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CT Construction Digest Monday May 2, 2022

Ridgefield starts second phase of Route 7 sewer project, despite delays to treatment plant upgrades

Julia Perkins

RIDGEFIELD — Construction is poised to start on the second phase of the town’s $55 million upgrades to its sewer infrastructure, even as the first half of the project is behind schedule.

Crews have marked spots along the roads and begun drilling so they can install an underground force main pipe that will extend from the South Street Wastewater Treatment Facility that’s undergoing renovations and the Route 7 Pump Station, which will be demolished and replaced with a new pump station.

But those renovations to the South Street plant, also known as District I, were delayed due to COVID-19 related construction challenges, First Selectman Rudy Marconi said.

“That’s quite a bit behind,” he said.

Work in one of the buildings that handles phosphorous removal from the effluent is not complete, so the town received an extension from the state Department of Environmental Energy and Protection on the enforcement of stricter regulations that went into effect on April 1, he said.

“We are managing at the level we need to be at, so we're in compliance, and we are working toward getting it finished up as quickly as possible,” said Selectman Maureen Kozlark, who is the board’s liaison to the Water Pollution Control Authority, the group leading the project.

DEEP approved an interim plan to use a temporary chemical feed system to remove some phosphorous, but gave the town until April 2023 to finish the project and meet the new requirements, said Jon Pearson, vice president with AECOM Technical Services, the engineering firm for the project.

The existing limit is 1 milligram of phosphorous per liter of waste, but the temporary system should get that down to 0.5 milligrams per liter, he said. The requirement that will go into effect April 2023 is 0.06 milligrams per liter, he said.

Work at the treatment plant should be finished by then, Pearson said.

“The expectation is that they will need the full amount of time until then to get there,” he said.

The contractor has submitted a document explaining why the project has faced delayed, Pearson said. Those reasons include material delays and labor shortages, but the town has contended some of the claims, he said.

“The contractor is making efforts to increase the rate of construction, so we are continuing to work with them, but we are not in full agreement with what they've claimed,” Pearson said. “That’s what’s under discussion.”

There is a financial penalty clause in the contract that the town could impose, but it’s too “premature” to say whether Ridgefield would do that, he said. The construction company could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Next steps

The idea behind the project is to prevent pollution into Ridgefield’s Great Swamp, which drains into the Norwalk River and then the Long Island Sound, officials have said.

In 2018, voters approved $48 million for the project, which is meant to upgrade aging equipment and meet the state’s new effluent limits on nitrogen and phosphorous. Without the project, the town would have violated its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit at the South Street facility, according to information DEEP provided to the project’s engineer in 2018.

However, the project has since been projected to cost $55 million. The town approved using $2.9 million in American Rescue Plan funding, an about $1 million grant from DEEP and $500,000 from the WPCA to help close that gap.

Despite the delays at the District I plant, the next phase of the project is moving ahead. Crews will install an underground pipe that’s about 13,600 foot long and eight inches in diameter that will take effluent from the to-be constructed new Route 7 pump station to the District I plant.

Pre-construction work, including installing traffic signs and surveying, has already begun, but excavation should start sometime in May, Pearson said. The plan is to start at Ligi’s Way and move north, finishing by December.

Work to construct the new Route 7 pump station is scheduled to start in January 2023 and take until July of that year. However, the contractor has warned that delivery delays in mechanical and electrical equipment could push that timeline, Pearson said. In some cases, the town is looking at alternative equipment, he said.

The South Street plant averages 850,000 gallons of effluent per day, with a capacity of 1 million gallons per day. The Route 7 facility is much smaller, averaging 54,00 gallons per day with a capacity of 120,000. Once the new pipe is installed, that plant will be decommissioned between August 2023 and November 2023. The South Street plant will be able to handle 1.12 million gallons per day.

“Because of the age of the (Route 7) plant, the state was going to tell us we had to upgrade that one also,” Marconi said. “Combining them both to one plant and putting in a pump station saved millions of dollars, leaving them as they are and addressing the upgrades in each plant.”

Torrington side roads to see major improvements in project starting this summer, officials said

Emily M. Olson

TORRINGTON — A road improvement project designed to improve access to Torrington’s share of the Naugatuck River Greenway Trail is set to begin this summer.

City Engineer Paul Kundzins and Assistant City Engineer Mark Austin designed the project, which will include road paving, new curbs, sidewalk replacement and drainage improvements, which will provide for safer travel for vehicles, pedestrians and bicycles, they said.

The project is financed with city-bonded funds and is expected to be completed in about five months. The engineers plan to present the project to the City Council on Monday.

“We’re pretty excited about this one,” Kundzins said. “Rista Malanca, our economic development director, was also involved in the grant application for this plan, and it will bring the Naugatuck River Greenway Trail on Scoville Street.”

According to Austin, a portion of Scoville Street, a small winding road off of South Main Street, will be made a one-way only from Palmer Bridge Road to Park Avenue, allowing room to install a portion of the greenway trail on the northern side of the street. The trail will have a bicycle lane as well as an area for pedestrians.

