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CT Construction Digest Thursday February 27, 2020

Wilton gets $1.4 million grant for pedestrian bridge
Patricia Gay
WILTON— A longstanding plan to connect the Wilton train station to Wilton Center has moved a major step forward.
The town received a commitment letter for a $1,405,200 grant from the Connecticut Department of Transportation for the construction of a pedestrian bridge, according to an announcement by First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice on Wednesday, Feb. 26.
She said the town will now move forward sending final drawings to the state for review and requesting permission to bid the project. Once permission is received, the town will put the project out to bid and present bid results to the Board of Selectmen for a decision on next steps, she said.
The pedestrian bridge is part of an overall plan to ensure the vitality and appeal of Wilton Town Center, Vanderslice said.
The bridge is expected to facilitate mixed-used development around the Wilton train station, to increase the value and development prospects of 3.5 acres of undeveloped town-owned land on Station Road, and to incentivize new residential options within the Town Center.
To get from the train station to Wilton Center now — a distance of only about 500 feet — pedestrians must walk nearly a mile along steeply sloped roadways and a heavily traveled section of Route 7.
Wilton has been actively pursuing building the pedestrian bridge since 2007. After applying for a number of state grants for the project, it received a Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grant for the project in 2014. The town completed the permitting process, which included required design input from various federal and state agencies resulting in a much more costly project than originally anticipated when the STEAP grant was awarded.
“Based on the expanded scope and cost of the bridge, a reassessment occurred as to whether we should continue to pursue the project,” Vanderslice said. “It was determined the project was worth pursuing because of the potential economic development impact for the area around the train station and Wilton Center.”

Utility to pay $53M for blasts that damaged homes, killed 1
BOSTON (AP) — A utility company will pay the largest criminal fine ever imposed for breaking a federal pipeline safety law — $53 million — and plead guilty to causing a series of natural gas explosions in Massachusetts that killed one person and damaged dozens of homes, federal officials said Wednesday.
Columbia Gas of Massachusetts has agreed to plead guilty to violating the Pipeline Safety Act and pay the fine to resolve a federal investigation into the explosions that rocked three communities in the Merrimack Valley, north of Boston, in September 2018.
"Today’s settlement is a sobering reminder that if you decide to put profits before public safety, you will pay the consequences," FBI Agent Joseph Bonavolonta said.
The company said in an emailed statement that it takes full responsibility for the disaster.
“Today’s resolution with the U.S. Attorney’s Office is an important part of addressing the impact," the company wrote. “Our focus remains on enhancing safety, regaining the trust of our customers and ensuring that quality service is delivered.”
The company's parent, Merrillville, Indiana-based NiSource Inc., has also agreed to try to sell the company and cease any gas pipeline and distribution activities in Massachusetts, according to court documents. Any profit from the sale of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts will be handed over to the federal government.
"We knew that one of the things those communities wanted was for Columbia Gas to simply go away," U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling told reporters. “The tragedy was to such an extent that it would be extremely difficult for the populations in those towns to trust this company going forward, so that was one of our priorities when we struck this deal,” he said.
The explosions and fires outraged the communities of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover, where thousands of homes and businesses went without gas service for weeks, and months in some cases, during the winter. Residents and public officials lashed out at the company for not adequately responding and called for officials to be held accountable. Leonel Rondon, 18, died when a chimney collapsed on his vehicle in the driveway of a friend’s home — hours after he had gotten his driver's license. About two dozen others were injured, and dozens of buildings were damaged or destroyed.
A series of class action lawsuits stemming from the explosions has settled for $143 million. The settlement awaits final approval from a judge.
Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera praised the plea deal, saying it will be a “great day” when Columbia Gas no longer exists.
“This agreement will bring some much needed solace to those affected,” he told reporters.
The National Transportation Safety Board blamed the explosions on overpressurized gas lines, saying the company failed to account for critical pressure sensors as workers replaced century-old cast-iron pipes in Lawrence. That omission caused high-pressure gas to flood the neighborhood’s distribution system at excessive levels.
Lelling said federal investigators found that Columbia Gas violated minimum safety standards for starting up and shutting down gas lines through a “pattern of flagrant indifference.” An internal company notice circulated in 2015 showed that the company knew that failing to properly account for control lines in construction projects could cause fires and explosions, officials said. Yet Columbia Gas cut corners to increase its bottom line, officials said.
The company didn't keep reliable records of control lines because it was too expensive, hired inexperienced and untrained workers, and didn't communicate with the city of Lawrence about construction projects, Bonavolonta said. Columbia Gas couldn't even give NTSB investigators an accurate picture of who its customers were in the immediate wake of the explosions, he said.
"This disaster was caused by a whole management failure at Columbia Gas," Lelling said.
Until Columbia Gas is sold, an independent monitor will ensure that the company is following state and federal laws, Lelling said.
The disaster prompted federal officials to call in September for every state to require that all natural gas infrastructure projects be reviewed and approved by a licensed professional engineer. The NTSB also recommended that natural gas utilities be required to install additional safeguards on low pressure systems like the one involved in the explosions.
Columbia Gas is scheduled to plead guilty on March 9.

