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CT Construction Digest Monday October 12, 2020

CT regulators stall pipeline to controversial power plant site

Alexander Soule  Connecticut regulators are making Eversource resubmit its homework on an application for a new natural gas pipeline to a proposed power plant — one Gov. Ned Lamont has complained is an unnecessary addition to the region’s grid.

NTE Energy wants to build a 650-megawatt plant in Killingly that would provide power for the equivalent of 500,000 homes, at a projected cost of $500 million. The St. Augustine, Fla.-based firm says it hopes to begin construction in the coming few months, with the goal of firing up the plant in 2023.

The plant would depend on pipeline access, with Eversource designing a conduit 16 inches in diameter running more than two-and-a-half miles from a gateway station in Pomfret run by its Yankee Gas subsidiary. While the Connecticut Siting Council approved the plant’s construction several years ago, the pipeline still requires a thumbs up from the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority. On Wednesday, PURA denied that request on grounds Eversource filed incomplete information, leaving the door open for the company to fill in the blanks.

Eversource has stated NTE would likely become Yankee Gas’ largest customer, without airing publicly projected annual revenue. Yankee Gas sales totaled $556 million last year, contributing $58 million in profits to the parent company. Eversource spokesperson Mitch Gross noted Friday the project has been selected by the wholesale electric market overseer ISO New England as part of a prior “forward capacity” auction to ensure sufficient power for the region’s grid.

“As a natural gas distribution company, we work to provide service to various potential customers,” Gross stated in an email response to a query. “Regarding PURA’s draft decision, we’re evaluating our options.”Lamont slammed NTE’s plans last January during an interview on WINY AM 1350.

“I’m going to be pretty tough when it comes to these negotiations — I will step in,” Lamont said at the time. “I’d like to find a way that we don’t need a new power plant in Killingly.”

But dozens of Connecticut residents and activists have since criticized the Lamont administration for not finding levers to halt the project, noting one of his early executive orders committing the state to a “net zero” policy on carbon emissions two decades from now.

An NTE spokesperson indicated Friday that the company remains confident that it will get the few remaining approvals required to begin construction, and that the Killingly Energy Center will help fill the gap from the 2024 retirement of a power plant outside Boston.

“Since the project’s inception more than five years ago, NTE Energy has diligently followed Connecticut’s rigorous permitting and regulatory approval process,” stated Jennifer Logue. “In light of ISO New England projections showing an increased demand for electric power and the recent announcement of the impending closure of the Mystic Generating Station, the need for the Killingly Energy Center has never been greater.”

PURA commissioners faulted Eversource’s application on grounds the company asserted it had satisfied six criteria for approval, but without submitting direct evidence supporting its statements — to include basics such as its competence in running natural gas mains and pipelines.

Under its mandate, PURA must include a determination that the gas pipeline has “a clear public need” with the authority not issuing an opinion either way in its initial draft decision. In June 2019, the Connecticut Siting Council approved the plant’s construction on grounds a public need exists.

An activist group called Not Another Power Plant challenged that approval subsequently in state court, arguing the Connecticut Siting Council did not adequately factor in the impact of the pipeline’s construction on wetlands in its deliberations. The Connecticut Supreme Court added the case to its docket last spring.The six New England states derive roughly 45 percent of their energy from natural gas power plants, which ISO New England has cited as a concern for price stability and overall “energy security” in the words of the regional overseer of wholesale power markets. With about a third of Connecticut homes heated by natural gas and prices at record lows this year, there is nevertheless the possibility of price spikes during cold snaps as power plant operators bid against residential suppliers like Eversource and Avangrid for available supplies.

Two new natural gas plants have come online in Connecticut in the past four years: the PSEG Bridgeport Harbor Station plant that replaces the city’s aging coal and oil plant set to be mothballed next year; and the CPV Towantic plant in Oxford.

PURA has posted dozens of letters of protest against the Killingly plant citing the state’s commitments to renewable energy like offshore wind farms, including one in August from New Haven resident Lynne Bonnett.

“How are we to reach the governor's goal of net zero carbon if we keep committing to fossil fuel infrastructure?” Bonnett wrote. “It’s not too late to say that we made a mistake and this proposal should not go forward. It should not have happened in the first place.”

Wilton bridge replacement focus of virtual meeting

Jeannette Ross  WILTON — A major project involving the bridge on Lovers Lane will be discussed during a meeting on Thursday, Oct. 15, at 7 p.m.

The state Department of Transportation has prepared a preliminary design for a new bridge, which the town is now reviewing. The project would include removing the existing bridge which carries traffic over the Comstock Brook, building a replacement bridge, and roadway improvements.

Construction is anticipated to begin in the spring of 2022 based on the availability of funding, acquisition of rights of way and approval of permits. The estimated construction cost is approximately $2.7 million, of which the town will be responsible for 20 percent. The remaining 80 percent is expected to come from federal funding. Details on the project may be found at https://bit.ly/2SH4FZG.

During the meeting, which may be accessed via Microsoft Teams Event and YouTubeLive, the project team will give a formal presentation. Following that, there will be an opportunity to submit questions or comments via email (DOTProject0161-0142@ct.gov), chat, or voicemail (860-944-1111/reference the project). Questions will be answered by the project team.

The meeting will be recorded and posted on the project webpage afterwards. A report on the meeting will be posted on the webpage by Oct. 22. Comments may also be submitted through Oct. 29.

