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CT Construction Digest Tuesday September 8, 2020

Mixmaster, rail line work included in state DOT’s 4-year, $3.9 billion projects plan

Andrew Larson The state Department of Transportation is pursuing projects totaling $3.9 billion between 2021 and 2024, according to a mandated report to the federal government.

The agency’s four-year outlook for capital projects, the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, contains 223 projects and $3.1 billion in federal funds that will be matched with $864.5 million from the state and $17 million from local governments.

These projects are already funded and have been vetted and approved at the local and state levels.

The largest projects in the document, which is abbreviated as STIP, include the $90 million signalization of the New Haven Line, including the Waterbury Branch, along with the ongoing rehabilitation of the Waterbury Mixmaster at the junction of Interstate 84 and Route 8, which has a price of more than $150 million.

The list includes highway improvements, fixing ramps and crosswalks that are not compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act and building new bikeways. There is also work planned on Route 72 in Bristol, traffic signal upgrades on the Berlin Turnpike and replacement of retaining walls on Route 44 in Norfolk.

“Essentially what it means is if a project is not included in the STIP, we can’t use federal funds for the project,” said Garrett Eucalitto, who was named deputy commissioner of the DOT in January. Eucalitto, who grew up in Torrington and now lives in New Haven, was previously the agency’s undersecretary for transportation policy and planning.

The list reflects the DOT’s recent emphasis on non-motorized forms of transit, he said.

“Within the last decade, people just assumed all their federal funds went to highways because that’s often the most visible form of transportation in the urban areas,” Eucalitto said.

The DOT is looking for public feedback on the STIP, which was released in August. The agency says it wants to inform people about upcoming projects and invite them to weigh in with feedback.

“Having robust participation helps, I think, make us better as a DOT and it helps make our projects better,” Eucalitto said.

In one case, the DOT revised project plans for the CT Transit bus storage facility and maintenance garage on Route 262 in Watertown, by incorporating feedback from the public during a hearing, Eucalitto said.

People asked the DOT to factor in the Naugatuck River Greenway project, so the agency found money to build a half-mile pedestrian trail parallel to the river and adjacent to the bus facility that includes a water fountain, parking and a “comfort station.”

The trail wraps around the bus facility and provides views of the Naugatuck River. It will eventually become part of the Naugatuck River Greenway, which is in the planning and early construction phases.

“It’s a living document that is continually addressed,” Eucalitto said.

The DOT is required to submit the document to the federal government once every four years under the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act.“If using federal dollars, they want equity and accountability, and that requires public input and stakeholder input,” Nursick said.

Comments on the draft report will be accepted until Oct. 9. Comments can also be submitted by email DOT.Draft2021STIPComment@ct.gov (preferred) or by voicemail 860-944-1111. To view the STIP document, visit rep-am.com. 

The DOT has scheduled virtual public information meetings at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sept. 23. For instructions, visit https://bit.ly/3i4qxsG.

CT’s billion-dollar sewage problem hits cities hardest

Meghan Friedmann  Millions, possibly even billions of gallons of stormwater containing untreated sewage enter Connecticut’s waters each year, closing beaches, preventing shellfishing and harming marine life, according to experts.

It’s an ongoing problem, and one that’s likely to impact the state for decades, costing at least another billion dollars, according to combined estimates from local authorities responsible for implementing sewer overflow remediation projects. The state has made progress: in 1975, there were about 250 distinct combined sewer overflow, or CSO, outfalls, distributed across 13 Connecticut towns, according to Jennifer Perry, director of the Water Planning and Management Division for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Today, that number has been reduced by about 60 percent, Perry said

But dozens of CSO locations remain, according to Perry, who said they are primarily spread across four cities: Bridgeport, New Haven, Hartford and Norwich.

Together, those cities have 89 remaining CSO outfalls, according to numbers provided by local water authorities and the DEEP.

Here’s what you need to know about the risks of combined sewage overflow, where and when overflow can occur, and which communities are impacted.

How it works

CSO outfalls arise in cities that have “combined sewers,” or systems where the pipes carrying sewage and those carrying stormwater are connected in some way, Perry said, adding that such systems are common in older New England municipalities.

