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CT Construction Digest Thursday January 19, 2023

Bethel gets $2.24M in federal grants for water upgrades: 'Not your grandfather’s water treatment plant'

Kendra Baker

BETHEL — The local cost of a project to provide cleaner water in town will be reduced by a couple million dollars thanks to two federal grants. 

After getting voters’ approval last month to fund the $12.3 million Bergstrom Well and Water Treatment Plant project, Bethel secured $2.24 million in federal funding thanks in part to the efforts of U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who stopped by Clifford J. Hurgin Municipal Center Tuesday morning to discuss the project. 

The Bergstrom Well and Water Treatment Plant will be located near the intersection of Plumtrees and Walnut Hill roads and allow the town to replace the subsurface water currently used for its water system with well water.

The recently awarded federal funding for the project includes a $1.6 million grant toward the facility’s construction and a $640,000 grant to help pay for the plant’s supervisory control and data acquisition system.

“It’s not your grandfather’s water treatment plant,” Blumenthal said, calling the plant “the future of water quality.”

Blumenthal said Bethel is “unique in getting two grants for water quality,” and he believes it’s the only town in the state to receive more than one.

“Bethel has its foot in the door,” he said. “Water is a big deal these days with shortages in Connecticut and all around the country, and Bethel will be a model for other communities, who will be clamoring for these kinds of systems.”

Bethel’s public utilities director, Thomas Villa, said the plant’s Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition system — or SCADA — will allow for remote monitoring of the plant, requiring less manpower at the site.

“Looking at your laptop, you’ll be able to see what the tank levels are and at what rate pumps are pumping at,” he said.

Villa added that the system will also send alerts if there are any problems at the plant that need to be addressed.

“There’s no reason for water quality to be left to chance when we have the technology to make sure it’s constant,” Blumenthal said.

Blumenthal said the plant will not only provide better quality water, but allow users of Bethel’s water system to avoid “astronomical” water rate hikes like the one Aquarion recently requested.

“It will be less expensive and better water,” he said.

Construction of the water treatment facility is budgeted at nearly $10 million. The remainder of the $12.3 million approved for the project includes roughly $1.8 million for professional services, $499,000 for contingency and $16,000 for legal fees, according to the town.

The project is part of a 30-year capital improvement plan that the town embarked on after voters rejected a proposal to sell Bethel’s water system to Aquarion in 2013. Since then, the town has built two new storage tanks, drilled two new wells, refurbished a couple of existing ones and renovated virtually every pump system. 

Bethel’s acting first selectman, Rich Straiton, said the Bergstrom well will produce 800 gallons of water a minute and the water will be “much more suitable for the public water supply” than the subsurface water that’s currently used.

“The quality of the water will be much better,” he said. “The old subsurface reservoirs are antiquated and this is the best route to go.”

Construction is expected to start this spring and take about two years to complete.

Osten, Conley introduce bills impacting quasi-public agencies

Erica Moser

Stemming from the controversies that surround the Connecticut Port Authority and its oversight of the State Pier redevelopment in New London, Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, and Rep. Christine Conley, D-Groton, have introduced two bills that would place limits on the authority and other quasi-public agencies.

One bill would prohibit construction managers hired by a quasi-public agency to oversee a project from applying for any work associated with that project, including but not limited to construction, engineering and operations. This practice is already not allowed in state agencies.

The Connecticut Mirror reported in November that the port authority allowed Kiewit Corporation, construction manager for the State Pier redevelopment for offshore wind, to submit bids and recommend itself for subcontracts worth roughly $87.8 million.

Connecticut Port Authority Chairman David Kooris told the CT Mirror that Kiewit’s recommendations did not present a conflict of interest because consulting firm AECOM also reviewed the bids and made the same recommendation.

The other bill would prohibit “success fees” in quasi-public and state agencies. The port authority paid a $523,000 success fee in 2020 to Seabury Capital Group, a New York consulting firm that helped the Port Authority find a pier operator. A managing director at Seabury previously served on the port authority board.

“We don’t think in publicly related projects there should be success fees at all. It doesn’t make sense; it has no value,” Osten said. She added, “If it’s well worth doing, we don’t need success fees.”

Conley said she was “shocked that we did success fees” and doesn’t think it’s an appropriate use of public funds.

Overall, she said “it’s good for the region to be investing in State Pier … however, making sure we keep a close eye on the public funds used is very important.”

