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CT Construction Digest Tuesday January 18, 2022

Report: Social safety net supports many CT construction workers

Erica E. Phillips

Many construction jobs in Connecticut don’t pay enough to support a family, according to new research from the Labor Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

The study, “The Public Cost of Low-Wage Jobs in the Connecticut Construction Industry,” found that 39% of Connecticut’s construction workers have a family member enrolled in at least one of the five largest social safety-net programs: Medicaid subsidized health care, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), welfare cash assistance known as Temporary Aid for Needy Families, the earned income tax credit, and SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Annually, $229 million in state and federal funding supports the 20,000 construction-worker families enrolled in those programs in Connecticut.

“We want families to be able to survive on what they earn in their jobs,” said Ken Jacobs, one of the authors of the study. “This is a cost to the public, and it’s a real marker that shows just how far the job quality has deteriorated in a large part of the industry.”

Analysts say it’s critical that the post-pandemic economic recovery be focused on sectors that provide steadier, higher-paying employment. So far, construction is the only industry that has gained jobs in Connecticut since January 2020.

The Connecticut findings were one component of a larger study, commissioned by the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America union, which found similar trends in other states and nationwide. In the United States, the proportion of workers in construction with a family member enrolled in social safety net programs was the same as Connecticut’s: 39%. That figure across all industries was 31% nationwide and 29% in Connecticut.

“Connecticut reflects what we’re seeing in the rest of the country, which is that a large part of the construction industry is ‘low road’ practices: low pay, few benefits, lots of cash pay and other violations of labor and employment laws,” Jacobs said.

Matt Capece, attorney for the carpenters union, said, “Contractors need to stop subcontracting to crooked businesses that abuse their workers and turn a blind eye to taxpayers who subsidize their poor treatment of the workforce.”

But there are plenty of contractors who “do what they’re supposed to do,” said Don Shubert, president of the Connecticut Construction Industry Association. “They pay people properly, pay their taxes and provide good benefits.” Still, there are others who circumvent the rules to gain an advantage in the market, he said.

“Construction is a highly competitive industry in which projects are frequently awarded on the sole basis of the lowest bid,” the Berkeley study found. Between 12.4% and 20.5% of construction workers are either misclassified as independent contractors — which allows companies to avoid providing certain benefits and protections — or paid under the table, according to researchers. “These practices drive a ‘race to the bottom’ in the industry, which degrades job quality and leaves many workers unable to support themselves and their families.”

Said Shubert: “It’s very hard to see really good contractors that do everything right sitting on the sidelines.”

Projects on tap
New funding for infrastructure, from both the state and the federal government, is expected to add many more jobs in the construction sector in the coming years.

In an emailed statement, Gov. Ned Lamont’s spokesman Max Reiss said: “The Lamont Administration continues to take significant steps to support the construction sector like investing hundreds of millions of dollars in transportation across the state through recent approvals from the state bond commission.” He added that Lamont “has been out front on the need to put federal funding to work on infrastructure, which will create and support thousands of jobs in our state for things like clean water, green energy, and fixing aging bridges.”

Public works construction projects require contractors to meet certain wage requirements and to provide payroll certification on a regular basis, Shubert said. “You won’t see a lot of this mischief,” like misclassification or under-the-table pay, when it comes to infrastructure projects, he said. But Shubert and others are concerned that spending on large planned infrastructure projects in Connecticut could face delays.

In the meantime, Shubert said he’s concerned that historic state unemployment reform, passed with widespread support last year, could incentivize more bad behavior in the construction sector. Businesses in the construction sector are among those that will see their unemployment taxes rise as a result of the legislation, he said.

“If your unemployment taxes are going to double, what do you think some of these people are thinking? It’s like an incentive to misclassify people,” he said, which could lead to more construction workers relying on the social safety net. “It’s just going to make this matter a lot worse,” he said.

Reiss responded: “The unemployment reform we passed last year was supported by members of both parties, organized labor, and the business community. It will shore up the historically underfunded unemployment trust fund for generations, providing certainty to businesses, claimants, and policymakers.”

From mixed-use projects to car dealers, Milford development continues

Saul Flores

MILFORD — The city continues to lure businesses into its borders which, according to Economic Development Director Julie Nash, is a boon for the grand list and economic development overall.

Planned developments range from car dealerships to restaurants to mixed-use projects, containing either live-work units — as approved for Oxford Street — or multi-floor structures with commercial space and apartments. These, along with the more than 450 new businesses that entered the city over the last year, will ease the tax burden on residents, she said.

“I look at it, with arts, culture, workforce development and all those things,” said Nash. “When you talk about new developments, that also means people are getting hired and more taxes are going into alleviating your taxes.”

Nash said Milford is a sought-after city.

“We have incredible transit. We have a strong community. We have all the makings, and that’s why developers want to be here,” she said. “When you are doing well and are a sought-after community, that’s where people want to live.”

Some of the new developments are in the mix-use category, such as the 44-64 River St. project — a 12,000-square-foot project featuring retail, 50 apartments and an underground public parking garage.

The project was approved in May, and is currently on hold, but Nash is hoping to see progress this year.

A recently approved project, 4 Oxford St., has a different take on mix-use. This project will turn five obsolete and semi-vacant office suites into 14 live-work units. These mix-use projects have led to Nash’s office talking to other developers with similar ideas.

“I was having a conversation with a potential developer about developments that are called MAGIC,” she said.

MAGIC stands for Multi-Ability, Multi-Generational, Inclusive Communities, and a few are being built in Colorado and Texas, Nash said.

“The one they are building now is 50 units, over 6 acres, but they have community gardens, nature pass, multi-generational playgrounds,” she said. “The purpose is for seniors to co-live, and they can stay in that place rather than move. They are smaller units, not as small as granny pods but not as big as a house either.”

One potential car dealership is coming to Milford at 1052 Boston Post Road, and a relocated Subaru dealership is slated to open at 127 Boston Post Road.

“I know people aren’t too enthused when they hear about a new dealership,” said Nash. “But they are contributing to the tax base. People come to Milford for a lot of reasons. They come to the mall, and they come for cars, furniture, beaches, education and so many more things.”

On the theme of vehicles, the recently approved gas station at the Big Y located at 150 Boston Post Road was also on Nash’s list of upcoming developments.

The former Smith Funeral Home, located at 135 Broad St., is being converted into what Nash described as a high-end restaurant.

“Metro Star Properties has not released who the restaurant is yet, but I know they are close to doing so,” she said.

Housing is also a major theme when talking about city developments, with the approved 67 Prospect St. project and a proposed housing project at 1500 Winward Road.

“Housing is a push right now because that’s what people need,” said Nash. “I know that’s not favorable when people hear about more units, but that’s what the market is demanding right now, and that’s what developers are going to develop.”

Although the 2021 Quarter 3 and Quarter 4 numbers aren’t available yet, Nash said if the numbers stay on the current trajectory, the city will exceed the 473 new businesses that came into the city in 2020.

“Going through this pandemic, I or any of my colleagues thought that we would be in this position,” said Nash. “I certainly thought we would have a huge dip in people starting new businesses. But it has had a different effect, and people are living their dream. A lot of businesses are people saying, ‘I’ve always wanted to do this, and this is the time,’ so they are jumping in and making life-long dreams happen.”

Even though new businesses are coming into the city, one of the biggest vacancies Milford has is office space, which Nash said is a direct impact of the pandemic.

“That’s also the case across the country, but it has gotten more highlighted as more people work from home and works remotely,” she said. “But I’m hoping to attract corporations, offices and businesses that are looking for regional hubs, where you work remotely, but come into the office for a few hours a day or a few days a week.”

“All this commercial development brings a lot of good for the city. A lot of them are very generous in the sense of nonprofits and donate a lot to the community,” she added. “I hope when people see new development, they see that their dollars are not just in that development, it is also going to the city making all of us better.”

6 development projects to watch in East Haven in 2022

Christine DeRosa

EAST HAVEN — The town has been working on multiple projects over the past few years with the goal of bringing more people into the area, improving the local economy and quality of life.

Efforts range from improving the Shoreline Greenway Trail, which saw a 400-foot expansion in 2021, to working out how to create more open space in town.

Some of these projects have been years in the making; here’s what to keep an eye on going forward.

Veteran’s Memorial Ice Rink

Issues with the Pasquale G. “Patsy” DiLungo Veterans Memorial Ice Rink have been ongoing since April 2019 due to a leak in the ice floor and leaking in the cold header of the rink.

The leaking caused a soft, slushy area on the ice surface that, if not repaired, could cause injuries to skaters and hockey players.