When stormwater flows through the system, it picks up sewage--and when there is too much stormwater, such as during a heavy rainstorm, parts of the system can overflow, dumping a mix of stormwater and sewage into rivers and harbors, Perry said. Depending on the infrastructure, as little as one-half inch of rainfall can cause an overflow, according to Holly Drinkuth, director of Outreach and Watershed Projects for the Nature Conservancy.

Health & environmental impacts

Stormwater comprises the vast majority of a system’s output during a CSO event, said Chris Riley, spokesman for Norwich Public Utilities, which handles CSO remediation in that city.

Still, he said, the raw sewage mixed in poses a concern.

Pathogens from the sewage can get into the water, “and that’s why we close our beaches when we have over a half inch of rain,” Drinkuth said, adding that beaches statewide typically need to close in such cases, not just those in communities with CSO outfall locations.

“That said, the closest you are to CSOs the more impact there’s going to be [on beaches],” Drinkuth said.

As far as threats to human health go, “the risk is really direct contact” with the water, according to Perry, the DEEP’s water planning director.

That risk usually passes after 48 hours, she said.

Overflow events can also temporarily close shellfishing locations and even harm aquatic life, according to Peter Linderoth, director of water quality for Save the Sound.

Sewage contains organic matter, which feeds bacteria, Linderoth said. When sewage ends up in a bay or harbor, bacteria decompose the organic matter, using up oxygen, he said.

The process can lower the level of dissolved oxygen in the water for a set period of time, “which can be really harmful for marine life,” as animals on the ocean floor “literally suffocate,” Linderoth said.

Where it happens

Maps show CSO locations in the four cities which are home to most of Connecticut’s overflow events: New Haven, Bridgeport, Hartford and Norwich.

Included are estimates of the average annual volume of combined sewage that enters the state’s waters from each city, both from the DEEP and from the relevant local authority.

In some cases, the estimates differ greatly, a discrepancy CSO coordinator Ann Straut said could be attributed to a number of factors.

There are various methods used available for determining CSO volumes, such as metering and modeling, and they can give different results, according to Straut.

CSO output also varies with rainfall — a drier year will yield less discharge, she said.

The DEEP’s estimates are based on 2018 data, whereas local estimates may reflect reductions created by recent remedial projects, Straut said.

As for funding, up to half of the cost of remedial projects can come from Clean Water Fund grants, which represent a combination of state and federal funds, according to Straut.

Loans typically make up the remaining costs, Perry said.

Projects that eliminate CSO output can include everything from sewer separation — which involves ripping up roads and separating the sanitary and stormwater pipes — to creating more storage within the system so that it does not get overwhelmed, Perry said.

Norwalk and Waterbury also have CSO discharge, but they no longer have combined sewers and output has been limited to one remaining location, according to Perry.

BridgeportNumber of CSO locations: Bridgeport has 27 CSO outfall locations, according to Lauren McBennett Mappa, general manager of the city’s Water Pollution Control Authority. That’s half the number that used to exist, she said.

Annual volume of combined sewage: Some 33 million gallons of stormwater mixed with untreated sewage enter Connecticut waters via Bridgeport’s CSO outfalls each year, Mappa said. The DEEP estimated that this number could at times be as high as 370 million gallons.

What it will take to eliminate CSO output: To date, more than $195 million has gone toward eliminating Bridgeport’s CSO output, according to Straut, who added that Bridgeport is working on a facilities estimates to eliminate the rest of it.

One pending project intended to help ameliorate the problem is a tank, which will store overflow and cost around $40 million, Straut said.

The remaining CSO work, which makes up the city’s “long-term control plan,” is expected to take until 2039, Mappa said.

Comments from local authorities: “Bridgeport has consistently met all dates for the long term control plan,” Mappa said.

New HavenNumber of CSO locations: New Haven has 11 active CSO discharge locations, according to a table provided by the DEEP. At one time it had 34, the 2020 annual report for the Greater New Haven Water Pollution Control Authority indicates.

Annual volume of combined sewage: On average, 43 million gallons of stormwater mixed with untreated sewage enter Connecticut waters via New Haven’s CSO outfalls each year, according to DEEP estimates. Between May 2019 and April 2020, meter data put the estimated output at just under 50 million gallons, according to the GNHWPCA’s annual report.

