsted have committed another $75 million to the project — for a total of $235 million.
The only opposing vote on the commission, state Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, questioned whether potential issues with older pilings on the site, or the expected dredging, could push the eventual cost even higher.
“I must admit, I’m very concerned with this project both in terms of the cost that may be borne by the taxpayers and a lack of transparency on the part of the Port Authority,” Cheeseman said.
Henshaw defended the cost of the project, saying earlier estimates were made during the “conceptual” phase, and grew as the details were hammered out. For example, he said, an installation berth had to be moved from one side of the site to the other, to prevent interference with the Cross Sound Ferry, adding “significant” costs to the project.
“At each of those steps, the price went higher, but it was driven in part by some external factors,” Henshaw said.
Kosta Diamantis, the deputy secretary for the office of policy and management, told the commission Friday that the latest cost estimates on the project are “rock solid,” and construction could wrap up under the current budget.
Opposition to the project has also arisen from the pier itself, which was historically used to handle shipments of salt, copper, steel and plywood.
The Port Authority’s application for an environmental permit from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection faces opposition by a road salt business that was forced off the pier as a result of the renovations, The Day reported.
An attorney for the business, DRVN Enterprises, was unable to comment last week.
DEEP spokesman Will Healey said Thursday that DRVN’s appeal of a draft license for the project that was recommended for approval by a hearing officer is being considered by the agency’s commissioner, Katie Dykes. A hearing before Dykes was held on Wednesday.
“Should the commissioner find that the facts of the hearing are correct, she will issue her final decision and the license would then be signed,” Healey said in an email.
Henshaw said the lease by the Eversource-Ørsted venture would not make the pier completely off-limits to other uses over the next decade. During “lulls,” their construction of offshore turbines, portions of the pier can be made available for other cargo, Henshaw said.
State Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, said the Port Authority, which was created less than a decade ago, appeared to be ill-equipped to handle the scope of the project.
“I’m a proponent of offshore wind,” said Formica, whose district includes New London. “I think we have to move forward with the project, I’m just concerned that the due diligence didn’t occur early enough, with enough specifics, to determine what the numbers might be.”
The chair of the legislature’s Energy Committee, state Sen. Norm Needleman, D-Essex, said the cost-overruns associated with the project were “unfortunate,” but he remained focused on the long-term goal of building up the state’s clean-energy electric grid.
“This is a good thing overall,” Needleman said. “The details … that’s a little more murky.”
GREENWICH — Every year, 446 Greenwich residents are diagnosed with cancer, according to Diane Kelly, president of Greenwich Hospital.
And many of those local patients end up traveling to New York City, New Haven or Boston to get the latest treatments available, Kelly said.
To offer those patients a closer option, Greenwich Hospital has proposed the construction of a three-story building next to the Greenwich Hospital campus that would house a 54,865-square-foot cancer-care unit.
Many area residents would benefit from having a top-flight cancer facility located within the community, where they could access high-end treatments, and it would bolster overall medical care in town, Kelly said.
“If you would get half of those patients, you would be making a significant difference to the lives of those people,” she said. Overall, the hospital administration is emphasizing the value of getting treatment at a top-flight cancer center in the town — and not traveling an hour or more.
Cancer rates are going up around the region as the population ages, and long-drives for cancer care can be a serious burden to patients and their caregivers, said Kelly, who is also a nurse.
But the hospital’s proposal, which is currently pending in the Planning and Zoning Commission, has hit a wall of opposition from its neighbors. They are voicing a litany of complaints about disruptions they already face from the hospital and saying they don’t want to put up with more if the facility were built.
In an effort to mend fences with the neighbors, Kelly said she and other hospital administrators want to hold regular meetings and address the issues. They held a “town hall-style” meeting with about 50 residents last Thursday, where Kelly answered questions, took complaints and explained the role of the proposed cancer care unit.
She said she wanted to hold regular meetings in the future. “I look at this as beginning on an ongoing dialogue,” Kelly told the attendees. She said she wanted to initiate a “neighborhood advisory council” to facilitate communications with the residents who live near Greenwich Hospital, especially those who have voiced concerns about the size of the proposed building.
Kelly also told neighbors why the cancer care unit was proposed for Lake Avenue, near Greenwich Hospital. That proximity would allow for better levels of care, she said, explaining that it’s not uncommon for patients undergoing chemotherapy for the first time to require care in the emergency room following shock to the body. The equipment for radiation machines, and the lead-lined rooms that they are housed in, are not well-suited to leased office complexes, Kelly said. The hospital’s blood bank is also located in the main building on Perryridge Road.
The new Bendheim Cancer Center, as the project is called, would be built at Lafayette Place and Lake Street, and several medical offices there would be demolished to make way for it.
But residents who live near the hospital expressed their firm opposition.
Karen Fassuliotis, a central Greenwich resident, said during the teleconferenced meeting, “You’re trying to put a round peg in a square hole with this particular project. ... I don’t see it working in this neighborhood.”