Raymond Baldwin, the town’s director of economic development, said that over the last 15 to 20 years, little to no maintenance had been done on the rink or equipment, causing it to fall into disrepair.

The town hired SLAM Construction Services for the project, with plans for the rink to be operational nine to 10 months out of the year.

Baldwin said the Town Council approved $4.5 million for the project, which would be necessary for the rink to run most of the year. If East Haven wanted a rink to operate year-round, the project would cost more than $11 million.

“East Haven has typically been a big hockey town, ice skating town and this is a revenue source, as well,” Baldwin said. “The payout is going to be over a period of time but its going to be a revenue generator.”

A request for qualifications for the project released on Dec. 8, 2021, shows the proposed scope of the work is to fully remove and replace the cold slab, under-slab piping, insulation and ice-making equipment in the mechanical room at the rink.

The new cooling system will be an ammonia-based refrigerant system, replacing R-404a and ethylene glycol as the current refrigerants.

Baldwin said the plan is for the rink to be operational by September.

D.C. Moore School

The D.C. Moore School shut its doors at the end of the 2016-17 school year, and the plan was to sell the property to a developer. That sale was approved in August 2019. Some residents, however, wanted the parcel to become open space rather than be sold to a private developer.

Mayor Joseph Carfora wrote in a release in September 2021 that the town had not sold the property nor had it signed a contract to sell the property.

“The Town has also received important feedback from neighbors and other residents, many of whom have expressed concerns ranging from historical drainage problems at the site to the potential exacerbation of drainage issues due to any proposed development, to the need for more open space in East Haven,” Carfora said in the release.

The town also was concerned about the potential impacts development could have on nearby wetlands. As of September 2021, the town was evaluating the potential effects of development of the site but also considering what would need to be done to properly convert the 10 acres to open space.

Currently, Baldwin said the town is in negotiations regarding the site, but there was no additional information at this time.

Shoreline Greenway Trail

An expansion of the Shoreline Greenway Trail to connect the trail to Cosey Beach Avenue using sidewalks and shared bike lanes is set to begin construction this spring.

The expansion would run 1.85 miles from Elliot Street to the intersection of Coe Avenue to Cosey Beach Avenue, ending near the existing parking lot by the beach.

A small pocket park will be added near the parking lot with a bench, landscaping and a sign for the beach. A sidewalk will be placed against the parking lot so people can exit the lot and walk toward the beach where they can cross the road safely.

New sidewalks and sidewalk ramps with detectable warning strips will be added to the entire corridor, along with new driveway aprons to be constructed. Mailboxes will be reset along the corridor after construction, according to the town. Shoulder width and road width will remain the same so parking will not be affected.

Sidewalks will be five feet wide with an additional six-inch curb, according to the town, and new grass will be planted where needed.

On Austin Avenue, the curb line will be shifted and the street width will be reduced to 28 feet. This was done so a sidewalk could be created without utility poles needing to be moved or private property affected, according to the town.

This design was inherited by Carfora’s administration, the mayor said last year. He would have preferred a walking bridge going through areas around there but that no longer is an option, Carfora said.

“We’re committed to keeping the area beautiful down there and so we can highlight it for everyone who wants to visit,” Carfora said at the time.

The project is estimated to cost $745,000 to $1,005,000, being funded by 80 percent of federal funds and 20 percent from East Haven grant funding.

After this expansion, Carfora said, the town will have more work to do to get to the New Haven line.

Tweed New Haven Regional Airport Expansion

Plans to expand the runway and add a new terminal at Tweed New Haven Regional Airport on the East Haven side were announced in spring 2021.

The airport is located in both New Haven and East Haven.

East Haven residents have spoken out about worries including climate change and Tweed’s low-lying location to effects on wetlands and noise, traffic and air pollution. Another concern was how people would get to the new terminal on the East Haven side. Proto Drive may be used but, as of November 2021, planners had not determined this.

The team plans to have the public comment period and draft document available in spring.

An environmental study must be completed before work can be done, Baldwin said.

“They have to go for an environmental study, a (state Department of Energy & Environmental Protection) study, and we’re going to wait for that report,” Baldwin said. “All this takes time. This is going to be a three- to five-year process.”

Strong Street housing

The town has been embroiled in appeals and court cases for a proposed housing development on Strong Street for roughly a decade.

In 2007, the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission approved a planned elderly facilities district for the property for 51 age-restricted units on 14 acres, including a stormwater drainage system designed by the applicant’s engineer.

In 2012, the developer applied to rezone the project to include 105 units, removing the age restriction and reserving units as affordable housing under state statute 8-30g.

This began the appeals process in the courts, for this plan and another submitted by the developer. Court cases continued until recently, with the commission considering a stipulation for judgement in relation to a 2016 appeal.

If agreed upon, a revised zoning regulation amendment for a Planned Unit Development District would be adopted and replace the current regulation labeling the property as a mixed-income housing development.

After a public hearing and executive session discussing the stipulation, the commission tabled it until its February meeting.

Sperry Lane housing

Another housing project with a years-long history, the Sperry Lane project can move forward after a stipulation was signed by the Planning and Zoning Commission and The Bluffs LLC in June 2021.

In 2020, The Bluffs LLC appealed the decision previously made by the commission to deny an application to create a new affordable housing district that would permit the developer to place 504 units that fall under state statute 8-30g on a property located at 31 and 100 Sperry Lane and 161 Foxon Road.

The signed stipulation allows the developer to construct four multi-unit buildings for a total of 380 units. Three of the buildings will be age-restricted for a total of 260 units and the other building will have 120 assisted living units.

There still will be affordable housing at the site, with 39 of the non-assisted living units being reserved under state statute 8-30g.

Construction begins this week on new KindCare Assisted Living facility on North Main


BRISTOL – The 60,000 square foot KindCare Assisted Living facility will begin construction this week at 483 North Main St.

“We are excited to commence construction this month and will be ready to have residents move into the community in spring of 2023,” said Mark De Pecol, CEO of Senior Living Advisors, LLC.

According to the city, Senior Living Advisors is a commercial real estate development company “in the senior housing space focusing on assisted living/memory vare and independent living in both luxury and mid markets.”

The city has said the construction will take about 14 months. Once construction is finished, the facility will offer around 89 assisted living beds, 28 memory care beds and 75 jobs.

“There will be a multitude of community events and programs to engage the area about our community to learn more and be able to put down deposits on apartments in the upcoming months,” De Pecol said.

During a past city council meeting, De Pecol said the facility is meant for middle class clients.

“Really there isn’t a product out there for that with just a couple exceptions,” De Pecol said. “We keep the costs down. We’re about 20 to 25% lower than luxury assisted living but we have the same amenities. That’s the nice thing about it with first class dining, wellness, libraries, arts and crafts.”

During the meeting he also noted the facility would incorporate pandemic resistant features.

“We have ultraviolet areas over the whole building which zaps the bacteria and viruses,” he said.

The average age of anticipated residents is around 85, according to a prior report. The cost of living at the facility will be around $4,300 a month. Residents will be paired with a suitemate. Each suite will include a common area, a kitchenette, a bathroom and two bedrooms.

According to KindCare COO Seth Dudley, residences and families are assessed and introduced to find the best match of suitemates.

Justin Malley, executive director of economic & community development for Bristol, is very happy with the work the city is doing with Senior Living Development.

“The city’s partnership with Senior Living Development and KindCare has been outstanding,” he said. “The KindCare project is a dynamic project on a long-vacant parcel that brings new jobs and additional tax revenue to the area. Most importantly, it offers a new, more affordable option for assisted living services for the community.”

Dean Wright contributed to this story.

Residents raise concerns about environmental impact of data centers in Wallingford

Lauren Takores

WALLINGFORD — As town officials work to bring data centers to town, residents voiced a new concern this week about environmental impacts, from water to wildlife.

Gotspace Data Partners LLC, a Boston-based company, is working to build two data center campuses in Wallingford. Each campus would have multiple buildings — with a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes that would generate upwards of $1.5 million per building annually for the town.

At a Planning and Zoning Commission meeting last week, Town Planner Kevin Pagini presented changes to the proposed zoning text amendments for the Industrial Expansion (IX) and Interchange District (I-5) zones to allow data centers as a use by special permit.

All of the properties Gotspace is looking at are in the IX zone, which allows for industrial and office uses including redevelopment after tearing down an existing building and greenfield development, which would be a forest or an agricultural area.

Although Gotspace needs the regulation changes to proceed — data centers are not defined in the regulations or allowed anywhere in town currently — the rules would apply to any data center developer who wants to build in Wallingford.