“That’s going to be joining the greenway trail that will continue from Park Avenue all the way to Toro Fields,” Austin said.

This portion of the greenway trail begins at the corner of Albert Street and Park Avenue, at the edge of the Sullivan Senior Center parking lot at the bridge. It is paved and flat and winds along the riverbank. Eventually, the trail is supposed to continue through other areas of Torrington.

Other streets in that neighborhood are planned for repair, including Clarence Street, Linden Street, Palmer Bridge Street and South Chapel Street.

“We will remove asphalt surfaces and base material and repave and install new concrete curbing and driveway aprons,” Austin said.

On South Chapel Street, from Fairmont Avenue to Lincoln Avenue, no sidewalks are being installed, because commercial properties are to the east and few houses, he said. However, because speeding is a problem on that road, it will be narrowed “ever so slightly,” Austin said. “We’re adding a stop sign, and adding a trench for drainage.”

New sidewalks and curbing are planned for Palmer Bridge Street.

“The nice part about adding the curbing is, it makes the road appear to be more narrow, but it’s actually defining the lanes on either side,” Kundzins said. “We’re also making the intersection safer with a stop bar and better sight lines.”

Several residents who attended the Zoom meeting asked about gas lines and wondered if Eversource was installing any in the area.

“I don’t have the plans in front of me, but if you’re looking for information on that you should contact Eversource directly,” Kundzins said. “I know they’ll be doing work at the same time, and they should be contacting customers accordingly.”

For information, email Kundzins or Austin at paul_kundzins@torringtonct.org or mark_austin@torringtonct.org, or call 860-489-2234.

Kundzins reminded those at the forum to sign up for Torrington Alerts, an emergency alert system the city adopted earlier this year. The city is using the system for emergency notifications, accidents, road construction and closures and other important information.

To sign up, text 888777 and download the Everbridge mobile app. Then, search for City of Torrington and enroll.

System operators at FuelCell Energy vote to join union

Luther Turmelle

DANBURY — A dozen workers at one of Connecticut’s high profile tech companies, FuelCell Energy, voted Friday to become members of a union.

The FuelCell Energy employees work are joining Local 478 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, according to organizers of the unionization drive. The workers voted 8-4 to join Local 478 after having launched their drive to join the union in October 2021.

FuelCell Energy manufactures and operates hydrogen fuel cells that produce electricity. Local 478 has over 4,000 members and represents heavy equipment operators, mechanics, and support personnel at companies across Connecticut.

The workers, who will now be represented by the IUOE, are system operators in the company’s Global Monitoring & Control Center. They remotely control fuel cell units in various locations across the country.

Justin Mates, a system operator at the center, said the vote means “the voice of the dedicated workers, who showed up every day during COVID, was heard today.”

“We are excited to join Local 478 with increased earning potential, along with the possibility for a true pension and medical benefits,” Mates said. “We are excited to grow with FuelCell Energy providing clean energy across the world.”

Joseph Campoli, the organizer for the campaign, said the system operators reached out to Local 478 leaders, after determining their pay was far below the industry standard. The situation was exacerbated by raises that upper management received that union officials say were in excess of 70 percent, he said.

“I believe working class people across the country are increasingly frustrated with the wage disparities between themselves and upper management,” Campoli said. “After all, these are the people generating production and ultimately the profits that keep these companies in business. Workers are once again standing up for the fair share they deserve for their hard work.”

Besty Schaefer, FuelCell Energy’s chief marketing officer, was not immediately available for comment on the outcome of Friday’s union vote. Independent estimates of the company’s overall workforce, based on regulatory filings and public statements, put the total number of employees at around 380 people.

Neither side filed a challenge of the vote with the National Labor Relations Board, Campoli said.

The vote at FuelCell Energy took place against a abckdrop of growing union organizing at technology companies across the United States, said David Cadden, professor emeritus at Quinnipiac University's School of Business. Earlier this month, workers at an Amazon warehouse on New York’s Staten Island voted overwhelmingly to unionize and Cadden said the success of that effort has emboldened unions and the workers who seek to join them.

“I think the unions have taken a real beating in the past three or four decades, but now they are beginning to succeed in the tech sector,” he said. “Part of it, I think is the nature of the work, that an individual worker’s self worth is being assaulted. People don’t want to feel they are being treated like part of a machine.”

Connecticut Senate approves bill to shield contracting watchdog from budget cuts

Keith M. Phaneuf

Connecticut’s financially handcuffed contracting watchdog took another step Friday toward securing its first investigative staff in its 15-year history.

But the State Contracting Standards Board also watched a second proposal, to expand its authority to investigate all quasi-public entities created by the legislature, die for this year.

The Senate voted 35-0 Friday evening to approve a bill that prohibits the governor from imposing cuts — after the state’s fiscal year is underway — on the standards board. The legislature already extends this protection to other watchdog agencies, including the Freedom of Information Commission and the Office of State Ethics.