Connecticut Port Authority Executive Director Ulysses B. Hammond said in an email statement Tuesday, “From a public policy perspective, the Authority welcomes legislators', and especially Senator Osten's, efforts to clarify procurement policies and best practices for state and quasi-public agencies."

The State Contracting Standards Board is also looking into success fees, which are not illegal ― but finder’s fees are. At the board’s meeting Friday, member Bob Rinker said if the attorney general’s office says a success fee is not a finder’s fee and was appropriate, the board might want to take the position that the legislature should ban success fees.

The board’s newly hired research analyst is looking into the legislative intent of various bills pertaining to the port authority, and Osten said Monday the “port authority was not meeting the real intent that was set up for it.”

While issues with the port authority inspired these bills, Osten noted the legislation would apply to all quasi-public agencies, such as Access Health, Connecticut Airport Authority, Connecticut Housing Finance Authority, Connecticut Innovations, Connecticut Lottery Corporation, and Connecticut Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance Authority.

In even-numbered session years, legislators can only introduce bills related to budgetary and revenue matters, meaning they were limited in what they could introduce pertaining to the port authority last year.

Osten forwarded the two bills ― which just have short placeholder text for now ― to The Day on Saturday but noted they do not have bill numbers yet, meaning they’re not yet available to view on the Connecticut General Assembly website. Legislators had until Friday to file bills, and Conley said the Legislative Commissioners’ Office was inundated.

Because of this deadline, Conley said the Transportation Committee ― of which she is a member ― will raise a placeholder bill Wednesday that has to do with the port authority, “in case more issues arise.” She’s also not sure what will come out of the State Contracting Standards Board.

Osten said Monday morning that while the southeastern Connecticut delegation talked about the port authority in a recent meeting, she had not reached out to anybody aside from Conley about these two bills, and she is not aware of other legislation pertaining to the port authority.

Sen. Martha Marx, D-New London, said later Monday after learning about the bills that she would be a co-sponsor and added, “We need as much transparency as we can have, to make our constituents believe that government is doing the right thing.”

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with a comment from the Connecticut Port Authority.

CT Port Authority is likely to ask for more money for State Pier

Andrew Brown

The Connecticut Port Authority is preparing to ask the state for more money to redevelop the State Pier in New London, despite promises last year that taxpayers would not need to contribute any additional funding for the multimillion-dollar infrastructure project.

David Kooris, the chairman of the CT Port Authority, told Hearst Connecticut Media in a recent interview that he expects the overall price tag on the roughly $255 million project to increase one more time and that the authority was likely to seek at least some of that money from Gov. Ned Lamont and state lawmakers.

Kooris told Hearst that the Port Authority was also likely to ask for additional funding from Ørsted and Eversource, the two private energy companies that intend to use the State Pier as a launching point for new offshore wind turbines.

“We expect one more increase, and we’re working through that with our contractors,” Kooris said in the interview with Hearst. “We hope to be in a position to finalize things in the coming weeks and months, you know, by the end of February. I think what we can say at this point is, we know whatever else that we may ask the legislature for is going to have to go hand in hand with an additional commitment from our private partners.”

Kooris and other officials at the Port Authority disclosed during several board meetings last year that the project continued to face unforeseen delays due to problems with driving large steel pilings at the construction site, which sits at the mouth of the Thames River.

But the Port Authority’s leadership gave no indication until this week that it was considering asking the State Bond Commission to borrow more money for the project, which has struggled with numerous cost overruns and schedule delays.

The last time Kooris came before the State Bond Commission last year, he assured state leaders that no other state funding would be necessary to finish construction and commence operations at the State Pier.

Rep. Holly Cheeseman, one of two Republican lawmakers on the Bond Commission, asked Kooris during that meeting to swear on the lives of his family members that the Port Authority would not need any additional financing.

At the time, Kooris joked that his daughters wouldn’t appreciate him making that vow, but he promised that he would not appear before the bond commission again.

It’s unclear at this point how much money the Port Authority needs in order to finish the work on the State Pier.

Andrew Lavigne, the Port Authority’s Manger of Special Projects, told the CT Mirror the final cost will be contingent on the outcome of negotiations with the contractors on the State Pier project.

It will also hinge on the negotiations between the Port Authority and Eversource and Ørsted, which first announced their partnership in 2019 when the pier was being advertised as a $93 million project.

Cheeseman, who represents East Lyme, said she is deeply frustrated that the Port Authority is now signaling that it plans borrow more money for the project.