Members of the public, many of whom live in the neighborhoods near where Gotspace is proposing to build, expressed concerns about air pollution, ambient noise and other quality of life issues at a recent PZC meeting.

Gotspace CEO Nicholas Fiorillo said Friday that the companies he’s been in discussions with that would utilize the data centers — which potentially could be some of the world’s biggest companies — are making pledges to have a net zero carbon footprint.

Fiorillo himself pledged to make the first data center in Connecticut running on renewable energy in Wallingford, which he anticipates could be done by 2030.

“The generators that we buy, they run on hydrogen and diesel,” he said. “As soon as the hydrogen becomes available, the diesel fuel isn’t there. The way that we’re constructing these things, all we have to do is put hydrogen in instead of diesel, and you’ll have zero (emissions).”

One of the concerns from residents was about the potential for displaced wildlife.

Danielle Conway, of 78 Tankwood Road, said she hears a pack of coyotes in the farmland across the street from her house.

“If these buildings are now taking up that space, are they going to be in my backyard?” she said. “Where are they going to go? Am I going to be safe walking my dog at night?”

She added that there’s no requirement for an environmental impact study in the proposed regulations for data center development.

Deborah Delillo, of 22 Tankwood Road, spoke about the animals that live nearby, including hawks, bald eagles, rabbits, deer and coyotes.

“Without the hawks, who eat snakes, rats, mice and other nuisances, they’ll start overrunning our neighborhood,” she said. “Are we going to have to put money off to the side for more animal control?”

Natural Diversity Data Base

No site plans have been submitted by Gotspace to Planning and Zoning, but Town Environmental Planner Erin O’Hare would first review any plans and recommend conditions of approval to the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission.

O’Hare said any proposed site plans for data centers would come before the wetlands commission. There’s a 20,000-square-foot threshold for creating surface area that automatically triggers a wetland permit. None of the proposed data centers are under 20,000 square feet.

“They’re going to need other wetland permitting for activities within 50 feet from a wetland, or 50 feet from a stream, or a river, or a swamp, or bog, or whatever,” she added.

O’Hare said that Gotspace might sign the project over to another developer — permissible in its host agreement with the town — and the properties may not be developed entirely.

“I know they’ve got big ideas,” she said, “But who knows what’s really going to happen? You have to wait and see.”

All wildlife is impacted by development, and some animals actually thrive afterward — wild turkeys, rabbits, hawks and deer love the power lines and transmission corridors because it’s great for their early successional habitat, O’Hare said.

“Some of the other wildlife that have habitats in wetlands or woods might be impacted stronger than that, but they move to other areas,” she said. “If this was to be developed, it doesn’t happen overnight. Critters move on. Even if they were going to do a series of buildings, it doesn’t happen all at once, so animals adjust.”

She looked in the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s Natural Diversity Data Base and found two spots that show state and federal endangered and/or threatened species near the areas where Gotspace wants to build.

There’s no specific location or even information on what plants or animals were found in the areas, which are called “blobs.”

“They purposely make them big, so you don’t know exactly where these things are,” O’Hare said, “so turtle collectors won’t go out there, or orchid collectors or rare plant collectors won’t go out there.”

When a development comes forth, it’s up to the developer to request a letter of determination from the Natural Diversity Data Base, under DEEP.

Where Gotspace wants to build

Gotspace wants to build two data center campuses in Wallingford.

Ocean Development Precinct I LLC, also a Boston-based company, has entered into contracts for the sale and purchase of properties with several property owners for land along Barnes Road, Northrop Road, North Farms Road, Tankwood Road and Sterling Drive.

Some contracts are for land that Gotspace won’t be pursuing — the Town Council removed from consideration 57 acres behind the Hilton Garden Inn during the host agreement negotiations.

According to Massachusetts business filings, Ocean Development’s manager is Fiorillo, the new CEO of Gotspace.

There are considerable wetlands on the sites, O’Hare said.

The area, consisting of farmland, is owned by four parties.

Joseph E. Geremia, of Wallingford, owns the westernmost, 93.26-acre property that borders Meriden. He also owns 11.13 acres of land at the end of a cul-de-sac on Sterling Drive.

Martin Santacroce, of Wallingford, owns land that borders the Geremia property, including a house at 1061 North Farms Road on 2.07 acres and land totaling 32 acres at 1047 North Farms Road, 1057 North Farms Road and 1011 North Farms Road.

Frank Kogut and Brian Kogut, both of Meriden, own land south of Tankwood Road and west of North Farms Road. The property, about 57.07 acres, includes a pick-your-own orchard, Emerald Green Farm and Gardens, 80 Tankwood Road. Kenneth Kogut owns 10.03 acres at 84 Tankwood.

Roughly 78 acres on North Farms Road owned by Walter Werbiski, including 63 acres co-owned with Joyce P. Werbiski, is included on a list of properties where Gotspace considered developing, but no contract notice was on file with the town clerk as of Wednesday.

There were no contract notices on file for any of the properties for the other site in Wallingford where Gotspace wants to acquire land for a data campus.

The site includes seven properties located north and east of North Farms Reservoir on Northrop and Barnes roads.

Erin Isle Farm, 80 acres at 965 Northrop Road, is owned by Kathryn J. Wall, Thomas M. Wall and Terrance J. Wall. Timothy Wall owns adjacent land at 963 Northrop Road.

Properties at 1000 Barnes Road, 1030 Barnes Road and 1080 Barnes Road are owned by John Usdan, of Westport. A property at 1020 Barnes Road is owned by Adam Usdan.

Another property at 1015 Northrop Road, owned by Megan McCloskey, is listed as under negotiations.

Offshore wind study authors: More outreach needed about industry

Kimberly Drelich 

New London — Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut President and CEO Tony Sheridan told The Day's Editorial Board on Monday that increased awareness is needed for the offshore wind industry so residents can see its potential for themselves and the region.

He said a recent study, "Embracing the Potential of Offshore Wind in Connecticut: A Study of Opportunities and Challenges," found that there's a great deal of disbelief about the offshore wind industry along with a sense of 'is this really going to happen?' Ørsted and Eversource, offshore wind partners, commissioned the study by McAllister Marine Engineering, and the study was overseen by the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut.

"This is real," Sheridan said. "This is going to happen. We're either going to capture our share of it or someone else is."

The study, which explores Connecticut's position in the offshore wind industry and potential opportunities, makes recommendations, including in the areas of the supply chain, workforce training, and ports.

Among its recommendations, the study calls for outreach to manufacturers to help them understand opportunities in the offshore wind supply chain, such as pivoting to make a component used in the supply chain, and to offshore wind developers and manufacturers to let them know that Connecticut "is open for business" and has the components needed for the projects.

Sheridan and McAllister Marine Engineering Principal John McAllister and Senior Environmental Scientist Rich Baldwin spoke to The Day's Editorial Board about the study in a one-hour meeting held via Zoom Monday afternoon.

McAllister said that with the growing offshore wind industry, Connecticut can complement, rather than compete with, other states. The study states that President Joe Biden's administration is "committed to developing 30 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind power by 2030," and some industry models "show the potential of up to 110 GW" offshore wind power by 2050. Thirty gigawatts can power an estimated 10 million homes for one year, according to statistics released by the Biden administration.  

Baldwin said Connecticut's strengths include its naval maritime manufacturing and high-tech manufacturing capacity, and he thinks Connecticut can quickly pivot to provide lower-tiered manufacturing components for the wind power supply chain such as nuts, bolts, wiring, electronics and bearings. 

McAllister said that while manufacturing for larger components, such as blades, is still worth pursuing, Connecticut faces a lot of competition from other states and the market "is already closing up around it." Sheridan said the study also recommends a liaison or committee of people from different state agencies to provide a "one-stop shop" to answer questions from potential developers and manufacturers and explain the process to them. States such as New York and Massachusetts provide such assistance.

That way, a company interested in cable manufacturing, for example, could quickly learn to go to the state Department of Economic and Community Development to hear about manufacturing incentives, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to discuss the permitting that is required, and then go to the workforce development board to talk about talent needed for the operation, McAllister explained.

When asked by the Editorial Board about shortages of workers with certain skills and workers in general, and the role the chamber should play in drawing new workers to the region, Sheridan said the region already has several great agencies, such as the Eastern Connecticut Workforce Investment Board.

He also pointed to the more than 300 new apartments planned or being built in New London, and a marketing video about the region that is sent to all prospective employees at Electric Boat, Pfizer and other large employers in the region as helping to lure workers.  

State Pier of the future

 The Day Editorial Board  

The road to a transformed State Pier in New London has been anything but smooth and straight. Progress is being made, however, towards the end game of a busier, more economically vibrant pier. That's welcome news.