What it will take to eliminate CSO output: As of 2016, eliminating New Haven’s remaining CSOs was estimated to cost $433 million, according to the GNHWPCA’s long-term control plan, which indicates the spending was scheduled to take place over 20 years, ending in 2036.

What local authorities say: “New Haven has constructed over 200 green stormwater infrastructure installations in its public rights-of-way, capitalizing on the high infiltration rates of New Haven’s sandy soils to break down pollutants especially in the first flush of stormwater,” said city engineer Giovanni Zinn.

Zinn noted that the city’s long-term control plan is the purview of the GNHWPCA, but that New Haven works with the agency to “find ways to minimize CSOs, and improve stormwater quality throughout our community.”

A GNHWPCA representative was unavailable for comment.

The Greater New Haven WPCA’s 2020 annual report lists 34 CSO locations, but of those, all except 16 are designated “closed.” A GNHWPCA representative was unavailable to clarify whether or not a closure indicates that the CSO is no longer active.

HartfordCSO locations are marked by the pipe symbols, with the faded symbols representing outfalls set to be eliminated during the next phase of Hartford’s long-term control project, according to MDC spokesman Nick Salemi.

Number of CSO locations: Hartford currently has 38 CSO locations, Salemi said.

Annual volume of combined sewage: While the DEEP estimated that Hartford sees just under 950 million gallons worth of CSOs annually, Salemi said that 550 million gallons have been eliminated through the MDC’s remedial work, known as the Clean Water Project.

That leaves about 400 million gallons of annual output, 54 million of which is set to be eliminated during the current phase of the CWP, which involves the construction of the South Hartford Conveyance and Storage Tunnel, Salemi said.

What it will take to eliminate CSO output: The tunnel is set to be completed in 2024, Salemi said.

So far, approximately $1.7 billion in total funds have been approved for the CWP, Salemi said.

“The work completed to date has included expansion in treatment capacity at two of the District’s four water pollution control facilities, reduction in stormwater and ground water flows into the sanitary sewers, and increased capacity in the sanitary sewer system,” Salemi said.

The CWP is expected to cost another $700 million and take around three more decades, Salemi said, adding that the plan’s level of remediation is mandated by the DEEP and the Environmental Protection Agency.

What local authorities say: “With the Clean Water Project, the MDC takes its responsibility as a steward of the environment very seriously, while at the same time having to balance the affordability for our customers,” Salemi said. “There is no CSO remediation project anywhere else in New England the size of the MDC’s.”

NorwichNumber of CSO locations: While Norwich once had 46 CSO outfalls, it’s now down to 13 active discharge locations, according to Larry Sullivan, who heads NPU’s Wastewater Department.

Annual volume of combined sewage: About 100 million gallons of stormwater mixed with untreated sewage enter Connecticut waters via Norwich’s CSO outfalls each year, according to estimates from NPU and the DEEP.

What it will take to eliminate CSO output: While NPU’s 2018 long-term control plan is scheduled to take 35 years to complete, three projects set to be implemented during the first six years of the plan should eliminate around half of the city’s CSO discharge, according to NPU’s statement.

One of those projects is an upgrade to the wastewater treatment plant, which will ensure it can handle increased flows, Sullivan said.

Another will increase storage capacity at one of the most problematic CSO locations, he said.

In all, the 35-year plan will cost around $270 million, according to the NPU statement.

What local authorities say: The projects will have a positive impact not only on the quality of the Shetucket and Thames Rivers, which run through Norwich, but also on the Long Island Sound, according to the NPU.

“Modernizing our wastewater infrastructure is a smart investment in and for our community that will have numerous benefits for Norwich and the region,” the NPU’s statement said, noting that the upgraded treatment plant will allow surrounding towns to connect to NPU’s system, saving money for those communities and for NPU’s existing customers.

“And bringing other communities into our system will reduce overall project costs for our customers,” the statement said.

Hartford’s troubled nightclub district refreshed with $21M apartment conversion

Joe Cooper  Construction is wrapping up on a $21.1 million apartment conversion project that aims to revitalize downtown Hartford’s formerly troubled nightclub district into a key link between the XL Center and Union Station.

Leasing recently started at the 66-unit Hartford Carriage House apartments, at 103-21 Allyn St., after the city’s building department granted a certificate of occupancy for developer Paul Khakshouri.

Residents will begin moving into the three converted historic mixed-use buildings either in late September or early October, according to Michael Freimuth, executive director of the Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA).

