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CT Construction Digest Tuesday June 8, 2021

New London awards contract for start of demolition of Crystal Avenue high-rises

Greg Smith

New London — The city has chosen a firm to remediate, demolish and clean up the site of the former Thames River Apartments on Crystal Avenue.

The City Council on Monday authorized spending $1.4 million for Stamford Wrecking Company to start the first phase of the $3.5 million project, which calls for the removal and disposal of hazardous waste from the buildings. An environmental assessment turned up asbestos, PCBs and lead in the buildings.

The city doesn’t yet have the funds to pay for the entire project. The city recently accepted a $3.5 million proposal from Stamford Wrecking, which was one of 13 firms to submit proposals in March for the long-awaited demolition of the high rises. One early estimate had put the cost of entire project at $2 million.

Thames River Apartments was a federally subsidized 124-unit apartment complex for low income families where residents long complained about deteriorating conditions. The last residents moved out in 2018 thanks to a joint effort of the New London Housing Authority and city.

The city purchased the property for $185,000 and later rezoned the 12-acre property to commercial and industrial.

To pay for the first phase of the project, the city is using a portion of the $1.8 million left from a $2 million grant secured in 2018 from the Urban Sites Remedial Action grant program for the demolition. The grant is administered through the state Department Economic and Community Development to facilitate cleanup, reuse and redevelopment of polluted commercial and industrial sites.

Councilor John Satti, who has previously been in favor of rebuilding or rehabilitating the complex and voted against the purchase of the property, voted against the measure on Monday.

“I still believe the demolition … is a poor way to proceed,” Satti said, noting the lack of available affordable housing in the city.

Council President Efrain Dominguez, who lived at the high rises for much of his childhood, said the area is simply not suitable for families.

“I refuse to have children, boys and girls, playing under the bridge, next to the transfer station,” Dominguez said. “We need to look somewhere else to build affordable housing.”

The city, meanwhile, will look to secure the additional funding needed to start the demolition and finish the cleanup. The city has applied for a state DECD Brownfields grant program and for state bonding. Staff from the city’s Office of Development & Planning additionally are working on an application for a federal loan that could be used to complete the demolition. City officials say the project would qualify for federal COVID-19 relief funding.

Stamford Wrecking Co. wasn’t the lowest bidder, but the city’s engineering consultant, Tighe & Bond, and state environmental officials concluded the lowest bidder’s waste management and disposal plan did not comply with the requirements for the project.

A timeline for the start of work was unclear late Monday.

Stratford seeks feedback on Main Street upgrades

Ethan Fry

STRATFORD — On Tuesday residents can get a closer look at the town’s plans for Main Street to better accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists downtown.

An open house is scheduled for 6 to 7 p.m. at the Birdseye Municipal Complex, 468 Birdseye St., to review designs for roughly $2 million in state-funded improvements between Harvey Place and Barnum Avenue. The upgrades include dedicated bike lanes, sidewalk and crosswalk improvements and replacements, tree plantings, and narrowing a portion of the street just south of Town Hall.

“The design open house that will be held tomorrow will provide an opportunity for the residents to review these designs and offer their feedback,” town planner Susmitha Attota said Monday.

The changes conform to the town’s “Complete Streets” plan, completed in 2017, the stated purpose of which is “to accommodate a wide range of road users by creating a road network that meets the needs of individuals utilizing a variety of transportation modes.”

The town has posted a six-minute video summarizing the proposal on its Youtube channel, and designs are also posted to the town’s website.

Attota said the design work was funded by a $450,000 grant the town received from the state’s Office of Policy and Management.

Last year the town received roughly $2 million through the state’s Local Capital Improvement Program to fund construction once the designs are completed.

The designs are 60 percent done, Attota said, and are currently being reviewed by the state Department of Transportation since Main Street is a state road (Route 113) and the state is financing the improvements.

She said town officials hope the final design review will be done by December, with construction beginning “early next year.”

Residents unable to attend in person can email questions or feedback to Attota at sattota@townofstratford.com.

Section of Brookfield's greenway to close for construction

Currie Engel

BROOKFIELD — Part of the Still River Greenway will be temporarily closed starting June 14 as construction on a new access road starts for a new grocery store in the downtown area.

According to First Selectman Steve Dunn, residents will not be able to access the greenway from the entrance of the site while work is ongoing, a site where residents would normally be able to enter the northern end of the greenway. The closure will continue for up to about four weeks.

WLAD reports that ongoing construction traffic will be crossing the greenway. But when work is completed, an intersection will allow residents access to the site.

The supermarket will be just aspect of the multi-use building, which will also have other retail spaces and apartments on the second and third floors of the development.

Legislators say CT marijuana bill favored one potential producer

Mark Pazniokas

The Connecticut marijuana legalization bill was hastily rewritten Monday night to strike language that would have given preference for a cultivation license to at least one former medical marijuana investor if he partnered with an urban applicant lacking expertise and capital.

The language was sought by Sen. Douglas McCrory, D-Hartford, who said his intention was to match an experienced and deep-pocketed player with a “social equity applicant,” someone from a neighborhood disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs.

“It’d almost be like a mentor-type relationship,” McCrory said. “By doing that, everyone wins.”

Whatever the motivation, the next-to-last provision in a 297-page draft released over the weekend quickly drew questions, then vehement objections, from the office of Gov. Ned Lamont and House leaders.

It would have allowed a “former backer of a producer” to obtain a cultivation license “without being subject to a lottery” if partnered with a social-equity applicant. The fee for a cultivation license will be $3 million.

“That was a glaring issue for me,” said House Minority Leader Vincent J. Candelora, R-North Branford. “We don’t typically write legislation to benefit an individual. Clearly that provision was benefitting an individual, and I don’t know who that individual is. But it gave me grave concern.”