Hartford OKs land sale to developer proposing $6.7M senior-housing complex
Joe Cooper
artford officials have agreed to sell one of its vacant Parkville neighborhood properties to a North Haven-based not-for-profit developer planning to build a $6.7-million senior-housing complex there.
The city council on Monday approved a resolution authorizing the sale of 126 and 130 New Park Ave., 161 Francis Ave. and 8 Francis Court to New Samaritan Corp. for $87,000.
The sale clears a major hurdle for New Samaritan, which says it’s Connecticut’s largest nonprofit developer of affordable senior housing, as it looks to build 22, one-bedroom apartments for elderly residents located next to a Stop & Shop supermarket and CTfastrak station.
Tammy Lautz, New Samaritan’s director of housing management, said her group will break ground on the 12- to 18-month construction project sometime in the next year.
According to city records, the proposed four-story, 23,626-square-foot residential complex will feature a community kitchen, activity area and rooms for physical and occupational therapy, among other spaces and services. Apartments will range from 600 to 675 square feet.
Rents will vary for each resident, who will pay no more than 30% of their annual gross income. Tenants will seek additional rental assistance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Lautz said.
New Samaritan is investing $2 million in the housing project, and will fund the remaining balance with more than $4.5 million of federal funding secured through HUD.
Founded in 1990, New Samaritan has developed about 2,500 housing units in Connecticut and Massachusetts since its founding 50 years ago. In Hartford, it currently manages the Bacon Congregate Homes, Victory Cathedral and Ida B. Wells Apartments.
In 2013, the city council opposed a controversial proposal to sell the property for the development of a Stop & Shop gas station.

West Hartford approves $7M Corbin's Corner facelift, Trader Joe’s expansion, new restaurant
Joe Cooper
he owner of West Hartford’s Corbin’s Corner received town approval Tuesday to renovate the shopping center, expand the existing Trader Joe’s Grocery store and add a new restaurant on-site.
West Hartford’s town council on Tuesday unanimously approved a plan by Florida real estate investment firm Regency Centers to upgrade the New Britain Avenue property at an estimated cost of $7 million. Regency is aiming to complete the improvements before this year’s holiday shopping season, according to economic development specialist Kristen Gorski.
According to plans, the management company is looking to add 2,500 square feet of storage space to the rear of Trader’s Joe’s existing 10,000-square-foot space and upgrade current building facades, reconfigure parking and install new landscaping, lighting and other amenities for pedestrians at the retail center, which houses about 25 retailers and eateries including Best Buy, Edge Fitness, Old Navy and Total Wine & More.
It’s also planning to either demolish and replace the former 6,000-square-foot Jared jewelers store with a new 7,360-square-foot restaurant, or redesign the existing facility to house a new restaurant and outdoor dining area.
Regency, which manages 419 retail facilities, or 56 million square feet across the country, could not be reached for comment Wednesday on when it plans to begin the renovation project.
The Corbin’s Corner upgrades will be implemented just months after Regency filled a major vacancy at the retail corridor abutting REI Co-op and Saks OFF 5th department stores.
In December, Edge Fitness took over a 38,800-square-foot space formerly occupied by a Toys R US store the children’s retailer vacated in 2018 after its bankruptcy and eventual store closures.

‘It’s like a Charlie Brown cartoon.’ Freshman state senator blames fellow Democrats for failure of highway tolls.