In December, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued the final permit needed to begin work necessary to transform the pier to an offshore wind hub. The permit allows for demolition of a portion of the pier, along with dredging, installation of bulkheads and filling 7.4 acres between the current two piers. The fill will create a new central wharf area.

The federal permit comes on the heels of a state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection permit issued in August for the same work.

A renovated and rejuvenated State Pier will be good for New London and the region. Energy companies Orsted and Eversource have said the project will create some 460 construction jobs and 100 offshore wind-related jobs as the pier is transformed to a hub for several major offshore wind energy projects. The companies have partnered with the state to fund the $235 million rebuilding of State Pier.

Although critics have said these jobs are only temporary, and we share concerns that the price of the pier renovation has escalated from an original figure of $93 million, we also believe that the potential benefits of this project far outweigh its possible drawbacks.

As a facility, State Pier long has failed to live up to its potential. Although State Pier has been a busy facility at some points in the past, from its earliest years just after the turn of the 20th century, when promises of it being a major trans-Atlantic transportation center never materialized, to more recent times when shipping business languished there, until now the facility generally has remained higher on potential than in reality.

The Connecticut Port Authority's vision to turn the pier into a state-of-the-art heavy-lift capable facility, however, not only will allow State Pier to realize its potential as a hub of the so-called Blue Tech sector, but also better position it to attract other types of shipping business into the future.

We are hopeful State Pier soon will be an essential part of a more diversified and robust regional economy. We look forward to watching the transformation of this important and historic piece of the New London waterfront.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

Monday January 17th CT Construction Digest

CT DOT Awards $18.7 Million Contract For Main Street Reconstruction In Derby

DERBY — The state Department of Transportation last week awarded an $18.7 million contract to a New Haven construction firm to build a new Main Street in downtown Derby.

C.J. Fucci Inc. was awarded the job for the Route 34 widening project on Jan. 3. Construction is scheduled to start April 1, 2022, according to a DOT spokesperson. Route 34, a state road, is called Main Street locally.

“I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am,” Derby Mayor Rich Dziekan said in a Thursday morning interview with The Valley Indy. “The city has been wanting this to start for years, and it’s really been a team effort to get to this point.“

Dziekan thanked the DOT, the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments, and members of his administration, including outgoing chief of staff Andrew Baklik and Carmen DiCenso, the city’s economic development liaison, for their efforts.
Dziekan also thanked the public and acknowledged their patience waiting for the state-controlled project to get to this point.

The project includes the reconstruction of Route 34 (Main Street) from the Derby-Shelton bridge to the Route 8 interchange. 
The Derby-Shelton bridge is currently undergoing a separate, $6.3 million renovation project.

It is supposed to improve traffic conditions in downtown Derby — without turning Main Street into a highway.

The project will create two through lanes in each direction on Route 34 separated by a center median, with new, dedicated turning lanes at intersections. There will also be improvements to traffic signals, including the interconnecting of the signals to improve traffic flow, according to info posted on the website of the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments.

“Improvements will be made to Elizabeth Street, Minerva Street, Water Street, and Factory Street. Elizabeth, Minerva, and Thirds Streets will be converted to one-way circulation. Traffic will travel north on Minerva and south on Elizabeth,” according to the project’s description.

The work is expected to take two to three years to complete.

Rick Dunne, a Derby resident, is the executive director of the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments, the agency that has been managing the project under the supervision of the state DOT.

Dunne has been involved with the project since its conception in 2002.

Dunne said he’s ecstatic to see the project move forward, comparing Derby’s pursuit of the project to Captain Ahab’s pursuit of the white whale in “Moby-Dick.“

At the same time, Dunne said there will be complaints about the project once it starts because it’s a major project happening on a very busy road.

“But it will eventually make a huge difference in the performance of the roadway and the ability of the downtown to present itself,” Dunne said.

In November the city learned $12.6 million in federal money will be used to renovate and upgrade the Derby train station, which is off Route 34 next to Home Depot.

Dziekan said the projects — the Route 34 widening, the renovation of the Derby-Shelton bridge, and the upgrades to the train station — are important because they will encourage investment in downtown Derby.

The city’s planning and zoning commission is currently reviewing a proposal to build 105 apartments at the former Lifetouch property on Main Street.

C.J. Fucci Inc., in business for 47 years, has worked on numerous projects for the state and individual cities all over Connecticut. Click here for the company’s website.

C.J. Fucci Inc. was the lowest of six bidders, The Valley Indy reported in November.

The Valley Indy asked Dziekan whether, given the amount of time the public has been waiting for the project to move forward, the April 1 start date might be pushed a day or two after April Fool’s Day.

“Oh, I see what you’re saying. Don’t get me started,” the mayor said.

Will climate change have something to say about the Tweed Airport expansion? Experts think so

Jan Ellen Spiegel

Just two days after the details of a master plan to expand Tweed New Haven airport were released in July, there was a harsh reminder that in a showdown between climate change and Tweed, climate change may well win. Elsa, the first of three tropical systems this past summer that drenched the Connecticut shoreline, dumped a whole lot of water on Tweed.

The terminal flooded; the runways flooded; the access roads flooded; nearby homes flooded.

It nearly happened again when Henri came through and did happen again during Ida. And that was just one summer.

The problematic climate future Tweed faces actually is possible along just about all of New Haven’s shoreline. Parts of that shoreline - including the Long Wharf area — were once under water and may be destined for it again as the entire area faces increased battering from ever more-intense and frequent storms and the highest rates of sea level rise in the in the U.S. in the last 60 years, according to multiple studies, including data from NOAA.

But New Haven is moving ahead with new projects along Long Wharf and the east shore of the harbor, in addition to the airport, despite the climate risk, citing the need for economic development and city growth.

The city says it can handle growth and climate change at once. Science may say otherwise.

“I think in general we should have real reluctance to develop further in areas which are inherently vulnerable to flooding,” said Jim O’Donnell, executive director of the Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation, CIRCA.

O’Donnell has been sounding the climate alarm for years, calculating that sea level rise in Long Island Sound could reach 20 inches by 2050 - a metric the state uses broadly for its resilience policies.

Best case scenarios show Tweed and the New Haven shoreline to be among Connecticut’s areas most vulnerable to the rising waters from climate change. Interactive mapping by the climate research group Climate Central paints a grim picture of what the future holds. Even just the projected 20 inches of sea level rise, taking into account existing coastal protections, shows Tweed runways under water, in Climate Central’s map.

Add in factors such as moderate flooding and potential storm surge, and almost the entire airport is underwater by 2050, according to the group.

O’Donnell concedes, however, that development in flood zones, like the one where Tweed sits and the one along Long Wharf that extends inland through the New Haven rail yards to the train station, occurs all over the state. Shoreline properties with their views and waterfront access still command high property tax rates that cities and towns are loathe to forgo despite their vulnerability and repeated post-storm cleanup costs.

New Haven’s economic development administrator, Michael Piscitelli, is clear about the city’s priorities: “From an economic development perspective, we have learned over the years, in terms of moving forward on a global economic competitiveness of our city, that access to high quality and convenient air travel is very important both to people who are here now and people who are looking at our region.”

Piscitelli said everyone — from city officials to folks in the business community to those at Yale — agrees. “All point to the need for a much higher quality and more reliable level of scheduled air service in our region,” he said.

Worth noting is that the only commercial service so far in the initial expansion ramp-up is a startup discount airline, Avelo, with routes to Florida vacation destinations.

But the goal of more reliable service raises one obvious question: How reliable is an airport that finds itself — not infrequently — under water?

“No one on the city side or the airport side has any intention of looking away from that science. We’re working with an existing asset, investing in it to the point that we can make it resilient,” Piscitelli said. “The Elsa storm is a good indicator of what we need to plan for going forward — more intense rain events over short durations of time. It’s as equally a threat and a concern to our city as maybe some of the larger coastal storms.”

State Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, who became executive director of the Tweed-New Haven Airport Authority a little over two years ago, agrees that resiliency, not retreat, is the goal.

“That was never an option,” Scanlon said. “Because why do anything in the state of Connecticut or even with the shoreline? We’re not just going to give up and walk away.”

Scanlon said precautions are being taken in the master plan to account for climate change impacts, but there are still questions about whether those precautions and the changes planned for Tweed are worth the cost, will accomplish the job, and last in the face of worsening sea level rise and other climate change impacts.

For some, the answer to those questions is no.