Tonya Gojani, another local resident, said traffic is already bad in the area around Greenwich Hospital. “Why has it gotten to this point?” she said, asking why the hospital had not been working on the traffic problems earlier.
The hospital president said, “I regret that. ... When you know better, you do better.”
Chief Operating Officer Mark Kosak said the initial plans for the new cancer-care unit have been scaled down due to community input, cutting out one floor and reducing the square footage from 90,000 square feet. The design had also been changed to make the structure “more welcoming, more part of the neighborhood,” Kosak said.
The hospital has also changed its delivery schedule and procedures to reduce traffic problems that have been raised recently. “We’re hearing you, we’re listening,” Kosak told the residents. The hospital administration said it was working on plans to improve traffic flow in the area, and said the new facility would have its own free underground parking garage.
The hospital administrators said Greenwich police have also been cracking down on illegally parked vehicles in the area. Local residents said they were happy to see a greater police presence in the area — but wondered how much longer it would last.
The hospital administrators said they would look into the possibility of adding more traffic enforcement and security in the area in the future.
Lawrence Sterne, another neighbor, said traffic in the area near the hospital is a “recipe for disaster.”
The hospital administrators were questioned about billing rates, and whether the hospital could charge a higher rate for insurance reimbursements than an annex built in another part of town.
Kelly said, “If you have the level of services, because of the care that the patient needs, it is true you are reimbursed more than an [office]....Hospital departments are re-reimbursed more than if this were a standalone center, with no physicians and no radiation oncology.”
Still, many see the downside to putting a large medical facility in their neighborhood.
Mary Jenkins, who lives near Greenwich Hospital, said, “there is so much traffic now.” The possibility of even more traffic is a major concern, she said.
DANBURY - City leaders who are overseeing the creation of a master plan for the next 10 years settled in this week for a presentation from experts about the latest transportation data in the Hat City.
Some city leaders could hardly believe what they were hearing.
Traffic volume has been “trending downwards” since 2004, the experts from FHI Studio said, and travel on Interstate 84 has been “stable.”
“I really think we need to take a much better look at what (experts) did to get those figures,” said Fred Visconti, a city councilman and member of the master plan task force, during a Tuesday meeting on Zoom. “I have been here all my life and I have to say I haven’t seen any improvement in the amount of traffic that we have in this city right now. It’s really getting crazy.”
A fellow city leader agreed.
“(If) traffic on I-84 was somewhat stable in the last few years, I am wondering where the increase in cars has come from,” said Richard Jannelli a master plan task force member who serves on the city’s school board. “It is really becoming a nightmare. An absolute nightmare.”
Francisco Gomes, the manager of a team from FHI hired by Danbury to lead the task force through the two-year process of creating a new land use map said the data was reliable as far as it went.
“I do think the numbers are accurate but not representative of the entire city,” Gomes said towards the end of the 90-minute meeting. “What you tell us is as important as the numbers and if there is anything we can do with the (master) plan to describe your experience and identify the need to better manage that traffic - that will be a big question.”
Growth and associated concerns about congestion and overcrowded schools have been hot campaign topics as Danbury continues to be one of the fastest-developing cities in Connecticut.
An expert explained during the master plan presentation that traffic volume on 12 busy roads in Danbury could indeed be decreasing as state transportation data shows, while at the same time drivers avoiding those busy roads are putting more miles on side streets.
“Danbury is a big place, so traffic as a whole on all 250 miles of city roads is potentially stable, but where we are seeing issues might be a very small percentage of 10 percent or less of those roads,” said Parker Sorenson, senior transportation engineer at FHI. “If those state routes were saturated in 2004 and no capacity improvements were conducted at that time we wouldn’t expect much additional traffic on those routes, but it is not reflective of some of the busier neighborhood streets you mentioned that are being cut through.”
Danbury’s top planner came down in the middle of the debate.
“We look at the numbers and we are living something different,” said Sharon Calitro, the city’s planning director. “This is something we need to address,” she said.
One solution would be for the master plan to recommend a city-wide traffic management study to look at side street traffic volume that the state does not track, she said.
It is not the first time over the last nine months that the master plan task force has questioned the data.
In April, data showing a high percentage of people renting single-family homes in the city’s heavily residential neighborhoods south and west of downtown surprised leaders.
The next step is for the task force to begin overdue public outreach in the fall, assuming COVID infection rates remain low and face-to-face focus groups can be scheduled. The task force plans to send out a questionnaire before any public meetings are held.
The goal is to adopt a new master plan by late 2022.
Not all task force members were shocked this week to hear Danbury’s traffic characterized as “stable.”
“I have been working in Danbury for 35 years, first on Main Street and now on the west side, in a job that requires me to drive all around city streets…and in terms of having a terrible or awful time navigating city streets on a typical day - I haven’t seen it,” said Arnold Finaldi, the chairman of Danbury’s Planning Commission and a task force member. “Maybe it’s me or maybe I have tolerance, but I don’t see where it is that bad.”