State Sen. Alex Bergstein of Greenwich is blasting Democratic leaders for the recent failure of the controversial bill on trucks-only tolls.
A freshman lawmaker who defeated incumbent Republican Sen. L. Scott Frantz in November 2018, Bergstein is a strong proponent of tolls on all vehicles and believes that the trucks-only bill would not have raised enough money to solve the state’s transportation infrastructure problems. "I am disappointed in our Senate leaders,'' Bergstein said. "They refuse to tackle one of the biggest economic issues in our state – infrastructure – and kicking this can down the road is costing every taxpayer in the state. For nearly a year, Senate leaders have held the tolls vote hostage and used it as leverage against the Governor. It’s like a Charlie Brown cartoon – the Senate leaders are like Lucy, who keeps moving the football every time Charlie tries to kick it. The bill that died wasn’t even a serious toll bill. If Democratic Senators were willing to vote on that wimpy toll plan, they should have been willing to vote on a real toll plan. And if they weren’t willing to vote for any toll plan, then the public deserves to know where they stand – with an actual public vote.'' Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney, a New Haven Democrat, responded, “Unlike the Republicans who seek lockstep conformity, especially at the national level, we encourage vigorous debate in the Senate Democratic caucus.” Bergstein continued, "The failure of tolls was due to a failure of leadership and a failure of public messaging strategy. On one hand, Republicans organized a state-wide campaign against tolls that dominated the headlines. They conflated tolls with taxes. But actually, the opposite is true. No Tolls will guarantee Higher Taxes. On the pro-tolls side, there was no messaging strategy and no party organization. A handful of dedicated citizens came to the Capitol to express their support, but that can’t compete with an entire political party organized around a single issue. "The writing was on the wall last February. That’s when I met with the Administration and their Communications Team and asked them to plan events around the state to explain this complex issue to the public with facts and numbers. I hosted my own public forum in Greenwich last January, with Indra Nooyi, and over 300 people attended. The administration could have replicated this model and hosted public events with elected leaders across the state so we could stand up for tolls as a team. But they ignored my suggestion.'' Bergstein added, "That’s what it’s like to be a newly elected female legislator. You can have good ideas, but the boys club still makes the decisions.''

Southington looks to improve roads and bridges
Brian M. Johnson
SOUTHINGTON - The Town Council voted Monday to approve bonding $10 million for road and bridge improvements.
A public hearing was held on bonding for the road repairs, during which Town Council Chair Victoria Triano said two residents spoke in favor. Later, the council voted unanimously to go ahead with it.
“The town manager (Mark Sciota) requested that we bond $10 million for the next four years,” said Triano. “This is the third time we’ve done it and it has worked out well in the past.”
Triano said that Annette Turnquist, superintendent of roadways, explained how the town’s new system for road repairs “takes subjectivity out” of the decision about which roads are repaired and when.
“The roads are repaired based on their condition,” explained Triano. “We go out and check their condition and then assign them a numerical place. No one is getting favoritism on road construction. We now have a plan in place that will keep our roads viable and in order. Within three or four years, all of our roads will be looked at and brought to a high standard.”
Sciota has stated that his goal is to have a $10 million road bond every four years in town.
“From the public standpoint, roads are one of their top priorities,” he said. “We will prioritize road repairs based on the biggest need.”
Additionally, the town received a report from Michelle Passamano, the town’s head of human resources, on the diversity committee. Triano had pushed at the start of 2019 for the creation of the committee.
“Michelle said what I was hoping to hear - that we are going through all of our policies and procedures and ensuring that equity is maintained in Southington,” said Triano. “Everybody should be treated with equity and respect.”
Triano said the committee was established, in part, due to some negative perceptions about the town.
“Southington had always had the connotation that it was a ‘good ol’ boys’ network and that there was a lot of nepotism,” she said. “But, I can now say that I feel comfortable that we are watching our policies and that everything is being done above board.”
Triano added that although she and former chair Chris Palmieri had disagreed about some details regarding the commission, both were pleased by the conclusion that the committee had reached.

Waterbury intersection to close for construction
WATERBURY — Drivers won’t be able to pass through the intersection of Bank and Jackson streets for more than a week starting Wednesday morning because of construction.
The intersection near The Home Depot, 575 Bank St., will close at 8 a.m. Wednesday and is set to reopen March 6, the following Friday. During this time, sanitary storm drainage and water main work will be performed, mayoral adviser Judith Mancini said in a news release.
The work is part of the ongoing reconstruction of Jackson Street, a dead-end that connects Bank Street to a staging area for the state Department of Transportation’s Mixmaster rehabilitation project.
The city is overseeing a project to rebuild and extend Jackson Street to Freight Street, continuing to West Main Street. The work is part of the Waterbury Active Transportation and Economic Resurgence project, which includes a $14.4 million federal TIGER grant, along with $4.7 million from the city, creating a $19.1 million pot of money for initiatives on Freight, Meadow and Jackson streets.
TIGER is an acronym that stands for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery. Waterbury was one of two cities in the state to receive the grant in 2014.
The work on Jackson Street is scheduled to be finished by the end of 2020.
Per the city’s contract with Guerrera Construction, substantial completion is expected by July 31 with final completion by Nov. 13. The Jackson Street improvements are budgeted to cost $5.3 million, including building the road and sidewalks, along with utility and drainage improvements.