The Tweed landscape

Tweed has been around since 1931. It sits in the middle of a neighborhood, crammed along with tightly-packed modest homes onto a spit of what was once salt marsh and wetlands at the edge of Long Island Sound. It’s more or less a peninsula between New Haven Harbor and the Farm River mouth that separates East Haven and Branford. Tuttle Brook and Morris Creek run through it. Part is New Haven; part is East Haven.

The airport sits in the low point — basically a bowl — that collects water. It flows in from all directions — from the Sound during storms or due to sea level rise, and from rain - much of it inland runoff from the kind of intense storms Connecticut experienced last summer.

It’s almost impossible to get rid of both types of water at once.

There are tide gates not far from the southern-most shore. They predate the airport and were last replaced about a dozen years ago. When they’re open, the water from the massive kinds of runoff that occurred in Elsa and Ida can flow out into Long Island Sound. When they’re closed, they keep high water from the Sound from coming in. But that means runoff can’t get out, so inland floodwater will stay pooled at the airport and elsewhere. And if it’s a really big storm — with surges that overtop the gates - all bets are off.

“It is a challenging place to have an airport,” said Brian Thompson, director of land and water resources at the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. “It’s not an ideal location.”

That has not gone unnoticed by the Federal Aviation Administration, which has the final say on what can be built where. In a 2002 decision authorizing runway safety area and taxiway upgrades to bring them up to federal standards, the FAA noted that the required environmental impact statement showed the changes would result in “unavoidable adverse impact to coastal resources” that included tidal and freshwater wetlands.

Wetlands are the natural sponges that soak up excess water and often prevent or mitigate flooding. Many have been lost to development in and around Tweed.

The FAA went on to say that there were no practicable alternatives that avoided wetland impacts or encroaching on the floodplain. And it called the plan it was approving “the least environmentally damaging practical alternative.”

Opponents of Tweed’s expansion worry the new master plan could be another round of “least damaging” and that, short of turning the airport back to nature, there’s no way to prevent an environmental impact.

“Probably not,” said Chris Kelly, a legal fellow with the environmental advocacy group Save the Sound, when asked this question. “The answer to climate change isn’t always retreat. But smart planning also requires that you don’t just pave over all the land that you have.”

Paving more of Tweed or even changing what’s paved and what isn’t, he said, may mean more of the neighborhood could flood.

New Haven officials often say it’s better to have the water pooling on airport property instead of people’s homes and the streets around them.

“As soon as there’s any storm surge at high tide, no water is getting out of the neighborhood back into the water (of Long Island Sound),” Giovanni Zinn, New Haven’s city engineer told the Connecticut Mirror in 2019. “So water has to go somewhere. In this case it goes into the airport.”

But the water more and more is winding up in roads and homes too. Last summer, residents documented flooding not only on East Haven’s primary evacuation route - which is a regular occurrence - but also along roads closer to the airport that are likely to be access roads for the new terminal planned for the East Haven side.

In the past, East Haven mayors have fought the expansion of Tweed. But Mayor Joseph Carfora has been quoted as saying the concerns of his community have been addressed, and he was among the many local, state and federal politicians - including both U.S. senators, who consider themselves environmental champions - supporting the airport expansion plans when they were first announced in May.

Ray Baldwin, East Haven’s economic development director, noted that there are still many layers of approval - including some from East Haven - before any runway expansion or terminal relocation can proceed. “The mayor has always said right along this is not a done deal, by any means,” Baldwin said. He said the mayor has consistently said “whatever happens, he’s going to fight to get the best deal for the people of East Haven.”

Baldwin said flood mitigation is a key environmental concern for East Haven, just as it is for New Haven.

“Flooding, flooding, flooding, water streaming across the roads,” said Rachel Heerema, a key organizer of local opposition, who lives on the New Haven side. She moved there in 2012 and days later had to evacuate in advance of storm Sandy. “I’ve had water in my basement, the roads have flooded. I think not only is the issue that flooding happens, right in this area, it’s that we are definitely in climate disorder. It’s here and it’s now and it’s happening, and we are having tropical storms more than we did.”

Zinn, who lives just beyond the northern end of Tweed’s main runway, said what happened during last summer’s storms was a “validation of some of the hydrology.”

“The airport does act as a reservoir, if you will, for stormwater during these big storm and rain events,” he said.

But he admitted a few of the lowest spots of the neighborhood did have standing water until the tides went out. The best plan, he said, would be to use the airport to protect the surrounding neighborhood from stormwater and create resiliency. To that end, Zinn said, the city has asked the airport authority to increase the stormwater retention capability on the site a little. “Not a life-changing” amount, he said.

“Quite frankly, I’d much rather be flooding an airport than flooding people’s homes. One is a nuisance for a few hours for travelers. The other one is someone’s house.”

But climate change predictions point to conditions experienced last summer becoming even worse. And some fear the airport expansion plans may make it worse yet as areas that are now grassy are paved, roads are re-routed and the terminal is moved, possibly displacing existing wetlands.

The plan calls for a 2-to-1 replacement of wetlands that are destroyed. But the compounding effect of doing any or all of these on the existing ecosystem really isn’t known. Nor is how much excess water runways and other airport facilities can withstand before they degrade and become a danger or safety risk.

“Everyone is worried about climate change. Everyone is interested in us being more resilient, but we’re not going to give up our way of life simply because of something that’s happening. We have to adapt,” Scanlon said. “We will take a look at the issues that are affecting everybody, not just our airport, and figure out how they can be adapted.”

Plans and battles

Talk of expanding Tweed has gone on for years, if not decades, as commercial carriers and flights have come and gone in seemingly never-ending cycles. At times, only general aviation has operated there.

Neighbors have fought expansion throughout, most often citing a litany of longstanding concerns, many of them environmental: noise, pollution, traffic — the kinds of concerns that come up around any airport.

But in this latest skirmish, which has expanded to a wider circle of residents, flooding and climate are more of a focus. Opponents have coalesced under a new group - 10,000 Hawks, signifying the raptors that migrate over Tweed every fall. They are among a dozen on more species that could be at risk from changes to the area as documented less than a decade ago.

Some worry repeated floods will wash residue from chemicals used to control overgrowth near the runways as well as sewage overflow from storms onto their properties and elsewhere.

There’s concern that the wetlands and marsh - both salt and freshwater - are so diminished and overburdened by the repeated rounds of flooding that they will no longer be able to adequately do what they’re supposed to - soak up excess water.

“We all have access to the information on climate crisis. We all have access to the information on how to mitigate the damage. And we have government officials both at the state level and even federal, even Chris Murphy, who should know better, supporting this,” said Gabriela Campos, who lives on the New Haven side of Tweed. “It doesn’t just affect the immediate area. It affects the entire region.”

The expansion master plan anticipates a significant increase in commercial air service, extension of the runway at both ends and a larger four-to-six-gate terminal to be located on the East Haven side of the runway. The existing terminal has been on the New Haven side for decades.

The new plans for management and financing of Tweed are also very different from previous iterations.

Tweed is owned by the city of New Haven, which leases it to the airport authority, which in turn hires a private company to run it. That company is Avports, which has managed Tweed for a couple of decades. In 2018, Avports was acquired by West Street Infrastructure Partners III, an arm of Goldman Sachs.

But it may have been a move - or more accurately, a non-move — by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2020 that paved the way for the current situation. In choosing to not hear an appeal, the high court ended a 10-year dispute over whether the state had authority to limit the size of the runway at Tweed. The final answer was it doesn’t. And so an expansion master plan moved forward in earnest.

The financial changes switch the airport to a private funding model. In a couple of years, New Haven will be off the hook for the annual $325,000 operating subsidy it had been paying to the airport authority. It will no longer have to supply the match for federal grants. Avports will do that.

The airport expansion, anticipated to cost about $100 million, will be privately funded by Avports, as well as with funds from the FAA, already in use for the master plan and an environmental assessment, just getting underway. The FAA will likely pay for the runway component.

Because of the federal component, the project will need to comply with guidelines under the National Environmental Policy Act - NEPA. But because no state money is involved, a state flood management certificate will not be needed.

It’s not clear yet what state oversight will kick in, but officials at DEEP said most likely the state role will include water quality certification and issuing federal permits such as a stormwater permit for construction and an industrial stormwater permit, if needed.

The state will be able to comment throughout and look at other environmental impacts, such as on wildlife. And it will be able to ensure work is in compliance with state programs and mandates.

As for issues likely to come up, “Certainly flooding is going to be a biggie,” said Fred Riese, senior environmental analyst in DEEP’s Office of Environmental Review, who acknowledged the project is likely to face political pressures in addition to environmental ones.

Riese said the state would likely be looking at the change in what’s paved and what isn’t, what might happen to runoff and drainage rates as well as water quality as a result of any changes, and increases in storms and rainfall intensities.