House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said Candelora flagged the provision, prompting a cascade of calls and meetings, first with the governor’s chief of staff, Paul Mounds, and legal counsel Nora Dannehy. The immediate question: Was the language written with one investor in mind?

Theoretically, the provision could have applied to anyone who had been an investor in Connecticut’s medical marijuana business then cashed out. But lawmakers said they settled on Theraplant or one of its investors as a likely beneficiary, once learning its owners had a sales agreement and were cashing out.

“We wanted the governor’s office to look at it. We brought them in. We communicated to the Senate that after talking to the Republicans, there was a feeling that this was a provision that they felt could have broad applicability — or could have very narrow applicability,” Ritter said.

House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, and Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, who led the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus working group  that produced the bill, met with Mounds later Monday. All later said they agreed the language had to be struck, even as McCrory continued to demand it remain in the bill.

Defining in law who should benefit from the new business was one of its thorniest issues. Without naming McCrory, Rojas said he had deferred to the Senate in including the provision. But Rojas said he had questioned whether it actually would have promoted social equity — and then was alarmed to learn it appeared directed at one entity, Theraplant of Watertown.

“I felt strongly that the language needed to be removed from this bill before it could be considered by either chamber,” Rojas said.

While an association of the four medical marijuana growers in Connecticut has one lobbyist, Theraplant also was represented by at least two lobbyists, Patrick Sullivan of Sullivan & LeShane and Marc DiBella, the Democratic town chair of Hartford.

Sullivan hung up when called for comment, later texting that he was not a spokesman. Brian Flaherty, who runs the firm’s public-relations affiliate, had no comment on behalf of the lobbying firm or its client, Theraplant. DiBella said he was not authorized to speak for his client.

Greenrose Acquisition Corp. disclosed an agreement in March to purchase Theraplant, one of several purchases of cannabis growers in several states that already had legalized recreational marijuana.

The Senate, which began debate Monday night, was expected to pass and send the bill to the House.

With the House scheduled to devote Tuesday to passage of the state budget, the marijuana bill was unlikely to come to a vote in the lower chamber until Wednesday, the final day of the session.

Candelora said the bill will get close scrutiny in the House.

“There is a lot of money at stake,” he said. “There’s a lot of greed. And there’s a lot of people at the table. And I think that process needs to be opened up and more transparent to the legislature. Dropping a 300-page document three days before we’re gaveling out to vote on a bill that’s doling out multimillions of dollars is very dangerous.”

Connecticut legal marijuana bill favors unions with labor peace agreements and project labor agreements

Marc E. Fitch

A bill legalizing the sale of recreational marijuana in Connecticut that will likely be rushed through the General Assembly in the next two days will include union-friendly language meant to encourage the unionization of retail cannabis workers and union labor on construction of retail cannabis facilities.

The bill, which is hundreds of pages long, requires marijuana retailers to enter into a labor peace agreement as a condition of obtaining a license and requires a project labor agreement for any cannabis construction or renovation totaling $5 million or more.

Labor peace agreements essentially ensure that the business owner will remain neutral during any attempts by a union to represent the employees of the business, and the labor union agrees not to picket, boycott or force work stoppages at the business.

Project labor agreements are collective bargaining agreements entered into for completion of a construction project and essentially requires any contractor to use union labor and abide by union work rules. 

Cannabis retailers could be fined up to $10,000 per day for each violation of the PLA requirement, according to the bill. 

Project labor agreements are common in Connecticut for public projects and have most recently been required for the State Pier project in New London and the rehabilitation project on the north-bound lane of the Gold Star Bridge, but the marijuana legalization bill would require PLAs on private business projects.

Chris Fryxell, President of the Associated Building and Contractors of Connecticut, an organization of non-union construction businesses that comprise roughly 87 percent of the construction workforce in Connecticut, said the government shouldn’t be forcing private business to use union labor.

“It’s bad enough that government is steering state construction dollars to campaign donors, but the latest efforts to force private enterprise to pay big labor for construction is truly beyond the pale,” Fryxell said. “It isn’t government’s place to dictate how the private sector decides to approach their bidding process or to artificially and arbitrarily drive up costs for individuals looking to invest in a business.”

Under state statute, a PLA can only be required for a public project when it is determined to be in the public’s best interest based on efficiency, cost and economic benefits; availability of a skilled workforce; prevention of construction delays; safety and quality of the project; advancement of minority and women-owned businesses and employment opportunities for the community.

The language relating to minority and women-owned businesses and employment opportunities for the community in which the construction will take place is likely taking precedent in a marijuana legalization bill that has been largely focused on equity for communities that have been affected by past marijuana laws.

However, the statute regarding project labor agreements is reserved for public works projects only and makes no mention of imposing PLAs on private businesses that are not receiving state money.

Labor peace agreements for the cannabis industry have been required in states like California, Illinois and New York, but was stripped from legislation in Michigan. Although it does not require cannabis workers to join a union, it does require the employer give up some of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union has been the largest driving force in unionizing cannabis workers.

The United Food and Commercial Workers have attempted to unionize cannabis workers in Massachusetts with some locations voting to unionize and others voting against.

With the legislative session set to end this week and the legislature still having to vote on a budget agreement, the marijuana legalization bill faces a time crunch. 

However, Fryxell says his members are encouraging lawmakers to strip the project labor agreement language from the bill and questions the constitutionality of the requirement.

“If this proposal is signed into law as is, I expect there to be court challenges on whether the state can force the private sector to utilize these union-only agreements which will result in less competitive bidding and higher construction costs for investors,” Fryxell said. “If private enterprise wants a PLA, that’s their right, but the government shouldn’t be dictating it.”