Advocates for the contracting watchdog hope that this measure — coupled with an announcement this week that roughly $450,000 would be added to the board’s budget starting July 1 — would translate into its first-ever investigative staff being hired by the fall.

“The people of Connecticut should have the utmost confidence in what the state of Connecticut does in their name,” said Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Windham, co-chairwoman of the Government Administration and Elections Committee.

The measure now heads to the House, which still has until the regular legislative session adjourns on Wednesday to consider bills.

The board was the linchpin of the “Clean Contracting” system created in 2007 by the Democrat-controlled legislature and Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell in response to the contracting scandals that drove Republican Gov. John G. Rowland from office three years earlier. Rowland served 10 months in federal prison after admitting he accepted about $100,000 in gifts from state contractors and his staff.

The board was empowered to review Executive Branch agencies’ contracting processes to ensure they were transparent, cost-efficient and in compliance with the law. It also would have authority to suspend any procurement effort deemed improper.

But over the succeeding 15 years, legislatures and governors never authorized enough funding for the 14-member board to hire more than an executive director or an office assistant.

Pressure from legislators to strengthen the contracting watchdog has intensified steadily over the past three years

The contracting board’s unpaid members began volunteering their time in 2019, trying to investigate scandals tied to the Connecticut Port Authority. But they initially were rebuffed on grounds their jurisdiction was limited to traditional state agencies, and not to quasi-publics — both of which are created by the General Assembly.

The 2021 legislature granted the board special powers to probe the port authority, and budgeted $454,000 to fund hiring an investigative staff — but then used a technical maneuver at the last minute to effectively take the funds away.

The reversal was done to accommodate Gov. Ned Lamont, who argued at the time that the contracting watchdog was unnecessary and that other state agencies performed similar functions — a claim the contract board disputes.

But Lamont modified his stance as the 2022 legislative session began in early February, about the same time media reports disclosed the FBI is investigating school construction work and other projects once overseen by Lamont’s former deputy budget director, Konstantinos Diamantis.

Flexer, Sampson and the bipartisan group of legislators who worked on the bill approved by the Senate on Friday, originally included one other provision. This would have broadened the contracting board’s jurisdiction to include the state’s 14 other quasi-public entities, adding groups such as the Connecticut Lottery Corporation, the Capital Region Development Authority, the Connecticut Green Bank and the state’s airport authority.

It also would have empowered the standards board to investigate municipal contracting practices.

But that provision ran into heavy opposition from quasi-publics, and supporters agreed Friday to remove it from the bill that cleared the Senate.

The lottery corporation testified before lawmakers earlier this spring that its contracts require “critical knowledge” of gaming, technology and related regulations.

“It is unlikely that the SCSB [State Contracting Standards Board] has the expertise to properly, and timely, vet the industry-specific vendors and policies, leading to unnecessary, extensive delays in the CLC’s revenue-generating activities,” the corporation wrote.

The Green Bank, which leverages public dollars to attract private investment in clean energy, testified that its mission could be imperiled if contracts “would be forced to ricochet between bureaucratic organizations unaffiliated with the mission.”

House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said Friday morning that majority Democrats in the House hadn’t caucused the bill yet, but he and others were aware of the quasi-public agencies’ concerns.

“I need the CRDA (Capital Region Development Authority) to be able to do what they have to do,” Ritter said of the quasi-public that oversees millions of dollars in investments in economic development, housing and entertainment projects in the greater Hartford area.

Lamont’s office did not comment after the Senate approved the bill.

Flexer and Sen. Rob Sampson of Wolcott — the ranking GOP senator on the government administration committee — said they believe quasi-public entities should receive the same oversight that traditional state agencies face, but also didn’t want to scuttle an opportunity to finally secure an investigative staff for the watchdog group.

“It certainly does not go as far as we originally desired,” Sampson said. “The constituents we represent deserve to have an increased level of transparency and accountability.”

West Hartford Democrat Lawrence Fox, who chairs the contracting board, said the bill that passed the Senate is a huge step forward, even absent that extra oversight.

“I’m very very pleased with where things are,” Fox said. “I’m pleased for Connecticut. We’re finally going to have the ability for this board to function the way it should function.”

New London gas line installation to begin Monday on Pequot Avenue

New London — Eversource will install new gas main lines on Pequot Avenue from Jerome Road to Rockbourne Lane starting Monday.

Construction activities will occur Monday through Friday and occasionally on Saturdays, from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., according to a statement from the city. 

Work will be weather-dependent and construction activities are subject to change.

Installation will include moving natural gas meters outside, replacing existing gas service lines and installing curb valves on the street, among other possible upgrades.

There will be temporary interruptions to the natural gas service, officials said. Residents will be contacted before any interruption. Eversource representatives after the work is completed will turn residents' natural gas meters back on, relight natural gas appliances and perform a safety check.

Subsequent phases will cover Hillside Avenue, Jerome Road, Guthrie Place, Shirley Lane, West Guthrie Place, Worthington Road, Rockbourne Lane, Lower Boulevard from Hillside to Pequot, Ocean Avenue by Shirley Lane, and Parkway South.