“I am disappointed,” she said. “I am shocked and horrified on the part of the Connecticut taxpayer, because we had an assurance that there would be no more state funds put into this project.”

There were signs last fall that the Port Authority was in a difficult position financially, as the work stretched on and construction crews continued to encounter problems at the site.

In October, the Port Authority’s board voted to pull several million dollars out of an account that was set aside to fund future operating expenses in order to bankroll the ongoing construction costs at the pier.

Cheeseman said she and other lawmakers viewed that decision as a desperate move to keep the project alive without asking for additional money from the Bond Commission.

But she hoped it was the last financial maneuver the Port Authority would need to finish the project.

It became clear this week that was not the case.

One of the biggest complaints that critics have had about the project is the amount of funding that Eversource and Ørsted have contributed to the redevelopment effort, as the cost of the project nearly tripled over the past two years.

At last count, the state dedicated roughly $178 million to the project, while Eversource and Ørsted offered up roughly $77.5 million.

Bob Stefanowski, the Republican candidate for governor, specifically complained about that cost sharing arrangement while campaigning against Lamont last fall.

Had he been governor, Stefanowski claimed he would have required Eversource and Ørsted to pick up a larger portion of the cost since the companies will be two of the primary beneficiaries of the project.

Stefanowski isn’t the only one who espoused that view.

During a meeting last October, David Pohorylo, one of the Port Authority board members, publicly questioned whether the two energy companies were contributing enough to the project considering how much they stand to benefit financially from the pier over the next decade or more.

“They’re the ones to truly benefit from all of this money that we are putting into it,” Pohorylo said during the board meeting.

“I’m a taxpayer too,” he added. “I’ve got a dollar or two of my money in this project along with everybody else. So I’m hoping for the best, but let’s be honest with what we are looking at.”

Kooris responded to Pohorylo’s concerns by arguing that the state also stands to benefit from the long term investment in the upgraded pier, which will continue to be managed as a state-owned property.

“I’m confident this is a sound investment for the state and will create return for generations,” Kooris told his fellow board members.

Even so, the Port Authority and Lamont’s administration now seem poised to ask Eversource and Ørsted to commit more private money to the State Pier.

Officials at the Port Authority declined to answer questions about exactly how much money the agency is asking Eversource and Ørsted to contribute.

But Lavigne, the Port Authority’s special projects manager, said those details were being discussed in negotiations.

The Lamont administration was just as vague when asked about the situation, but in a statement, the governor’s office indicated that they were hoping for the two companies to offset part of the rising cost of the project.

“At this time, the Office of the Governor hasn’t received a request from the Port Authority, but any potential action should include our partners,” Adam Joseph, Lamont’s Director of Communications, said.

The CT Mirror asked Eversource and Ørsted this week whether the Port Authority has already approached the companies about increasing their share of the project cost.

But they too declined to answer specific questions about how much money the state is asking the companies to pay or whether the companies will agree to revise their current contract with the state.

“We believe in the strategic and economic importance of transforming State Pier into a state-of-the-art, heavy-lift marine terminal able to serve Connecticut with a broader range of industries, cargo types, and vessels,” the companies wrote in a joint statement.

“As the project progresses, we will continue to work, as we have always done, with the State of Connecticut and the Connecticut Port Authority to provide flexibility and support where necessary and practicable to achieve the port’s successful redevelopment,” they added.

If the companies and the state can reach a new deal, they will need to do so quickly.

Under the current plan, the pier is expected to be “substantially completed” by late next month. And ships are supposed to start arriving in New London as early as May to begin transporting the large wind turbines into the Atlantic Ocean.

Officials at the Port Authority said the agency is still on track to meet those deadlines.

Norwich Mayor Nystrom highlights development successes, new school project

Claire Bessette

Norwich ― During an upbeat State of the City address Tuesday, Mayor Peter Nystrom touted several major economic development projects completed or underway and thanked voters for their strong support of the $385 million school construction project that is designed to overhaul the public school system.

Nystrom, starting the second year of his second consecutive term and third term overall, mostly avoided controversial topics, such as the proposed second business park in Occum under review by the City Council Tuesday.

But Nystrom did give the council and the audience Tuesday an update on the state Department of Transportation’s controversial plan to reconstruct West Main Street-Route 82. The DOT initially had planned to install six roundabouts and a median divider on a 1.3-mile stretch of the commercial strip, but that plan was paused in fall to be “reassessed,” DOT officials said.