The Airport Authority has recently named a project advisory committee that includes one resident each from New Haven and East Haven, New Haven’s Zinn, Baldwin from East Haven, O’Donnell of CIRCA, Kelly of Save the Sound and someone from the FAA.

The state will be able to comment throughout and look at other environmental impacts, such as on wildlife. And it will be able to ensure work is in compliance with state programs and mandates.

As for issues likely to come up, “Certainly flooding is going to be a biggie,” said Fred Riese, senior environmental analyst in DEEP’s Office of Environmental Review, who acknowledged the project is likely to face political pressures in addition to environmental ones.

Riese said the state would likely be looking at the change in what’s paved and what isn’t, what might happen to runoff and drainage rates as well as water quality as a result of any changes, and increases in storms and rainfall intensities.

The Airport Authority has recently named a project advisory committee that includes one resident each from New Haven and East Haven, New Haven’s Zinn, Baldwin from East Haven, O’Donnell of CIRCA, Kelly of Save the Sound and someone from the FAA.

CIRCA’s O’Donnell said: “It’s a complicated region, that’s for sure. Its existence is tied to the fact that it gets flooded on a regular basis, like all other salt marshes. So it’s just going to get flooded more frequently as sea level rises. And if you stop flooding in a marsh, the marsh dies, and so you can’t do that.”

If the marsh dies or is removed, it would mean there would be no natural means to moderate the effects of climate change, though O’Donnell points out there are limits to what can be done. A catastrophic hurricane, for example, can’t be protected against. “There’s basically nothing we can do about those in Connecticut.”

He and others have suggested that elevating the runways might be necessary at some point. But that would lessen, if not eliminate, the “bowl” function the airport provides now, and the surrounding neighborhood would certainly flood. He’s suggested better tide gates but also points out that as with elevating the runways, every mitigating action is likely to set off reactions that may be less desirable.

The rest of New Haven’s shoreline

As if dealing with the expansion of Tweed isn’t enough, New Haven is also facing a reckoning for its entire coast because of climate change.

The next battle seems to be plans for two large waterfront apartment buildings at the northern end of Long Wharf.

Elsa and the other storms this summer inundated the Long Wharf area. Union Avenue in front of the New Haven train station and police headquarters (at the intersection of the appropriately named Water Street) was impassable. That area, all the way out to the harbor, was once harbor itself - and is now low-lying fill that includes I-95 and the rail yards, both of which flood regularly.

The city and state have chosen to double-down on investment there anyway, infusing money into the rail facilities and the Long Wharf Responsible Growth Plan, an updated version of a renewal and redevelopment plan first conceived of in the early 1980s. A small amount of what was originally envisioned has been built, though reconnecting the waterfront side of the highway and train tracks with the rest of the city has not.

Since then the area has flooded repeatedly. After Irene and Sandy in 2011 and 2012, plans for so-called living shorelines were put in motion at Long Wharf and the East Shore Park in Morris Cove, which was also battered in both storms.

Living shorelines use natural-style constructions such as dunes, slopes and marsh grasses to temper the impact of water. But there are limits to what they can accomplish. New Haven’s theoretically will moderate wave action and in turn the erosion it causes. But they can’t temper sea level rise. And they are of no use for inland flooding runoff - and in fact can make things worse by not letting water out. In large violent storms, waves can easily over-top them.

“They’re not intended to do anything for that,” city engineer Zinn conceded. “We’re looking at really a layered approach in New Haven.”

He said one layer would be natural systems like the living shorelines and the hundreds of bioswales installed around the city to soak up a little excess water and prevent it from becoming runoff. New development would also be required for industrial scale runoff systems, including some way to hold excess water until it can be removed without flooding buildings and streets. The city is considering building new pipe under the railyards into the harbor to help get rid of flood waters.

Another component the city is counting on is its selection by the Army Corps of Engineers for a floodwall project along the highway at Long Wharf, and a large pump station. The concept and selection have been underway for a number of years. The Corps, which is also involved in the living shorelines, declined to discuss the project, only providing material already on its website.

Zinn expects work on the East Shore shoreline to begin in the first half of this year. The two together are expected to cost about $8 million.

While not a development issue, an item added to the city’s shoreline headaches are two federal lawsuits filed by the Conservation Law Foundation over some of the massive petroleum product tanks on the water at the port of New Haven.

Just two days before Elsa hit, CLF sued Gulf and Shell, contending they have not prepared properly for the flooding and extreme weather that is now more prevalent due to climate change. Gulf has 13 acres containing 16 tanks at or below sea level. Shell has 39 tanks on 38 acres.

Even a Category 1 hurricane could inundate the area and damage tanks filled with petroleum products, CLF alleges. CLF has filed similar suits in the Boston area and Rhode Island.

But already making figurative waves are the two apartment buildings - up to 500 units total - proposed by Fusco Development Corporation as part of the redevelopment of Long Wharf.

The site is a high-density flood zone in an area already prone to flooding — which means it will likely get even worse - that DEEP designated for water-dependent use under the Connecticut Coastal Management Act. That means something like a marina or ferry service.

But in November, the Board of Alders approved a zoning change to allow for the apartment buildings, inaccurately claiming DEEP had found the plan consistent with the CCMA. DEEP had not.

The department, in fact, filed a letter reiterating that the development district “is located within Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) special flood hazard zones. Sea level rise and other effects of climate change will increase the District’s coastal flood risk and associated damages, loss, and disruption.”

The letter further noted that “sea level rise will increase the probability of future flooding in the area” and that the Long Wharf area “has at least a 50% chance of flooding in any given year and local data from the Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation (CIRCA) at the University of Connecticut that predicts a 50% to 20% chance that some or all of the District will be flooded by storm surge and wave action in any given year.”

And it provided maps showing the risk.

“We raised concerns about coastal hazards putting residential development in an area that is vulnerable, prone to flooding and exposed to wave action,” said DEEP’s Thompson, whose signature is on the letter.

The alders ignored him. But the project faces a long regulatory road.

“They will come back to us with a site-specific coastal site plan review. So a more detailed plan for the development of the site,” Thompson said. “We review and comment on it. And their comments go back to the city, and they make the decision.”

But they could very well ignore DEEP then too.

The site faces the same kinds of forces as Tweed: saltwater incursion, freshwater runoff, wave action and sea level rise, all moving in different directions.

“It’s really a planning and engineering challenge to manage all that. I think the Long Wharf area is probably a really good example of where those forces meet,” Thompson said.

But because conditions are changing so dramatically and so quickly, planners can’t rely on old trends and patterns. New models need to be developed.

Thompson said he thinks the various factors can be addressed. “But,” he said, “I think there needs to be a lot of assessment and potentially some hard decisions on what to do.”

Dave Anderson, the lands campaign manager for Save the Sound, who has years of experience doing municipal planning on the Connecticut shoreline, also filed a letter with the Board of Alderman expressing concerns about the apartment buildings.

“DEEP actually does have the ability to take legal action if the local boards and commissions are not actually enforcing the provisions of the (Connecticut Coastal Management) Act,” he said. “I think probably DEEP needs to take the lead on identifying priority water-dependent use sites on the shoreline and have a stronger regulatory control of how those sites get developed.”

But on the matter of Long Wharf - as with Tweed - New Haven remains committed to the economic development necessity.

“The preservation focus of Long Wharf has to be front and center,” said Economic Development Administrator Piscitelli. “We have 5,000 jobs in this district. We have the Interstate 95 corridor, and we have the rail yard. And when you pull the lens back and you look at New England relative to the United States, it’s much more plainly evident how important this corridor is.”

“The absence of a strong resilient strategy here exposes this corridor and truly complicates the movement of goods, people, services to our entire region.”

But he pushes back against the often-raised distinction between protecting what’s already there and putting more infrastructure in harm’s way.

“I think it’s an overreach to say it’s putting people in harm’s way. There is a significant resiliency strategy associated with that development,” he said. “This is a very important moment for public governance to identify and then fund resilient strategies, where they’re most needed.”

No shopping centers or apartments? Mas property zone change could go for Shelton vote soon

Brian Gioiele

SHELTON — Zoning officials are preparing a zone change proposal for the city-owned Mas property and abutting sites that would be part of what Mayor Mark Lauretti envisions as a future manufacturing hub.

Once complete, the city would file the zone change application with the Planning and Zoning Commission for its verdict.

Initial wording, presented as part of a report to the commission Tuesday, calls for the area to fall under the Industrial IA-1 district, replacing the Planned Development District approval granted for the site decades earlier.