Scannell Properties, one of the most active developers of warehouse buildings in Greater Hartford, is eyeing its latest new development in familiar territory.
The Indiana-based company has gained local approval to build two new warehouses in Windsor with a combined 487,200 square feet on 40.8 acres, at 1190 Kennedy and 451 Hayden Station roads.
The approximately $50-million project, known as the BDL Logistics Center, is still waiting for state approval before it breaks ground, potentially by Oct. 1, according to Daniel Madrigal, Scannell’s senior development manager.
Both buildings are being developed on spec, which means no tenants are currently lined up for the properties. Spec construction is rare in Connecticut, but Scannell has used that strategy in the past, including a facility it built in Cromwell a few years ago.
Madrigal said the project is being spurred by continued hot demand in the warehouse and distribution space. Scannell typically targets Fortune 500 companies as tenants, he added.
The land for the project is currently owned by O.J. Thrall Inc., the centuries-old farming company. Madrigal said Scannell plans to finalize a purchase of the land before it breaks ground later this year.
One building will be 268,000 square feet and the other about 219,000 square feet.
Scannell is not pursuing a tax break deal from the town, Madrigal said.
Scannell is also the developer of the under-construction 823,000-square-foot distribution center that Amazon will occupy at 1201 Kennedy Road and 1 Joseph Lane. That facility is scheduled to be completed by the end of this year, Madrigal said.
Industrial properties have been the hottest segment of Connecticut’s commercial real estate market in recent years, and many have been built in north-central Connecticut, where large swaths of open land and easy access to major highways have made it attractive for companies — particularly e-commerce retailers — to set up distribution centers closer to their end customers.
Scannell has been an active developer in Greater Hartford, particularly in South Windsor, where, since 2017, it has developed about 1.5 million square feet of distribution space that has led to more than $100 million in investment and attracted top corporate tenants, including Home Depot.
After years of delay and anticipation, construction on the mixed-use redevelopment near Dunkin’ Donuts Park in Hartford is showing signs of progress.
Stamford-based developer RMS Cos. broke ground on the project’s first phase last October, and has already completed construction of the 330-space parking garage. RMS CEO and President Randy Salvatore said construction on the $50-million project’s first phase, which will include 270 apartment units, should be completed in the first quarter of 2022.
Meantime, RMS is in early discussions about the development’s next phase, which will include construction of 532 additional apartments and a 541-car garage.
When the development is completed the plan is for the newly named North Crossing project to have 1,000 total apartments.
The pandemic has dealt a setback to the city of Hartford, but Salvatore recently told HBJ he’s still optimistic about the city’s future, especially when it comes to demand for new rental units.
“I remain as bullish as ever about the long-term prospects for Hartford and this development,” Salvatore said in May.
Funding for renovations to state parks, highway and bridge improvements, clean water projects and a memorial to the 26 lives lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School were among the $1.1 billion in projects approved by the Connecticut State Bond Commission on Friday.
It marked the first meeting of the new fiscal year, which began July 1, and only the second during 2021. Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont, who chairs the commission and has imposed a so-called “debt diet” for state borrowing, suggested he's easing up on that stance.
“I’d say it’s a pretty robust agenda for what could be a pretty robust year when it comes to bonding,” he said. “The reason being, I think this is a unique time to be making investments in the state right now.”
Lamont noted how interest rates are at historic lows, the state's bond rating has improved and Connecticut residents are still looking for work as the state continues to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. While it has improved, the state unemployment rate for June was 7.9%.
“This is a time to get people back to work, get people back to work with good-paying jobs, a lot of good-paying construction jobs, which is what we’re doing right now,” he said. “It’s all about jobs and opportunity.”
About $600 million of the borrowing approved Friday was earmarked for general obligation bonds - money that will be spent on a wide range of projects such as improvements to the State Pier in New London. The site is being redeveloped into an offshore wind hub.
Funding was also approved for infrastructure improvements at community health centers and mental health and substance abuse providers, grants for new walking trails and pedestrian walkways, state information technology upgrades, sound amplification in state courtrooms, asbestos removal in state buildings, and affordable housing and energy efficiency projects.
The panel approved an additional $20 million to continue helping homeowners in northeastern Connecticut replace their crumbling foundations, and $300 million in local school building projects.
Tucked into a list of funding for local projects, such as the construction of four playscapes in West Haven, was $2.5 million to defray much of the $3.7 million that voters in Newtown approved in April to construct a memorial to the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012. The project is nearing construction, with a groundbreaking ceremony planned next month at the site down the street from where the shooting occurred that killed 20 first-graders and six educators. Construction will be finished before the 10th anniversary next year, officials said.
Meanwhile, slightly more than $500 million of the projects approved on Friday are transportation-related, including state and local road, highway and bridge repair work. There's also funding for rail improvements, and bus and rail facilities.