Nystrom said Tuesday he, City Manager John Salomone, Public Works Director Patrick McLaughlin and City Engineer Brian Long met recently via Zoom with state officials to discuss the project. Nystrom said a revised design is expected in April.

“What can be shared is that the number 6 will not be included in future discussions,” Nystrom said, referring to the roundabouts.

He added that after the revised plan is unveiled in April he expects public discussions to follow.

Mostly, Nystrom focused on the schools, recent voter referendum approvals for a new emergency dispatch system and firetrucks ― approvals he called “solid investments” ― and economic development successes.

A year ago, Nystrom reported that a company that manufactures large architectural glass panels for high-rise buildings would move into the Stanley Israelite Norwich Business Park. Nystrom said the company, now called Naverra, is fully operational.

“In addition to the approximate 70 to 100 eventual jobs, they are establishing themselves as one of our top three utility users,” Nystrom said.

Several Main Street projects underway garnered a mention.

Heritage Housing, Inc., co-owner of the Wauregan Apartments, acquired the decades-long-vacant Reid & Hughes Building across Main Street, and the city obtained a $550,000 state grant to assist with the cleanup. Heritage plans a $4.9 million renovation to create 17 market-rate apartments.

Down the road to the east, the former Elks Club is being renovated into a boutique hotel and the blighted former YMCA will become the new headquarters for Mattern Construction Group, with the help of a $2 million state grant. At the opposite end of Main Street, work is continuing to convert two large vacant buildings at 77-91 Main St. into 42 market rate apartments.

In Yantic, the former Hale Mill is being renovated into a hotel, and in Taftville, construction continues at the giant Ponemah Mills, with an additional 145 units of combined market-rate and affordable “top quality housing,” Nystrom said.

“When finished 460 units of housing will have been developed while preserving an historic building complex not found anywhere else in the world,” Nystrom said.

Nystrom said new and renovated housing, commercial development projects along with new city schools and improved infrastructure will make Norwich an attractive place “for families to buy homes and for businesses to invest.”

Two bridges will be replaced in Lyme this year

Elizabeth Regan

Lyme ― Two structurally deficient bridges that have either limited or prohibited through traffic on local roads over the past several years are slated to be replaced this year.

First Selectman David Lahm said the town last week awarded the $889,202 contract for replacement of the 14.5-foot-long Birch Road bridge over Falls Brook to Suchocki & Son, Inc. of Old Lyme.

Lahm said he expects construction on the bridge to begin sometime around May, targeting late summer for completion.

A lower bid of $776,335 from Clinton-based New England Road, Inc. was rejected because the company did not meet all the qualifications, according to Lahm.

Licensing documents from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Projection said the project will replace the bridge with a 21-foot-long, precast concrete box culvert.

Lahm said bids on the replacement of the 50-year-old Macintosh Road bridge over the Eight Mile River have been received, but the town has not yet awarded the project. The cost is estimated at $1.2 million and work is expected to take place over the summer.

Officials since 2020 have been saving for the projects in the town’s capital reserves. In the current budget alone, officials added $829,873 for the Birch Mill Road project and $581,710 for the Macintosh Road project.

The $1.4 million total accounts for more than half of the $2.4 million increase in the town’s capital expenses compared to the previous year.

Lahm said the Birch Mill Road project is fully funded while the remainder of the Macintosh Road project will be included in the 2023-24 budget.

The federal government will reimburse the town for 80% of the cost of the Macintosh Road bridge replacement, while the state Department of Transportation (DOT) will cover half of the smaller Birch Mill Road project.

The Birch Mill Road bridge has been closed since 2019 because of its poor condition, and the Macintosh Road bridge was subsequently downgraded to prohibit large vehicles, such as firetrucks and school buses, from crossing.

The first selectman attributed the two-year delay in beginning the work to a lengthy permitting process. The approval from the Army Corps of Engineers came through in November, according to Lahm.

The Zoning Commission from 2020 and 2021 raised concerns about the aesthetic aspects of the bridge, according to meeting minutes. Former First Selectman Steve Mattson in December 2020 assured members there would be a public hearing after permits were secured.

In August 2021, town engineer Don Gerber made a presentation to the Zoning Commission on the project. Members afterward voted to approve a favorable report to the Board of Selectmen.

Lahm said the presentation to the Zoning Commission served as a public hearing on the matter. The item was listed in the “old business” section of the agenda and was not advertised as a public hearing.