Planning and Zoning Administrator Alex Rossetti told the commission that the zone change, if approved, would guarantee no shopping centers, restaurants, gas stations or multi-family housing.

“Removal of this PDD zone is necessary to eliminate any perceived threat of multi-family residential development and/or retail shopping centers and to preserve the area for quality industrial and related economic development,” the report reads. “The IA-1 District is no longer in use anywhere in the city and therefore can be modified and tailored for use on the Mas property as well as related parcels.”

Zoning staff and the city are completing a final zone change draft that will be on a meeting agenda for the entire Planning and Zoning Commission. If the commission accepts the final draft — or a slightly modified version after its input — it will then be referred to the appropriate state and regional agencies and a public hearing will be scheduled. That public hearing could be in February.

In December, Lauretti told Hearst Connecticut Media three firms have expressed interest in calling the Mas property home.

A significant part of making this happen is extending Constitution Blvd. West — with bids coming in last month at between $4.5 million and nearly $10 million for that work, according to Lauretti.

Extending the roadway and use of the Mas property has been on the table for years, but Lauretti began the most recent push in April when he presented preliminary plans for creating the road leading into the city-owned land, which would be developed into a manufacturing corporate park.

Lauretti said he expects the cost to be about $5 million for the road work, which would allow for access into the 70-acre, city-owned Mas property. Lauretti said three “good sized” manufacturers are interested and deals with two could be struck soon.

Shelton state Rep. Jason Perillo helped secure $5 million in funding for the road extension in the state’s 2021 bond package. The funding will be available once approved by the state Bond Commission, according to Perillo.

The Inland Wetlands Commission, at its meeting in November, approved the city’s permit application for extension of the roadway, with street construction occurring within regulated wetlands areas.

The application approved by Inland Wetlands is for phase one roadway construction only, with a portion of Bridgeport Ave. to be widened along with intersection improvements. Portions of Cots Street and Blacks Hill Road will also be reconstructed as part of this project.

This work also calls for the city to purchase 55 and 56 Blacks Hill Road, according to the application submitted to Inland Wetlands.

The property sits near Bridgeport Ave., and the roadway plans include extending Constitution Blvd. to reach Shelton Ave./Route 108. Lauretti said a zone change would be needed, requiring plans to go before the Planning and Zoning Commission at some point.

The Mas property is now vacant. It is mostly wooded with considerable stone ledges and several ponds, including one some 600 feet long and 250 to 300 feet wide, and lies between Bridgeport Aven., Cots Street, Tisi Drive, Sunwood Condos on Nells Rock Road, Regent Drive, Walnut Ave., and Kings Highway. Part of the land abuts the back of the Perry Hill School property.

Biden’s energy policy takes shape with wind and power line projects

Jennifer A. Dlouhy

The Biden administration this week outlined an array of initiatives to advance clean energy, including plans to hold the largest-ever sale of offshore wind farm rights in U.S. history and accelerate the construction of new power lines to transmit renewable electricity across the nation.

The efforts, which span at least seven federal agencies, could help fulfill President Joe Biden's climate ambitions to decarbonize the power grid by 2035 and at least halve U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the decade. The initiatives are being unveiled as key elements of Biden's climate agenda are stalled in the Senate.

"We're at an inflection point for domestic offshore wind energy development," Interior Secretary Deb Haaland told reporters this past Wednesday. "It represents a unique opportunity to build a brand-new industry that can combat climate change and create robust and sustainable economies -- economies with good paying union jobs that support families and put food on our table."

The power grid initiative includes billions of dollars in federal funding -- some of it from the newly enacted bipartisan infrastructure law -- to upgrade and replace transmission lines nationwide. Some $10 billion would be earmarked for states, tribes and utilities to enhance grid resilience and help prevent power outages amid extreme weather and wildfires, the White House said in a fact sheet.

Past efforts to build high-voltage power lines so renewable power can be transported from the rural Midwest to coastal cities faltered in the face of local opposition, landowner concerns and permitting requirements. The Biden administration is seeking to overcome those obstacles by strengthening coordination with local residents and officials and encouraging investment in the most needed projects, according to the fact sheet.

The effort dovetails with another new administration plan to expedite and prioritize government reviews of renewable energy projects on public lands managed by the Agriculture and Interior departments -- part of a bid to authorize 25 gigawatts of solar, wind and geothermal energy across that territory by 2025. Five federal government agencies, including the Defense Department, are agreeing to coordinate on environmental reviews and prioritize resources toward the project reviews.

The planned offshore wind lease sale next month would give renewable developers a shot at buying leases to install turbines in shallow Atlantic waters between New Jersey and New York's Long Island. The six tracts that will be auctioned off in the so-called New York Bight have the potential to generate as much as seven gigawatts of electricity -- enough to power 2 million homes -- according to the Interior Department.

"With its potential to supply large-scale and dependable clean energy, the responsible development of offshore wind is still our best strategy to quickly decarbonizing our economy and mitigating the effects of climate change," Liz Burdock, president of the Business Network for Offshore Wind, said in a statement.

For the first time, the Interior Department will bar companies from bidding on more than one of the leases in the sale -- a decision designed to encourage broad participation and help build out the nascent offshore wind industry in the U.S. The restriction was opposed by some large offshore wind developers that might otherwise have nabbed adjacent leases in the hopes of sharing resources across neighboring projects.

Other new lease terms will encourage winning bidders to enter into agreements with labor unions and use U.S.-built turbine blades, towers and other equipment.

"The benefits of the lease sale will go beyond New York and New Jersey and will support jobs and businesses throughout the U.S.," said Erik Milito, president of the National Ocean Industries Association that represents offshore energy developers.

Interior officials scaled back the overall size of the auction -- with leases now set to span 488,201 acres (197,570 hectares) -- in response to concerns the development could harm commercial fishing in a region home to some of the world's richest scallop beds. "We have really sought to ensure that these lease areas lead to the coexistence and in fact the thriving of other ocean users," said Amanda Lefton, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

Still the modifications appeared unlikely to resolve concerns from fishing interests who have challenged the agency's earlier offshore wind decisions and warned the plans imperil their business.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said he is working to address concerns of the commercial fishing industry as well as Long Beach Island residents worried about the visibility of nearby turbines. "We think the concerns are manageable; we think there are solutions to the concerns of both communities." Murphy told reporters in a conference call. "But we absolutely take them seriously."

Fishing interests argued that more needs to be done.

"The New York Bight is a hugely conflicted area," said Anne Hawkins, executive director of the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance that represents fishing interests. "Issuing new leases before putting processes in place to mitigate the clear risks this scale of development poses to historic food production and ecological resilience will result in devastating impacts that would have been largely avoidable with careful planning."

‘The singing highway’: It’s not your tires

Erica Moser 

Stonington — It's a whale! It's a ghost! It's an alien!

No, it's the sound of your car traveling on the stretch of Interstate 95 north between exits 91 and 92 in Stonington, perhaps accompanied by the sound of a rising heartbeat as you wonder whether something is wrong with your tires or bearings.

After the stretch was paved between Oct. 28 and Nov. 6, drivers started noticing unusual noises. On social media and in correspondence with The Day, they shared their impressions on what it sounded like.

"It sounds like a pod of humpback whales is with us as we drive northbound between exits 91 and 92," said Jen Panosky of North Stonington. Maria Bareiss of New London commented, "As I approached exit 92, I heard WHALES! Then, I interpreted it as my BRAND NEW CAR having a problem!"

Connecticut Department of Transportation spokesperson Kafi Rouse said in an email Friday afternoon that sound may often be the result of high-frequency rolling — "when a vibratory roller is used to help compact hot-mix asphalt when paving" — that is completed in cool temperatures. Contrary to some public speculation that this was done to slow down drivers or keep people awake, she said the sound wasn't intentional.

"Potholes and crumbling pavement are very difficult to repair during cold weather therefore this resurfacing was performed as a temporary fix ahead of the winter season," Rouse said. "This resurfacing is a temporary solution until full-scale milling and resurfacing paving can be performed as part of a larger project."

She said full-scale paving likely will occur in 2024. She said DOT "is monitoring this issue closely" and expects the noise to subside over time, due to factors such as temperature, vehicle traffic and plowing. 

State Rep. Greg Howard, R-Stonington, said he got a concerned call from Wequetequock Fire Chief Ed Dennett, and Howard said Thursday he has been in contact with DOT and expects to hear back with more information soon.

"This is just like a howling noise. It almost sounds like you have a flat tire," Dennett said. "Twice now I've seen people over the side of the road, checking their tires out. I'm just worried someone's going to get hit up there."

Dennett said he's never heard anything like this on another road before.