Instructions on how to access the meeting, the meeting report, and submit comments may be found on the project webpage at portal.ct.gov/DOTWilton161-142.

Battle continues over future of Stamford’s South End

Veronica Del Valle   STAMFORD — Many longtime residents in the South End say they want their old “walking” neighborhood back, despite massive growth in the historic section of the city.

Over the past week they renewed their opposition to plans by developer Building and Land Technology to remake a parcel between Woodland Avenue and Walter Wheeler Drive, the former site of B&S Carting.

The struggle surrounding the site embodies the larger tension that has long existed between BLT, owner and builder of the massive Harbor Point development that has remade the city below the highway, and those who have lived in the South End for decades. 

Mixed opinions

In recent years, the plot between Woodland Avenue and Walter Wheeler Drive has remained vacant while the development company has fought legal challenges from the South End community. Residents have sought to block the company from building a high-rise complex there.

The proposed project was the subject of a virtual public hearing last week that attracted people from across the South End.

BLT — which is seeking permission to build hundreds of apartments on the parcel, a much denser use than that for which it is zoned — has countered claims of overreach with its own argument that its developments in Harbor Point have revitalized the city’s southern peninsula that had long been dotted by poisoned industrial sites.

“I love hearing all these experts taking about how it used to be — and I lived it, I’m still there,” Bob Katchko, who has owned a construction business in the South End for more than 30 years, told members of the Stamford Zoning Board during the virtual hearing.

“Unfortunately, I’ve seen some good and some bad down there.”

Several South End residents echoed Katchko, lamenting how the South End has changed.

But some of the new transplants to Stamford who have settled in Harbor Point sung a completely different tune at the meeting.

“The reason we invested in this district is because of the development BLT is doing,” said Samantha Ferzola, who lives in Harbor Point with her husband, Keith.

The distinction between new and old was evident in what community members called their neighborhood. Longtime Stamford residents spoke about the historic South End. People attracted to the city by BLT’s vision for the area called it Harbor Point.

BLT hired the real estate preservation firm Heritage Consulting to evaluate whether its plan for the site is compatible with the existing community.

“The redevelopment of the B&S Carting site will result in substantial positives in terms of both economic and livability impacts,” said Michael LaFlash, an associate with the firm.

LaFlash argued that BLT has listened to concerns from the community, redesigned its ideas for the lot, and attempted to maintain the character of the historic and post-industrial neighborhood.

He echoed words from the National Register of Historic Places regarding the South End, calling it “Stamford’s best example of ‘walking city,’” where residents would walk from work and community resources to their homes. He promised that BLT wants to revitalize that walking city for the modern age.

Longtime residents continue to push for townhouses on the B&S parcel, which they claim would blend better with the historic neighborhood.

“There needs to be a balanced, lower-rise approach to constructing and developing the area with beauty, character and thoughtful architecture to bring back and enhance the look of the surrounding area,” said Elizabeth McCauley, a longtime homeowner.

That vision is incompatible with the B&S Carting site because of the cost associated with restoring it, according to BLT Co-President Ted Ferrarone.

“The costs of remediation and municipal infrastructure upgrades that come with this project are substantial,” said Ferrarone in a statement to Hearst Connecticut Media.

“All these factors motivated City planners, land use boards and their consultants to identify the Woodland Pacific site as a prime location for dense residential development.”

Moving forward

BLT was mostly tight-lipped at the meeting. The company has opted to respond to concerns regarding the B&S Carting site at the next Zoning Board public hearing scheduled for Oct. 19.

But attorney Lisa Feinberg did say to the board that BLT has continued to adapt in the face of challenges from the community and will continue to do so.

Over the past three years, BLT has presented six proposals for the B&S Carting site, she said.

“Unfortunately, none of these changes satisfied some of our neighbors,” said Feinberg. “As I said, apparently it’s true that we don’t have agreement with some folks.”

Some community members took offense to the lawyer’s depiction of their fight against the redevelopment.

“We’re not chronic complainers,” said Sheila Barney, a member of the South End Neighborhood Revitalization Zone. “We just want to have our voices heard.”

Construction nears completion on Eversource substation in Greenwich

Ken Borsuk    As the project to install a new Eversource station near downtown Greenwich nears completion, Prospect Street will be closed from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 19 between Railroad Avenue and Route 1 to accommodate work.

The Board of Selectmen unanimously approved the closure at its meeting last week.

The closure is needed so manholes can be installed. The first part of the project was successfully completed, but Tracey Alston, Eversource’s community relations specialist, told the board that more work must be done on additional manholes and a crane will be needed. There is some urgency to completing the manhole project Alston said.

“We are looking to have everything live with regard to the new substation and transmission line by Oct. 28,” she said. The manholes have “critical infrastructure” for finalizing the project.

The construction area is difficult for drivers to navigate, Selectwoman Jill Oberlander said, comparing it to a maze.

Eversource must do more to make direct traffic safely in the area, where traffic is often backed up onto the Post Road, she said.

Alston said she has driven in the area and agreed with Oberlander. She said she would follow up with Eversource about those concerns.

Also, Alston told the selectmen that after consulting with the Department of Public Works, Eversource slightly changed the positioning of the second phase of the manholes to be closer to the sidewalk at Prospect and Bridge streets.

Some hedges will be removed as part of the work, but Alston said Eversource was contacting the impacted and plantings would be restored once the work is complete.

“The new hedges will probably be an upgrade,” Alston said. Oct. 20 will be the rain date if necessary for the work.