The Local Bridge Program Manual updated in 2019 said a public hearing does not have to be a formal hearing “as long as the public is provided an opportunity to comment on the project and minutes are kept.”

The state DOT could not by press time provide details about the requirements, if any, for a public hearing on local bridge projects such as this one.

Macintosh Road Bridge will be extended

The National Bridge Inventory specifies the Macintosh Road bridge is in fair condition, while the substructure is in serious condition.

Project engineers with the state Department of Transportation and SLR International Corp. at a 2021 informational meeting acknowledged the bridge is in an “environmentally sensitive area” where two of the three abutting properties are owned by or under a conservation easement through the Lyme Land Trust. They said the Eight Mile River’s prestigious Wild and Scenic federal designation added additional scrutiny to the process.

Plans call for extending the span from 50 to 64 feet and using methods that allow for water to flow underneath more efficiently during flood conditions and to reduce the chances of debris getting trapped there.

Engineers during the informational meeting said the road will be closed during construction with a detour south onto Mount Archer Road and Route 156. Access will be maintained to the parking area for Jewett Preserve to the west of the bridge as well as the swimming area to the east, they said.

A nearby bridge upgrade to the East Haddam Swing Bridge started to affect local traffic this month. The rehabilitation project, slated to last through the spring of 2024, includes periodic closures resulting in a 30-mile detour that includes Routes 82 and 156 in Lyme. Updates are available at www.easthaddamswingbridgeproject.com.

Renewable energy company proposes 13.6-acre solar farm in Enfield

Andrew Larson

Arenewable energy developer is proposing to construct a solar farm with 9,852 photovoltaic panels spanning 13.6 acres that will produce 4 MW of electricity in Enfield.

Avon-based Lodestar Energy LLC is seeking approval from the Connecticut Siting Council to build the energy-generating facility on three parcels on the east side of Raddia Road. Although the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission does not have jurisdiction, it was notified of the project during a meeting earlier this month.

The southwestern portion of the site contains a farm, which will not be affected by the project.

The project includes an electrical service connection from an existing Eversource distribution system along the west side of Raffia Road, and six new utility poles.

The maximum height of the panels will be 11 feet, according to the application. There would be no impact on wetlands.

Construction is expected to take six to nine months once permits are obtained, and the developer hopes to begin construction this spring.

Not only will the project produce electricity, it will produce no air emissions during operation and will contribute to carbon reduction, the developer’s petition to the Connecticut Siting Council says.

Because the project has a capacity of less than 65 MW, it can be approved by the Connecticut Siting Council by a declaratory ruling. The council received the petition Jan. 6 and the deadline for public comment is Feb. 5. The council has until March 7 to take action, and a deadline of July 5 to make a decision.

Lodestar develops renewable energy projects across New England, with more than 500 MW of capacity in its portfolio.

Simon Konover eyes apartment development on long-dormant East Hartford riverside property

Michael Puffer

The Simon Konover Co. has approached East Hartford officials with tentative plans for a 130-unit apartment development near the Connecticut River.

The West Hartford-based real estate investor and developer has owned the 35.2-acre property at 341 East River Drive for decades, originally eyeing it as space for office development.

Newton C. Brainard, Simon Konover’s vice president of acquisitions and development confirmed Simon Konover’s interest in a multifamily development on the site. The company sees continuing demand for apartments in Greater Hartford and is encouraged by “a bit of a renaissance” in East Hartford, particularly its riverfront.

The “beautiful site” benefits from easy highway access, its proximity to Hartford and its position along the river, Brainard noted.

To the south is riverside greenspace and trails leading to Goodwin University’s recently built – and growing – riverside campus. To the north is Great River Park and Founders Plaza – an office park that is a priority for redevelopment by the town.

Brainard cautioned Konover has months of work ahead vetting the development before it determines if the development is possible. The company still needs to “crunch the numbers,” and hash out possible financing terms with public agencies and private lenders, he said. Still, Konover remains hopeful the project will be possible and will continue pre-development work, he said.

“We are happy to be doing it,” Brainard said. “We think it’s a very good use.”

Eileen Buckheit, the town’s director of development, said she anticipates funding from the Capital Region Development Authority will be in the mix.

East Hartford Mayor Michael P. Walsh said the town still needs to hammer out a development and tax agreement with Simon Konover. He is enthusiastic about the development prospect.

“We are in the process of remaking East Hartford,” Walsh said. “These units are a good start toward raising incomes and that becomes the lifeblood for future retail.”