People have asked whether a sign could be put up to warn drivers that the noise is just from the road and nothing is wrong with their cars.

But Rouse said DOT must adhere to national standards set by the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways, a document issued by the Federal Highway Administration, "and this type of signage would not be allowed since the noise is not a safety concern."

State Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, said Friday morning that she has gotten a few comments about the noise and knows DOT is looking at it. Later in the day, she said she heard from DOT, and "they made it clear that this is not unusual with weather changes, to have a different noise pattern that is not typical but is not a safety issue."

Rouse said the contractor for this paving was American Industries. A DOT attorney said in response to a Freedom of Information Act request that the total cost of the purchase order was $1,688,801, and the request for proposals and contract were done through the Department of Administrative Services.

The I-95 paving in Stonington came under a broader $69 million award. DAS spokesperson John McKay said all 17 suppliers that responded to the bid were awarded the contract.

American Industries didn't respond to a voicemail or emails Friday seeking comment. The company, based in Jewett City, is the same contractor that had to repair a section of Route 1 in Stonington that it improperly paved in 2018, at no cost to the state. After the $870,000 project was completed the first time around, drivers noticed an uneven or "washboard" quality on the road, and then-DOT spokesperson Kevin Nursick said a pavement analysis expert determined the problem was related to how the pavement was installed by the contractor.

According to the Connecticut Office of the State Comptroller, the state has paid $251.66 million to American Industries since 2011. The company says on its website that it "became a leader in paving projects through out the state," including on I-95, I-395, I-84, I-91, Route 2, Route 9 and Route 6. A list of some projects can be found at americanind.net/our-projects.

Stonington resident Joe Cascio frequently drives this stretch of I-95 to visit his daughter in Hope Valley. He got new tires around the time of the paving, and the noise made him think, "Oh jeez, did I get some sketchy tires?" he said. "But no, I get up a little further, once you cross into Rhode Island, you don't notice it anymore."

On Dec. 2, he contacted the DOT Customer Care Center via email and asked, "Was this a construction fault or an intentional treatment of the finished pavement to increase traction, or for some other reason? It has created a potentially dangerous situation as some drivers appear to have thought there is something wrong with their cars or tires and pulled over to the breakdown lane to check the vehicle."

Cascio got a response that day from Bob Kropp, transportation general supervisor with the Groton Maintenance Garage, which Cascio shared in the Stonington Community Forum on Facebook.

"It is the result of high frequency rolling when paving in cool temperatures, and though noticeable now that its fresh and new, will soften with time as the heat from the sun and that generated by traffic helps to 'smooth' it out," Kropp replied. "The roadway, itself, is structurally sound, and there is no cause for concern regarding the riding surface."

State police Trooper 1st Class Sarah Salerno said a query of the reporting system from December through Thursday showed one traffic service call on Dec. 27 in which a motorist mentioned hearing a noise and stopped to check their tires. She said other than that, events in the Stonington area were typical.

Drivers fear flat tires, failed wheel bearings

The Day posted a query Monday asking if people have heard the noise and if they thought something was wrong with their vehicle, and we clearly struck a chord: More than 100 people sent emails. This reporter's inbox began to look like an I-95 noise support group, with multiple people expressing relief that they weren't alone in hearing this noise.

"It sounds like some ghostly music emanating from the car. The little girl from Poltergeist might say 'they're here!'" said Micky Williston of Pawcatuck. Rick Waters of Noank called it "an astral sound like the suspense part of a horror movie."

Katie McQuarrie and Sue Goldstein are among those who call it the "singing highway," while Harry Watson said it's known as the "singing road" in his Groton home.

One person said she ended up getting $1,800 of unnecessary work done on her car. A New London man said he and his wife were driving to Boston to see their son after Christmas but postponed their trip to get the car checked out, and then spent $2,850 on needed work that was mostly unrelated to the noise.

Elisa Coppelman is one of the people who pulled over onto the side shoulder. She had just left a "leisurely weekend at our cottage in the Mystic area" and was driving back to Massachusetts. She felt unsafe, as it was getting dark, her dog was anxious and she had a 2-hour drive ahead. Coppelman said a man pulled up behind her and asked if he could help, and he explained that the noise was a common experience.

Tom Benoit of Mystic said he thought something was wrapped around one of his tires and pulled off at the next exit, and he almost canceled his plans. Tory Christian of Mystic said a friend nearly missed a plane, thinking his car was damaged and trying to find out why.

Bob Manzella of West Haven said he was driving to Westerly for dinner on Thanksgiving and was near the Elm Ridge Golf Course when his 2018 Camry started making a loud noise. He thought a wheel bearing had failed, so he got off at Exit 92 and immediately checked his wheels for heat.

"Glad to hear others are hearing the same noise," he said. "Creepy."

Anne McMullin of Mystic said the noise was the hot topic of a family cookie swap just before Christmas. She and multiple others thought they had a flat tire at first. John Groton of Stonington thought it was maybe ice under the chassis.

Like Cascio, Majda Begonja and Wendy Kelleher thought it was an issue with their new tires. Kelleher said she pretends it's a whale song, like from Dory in "Finding Nemo," and sings along with the "whales" on her runs to the airport and Trader Joe's in Rhode Island.

Kelleher was one of at least six people who referenced intentionally engineered "musical highways," such as one in Lancaster, Calif., with groves that produce a portion of the William Tell Overture.

A few people said they've heard a noise like the one in Stonington on other roads before.

Paul Parulis of Niantic ended on a positive note: "Better a singing highway than one with potholes."

Kent Streetscape Committee sends bid package to selectmen


KENT – The long-awaited sidewalk renovation project is one step closer to completion, following the recommendation of the bid package by Streetscape Building Committee Thursday evening to the Board of Selectmen.

Member Jack Nelson, who is a contractor by trade, recommended a review of the insurance requirements stipulated in the bid package.

“The insurance is a little sketchy,” he told the committee. “The limits looked low and the town is not indemnified or held harmless.”

He suggested, and the committee agreed, to recommend to the selectmen that the town’s insurance company or the town attorney review the insurance requirements in the bid documents.

The bid package was created by Milone & MacBroom, the firm the town has worked with since 2013 when the first plans were drawn up to renovate sidewalks and enhance the walkability of the town. Since that time, there have been many changes to the scope and geographic boundaries of the plans. The town has three grants to help fund the improvements, in addition to approval from the townspeople to bond up to $2.95 million, which was approved in May 2019.

Mike Dougherty, Milone & MacBroom’s project manager working with Kent, was not present during the most recent meeting. Committee Chairman Mike Gawel said that it will be up to the selectmen to work directly with Dougherty to get the bid package advertised and set up the dates for when it is due back to the town.

“We recommend the selectmen accept the bid package,” Gawel said, and the rest of the committee agreed in the motion. The bid package seeks quotes for concrete construction with granite curbing and an alternative using asphalt.

The stars may have finally aligned so that 2022 will be the year when the ground is broken and residents start to see new flat walking surfaces in the center of town. First Selectman Jean Speck said during a recent interview that the state Department of Transportation (DOT) now has all the legal paperwork it needs for easements in order for the town to get approval and be able to send the project out to bid. One of the most recent delays was obtaining easements on three pieces of property, one owned by St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church and two others by the Kent Center LLC, which owns the Kent Barns complex and several other parcels on North Main Street.

Speck told the committee that she will coordinate with the selectmen’s administrative assistant Joyce Kearns, Road Foreman Rick Osborne and Town Treasurer Barbara Herbst to make sure all the steps are taken. There are some things that are specified in the grant documents.

Speck categorizes the sidewalks in three phases and this is based on both geographic boundaries and funding sources. Phase one is along North Main Street from the Civil War Monument to the railroad tracks and is connected to a $400,000 grant associated is the state Community Connectivity Grant Program, which is administered by the state DOT. Herbst explained that this grant’s expenses need to be restricted to the description in the grant application which states that it is to “replace sidewalks and curbs and create safe crosswalks in the core area of Main Street/Route 7 in the heart of the Kent Village.”

Phase two of the sidewalks is South Main Street and Route 341 east to Maple Street Extension and this is funded with a $2.35 million grant from the federal Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP). Phase three is the municipal bonding that will pay for the remainder of expenses, according to Speck.

The other grant is $500,000 from the Main Street Investment Fund administered by the state Department of Housing. Herbst has successfully asked for three different extensions on the grant since it was first awarded Oct. 13, 2016.

In response to her last request, Nov. 12, 2021, she said received a response that “seemed to indicate that an extension was being prepared.” As of early January, she had not received any formal notification that the extension has been granted. However, the town is proceeding with the belief that it will receive the funds.