Revival of the century-old buildings into market-rate housing is good news for a corridor that made headlines for all the wrong reasons in recent years due to public safety concerns.

One of the converted Allyn Street structures once housed the now-shuttered Angry Bull Saloon, which closed its doors in 2017 after the death of an underage college student who fell from the building’s roof.

Just a few blocks away in 2013, the former Up or On The Rocks nightclub across the street from Union Station closed after two fatal shootings outside the venue.

“We thought it was critical to reboot the entertainment district,” said Freimuth, whose quasi-public agency provided a $6.6-million, taxpayer-backed loan for the project. “That bar district had grown problematic and it was in need of a major reboot.”

In the last seven years, CRDA has helped finance a number of apartment conversions in the area. That includes 26 units at 201 Ann Uccello St.; 66 units at 179 Allyn St.; and 60 units at 370 Asylum St., among other projects.

Developer Constantinos Constantinou is also weeks away from completing the conversion at 28 High St. into a 28-unit apartment complex. CRDA provided $1.9 million for the total $5.5 million project, which is expected to start leasing in October, Freimuth said.

In total, more than 400 new apartment units are expected to debut in Hartford in 2020, despite pressures from the coronavirus pandemic. 

A look inside the Carriage House

After nearly two years of construction, the Carriage House complex is offering 40 studios, 23 one-bedroom and three two-bedroom apartments in a variety of floor plans ranging from roughly 500 square feet up to 1,000 square feet, according to the building’s leasing map.

Rent for studios range from $1,000 to $1,800 depending on the floor plan, while one bedrooms are going for $1,200 to $2,100. Two-bedroom units are priced between $2,700 to $3,000, the leasing map shows.

All of the pet-friendly apartments come with a washer-dryer combo, exposed brick walls and vinyl-plank flooring. Amenities in the building include a fitness center, nearby garage and surface parking options and a so-called “Amazon Hub” for package deliveries.

Khakshouri could not be reached for comment on how many units have been leased. Earlier this year, Khakshouri closed his 116-room Homewood Suites by Hilton hotel at the rear of the Carriage House facility on Asylum Street because of uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The 20-story building, now dubbed the Bond Residences, continues to operate for short-term apartment rentals.

Freimuth said ground-level retail space of the Carriage House will not include a bar or restaurant, and was reduced to both accommodate additional residential development in the rear while still providing a 3,750-square-foot unit for a service-oriented business like a coffee shop or dry cleaner.

“That increased the revenue stream on the building, and allowed us to shrink the retail space,” he said.

Built in the late 19th century by prominent local business leader George W. Pomeroy, the former Hartford Horse and Carriage Repository building once served as a hub for area residents shopping for winter sleighs, horse-drawn carriages and equine equipment.

Khakshouri acquired the buildings at 103-105 and 109-121 Allyn St. in 2017 from a family that used the upper floors of the facility in recent decades for manufacturing and warehousing space.

The building’s redevelopment started in fall 2018 with a projected completion date set for this spring. However, the project ran into a number of construction delays because of the pandemic. Freimuth said construction was delayed six or so months as the virus forced a reduction in crews on-site and, more recently, slowed the delivery of materials.

The same issues recently occurred at the 28 High St. conversion project, he said.


Solar energy makes more sense all the time. Why build another gas plant?

Mark Scully Connecticut is poised to build one last fossil-fueled power plant, one it doesn’t need, doesn’t want and one for which a clean, viable alternative exists. 

The Killingly Energy Center, a 650-megawatt electricity generating power plant powered by fracked gas, is in the final stages of permitting, with construction slated to start in the third quarter of this year. Yet, Gov. Ned Lamont’s Executive Order No. 3, signed in September of last year, aims to put the state on a path to a 100% clean energy grid by 2040; Joe Biden’s plan seeks to get there by 2035.

Why are we on track to build a plant that we will have to decommission in 15 to 20 years? Why build generating resources that will be stranded, invariably leaving ratepayers to pay the cost of cleaning up the mess? The answer is complicated, involving permitting and siting decisions made years ago, before these ambitious carbon-free-grid goals were set, at a time when gas-fired plants were believed to be the only alternative.

Recently, though, utilities across the country are finding that the combination of solar power with battery storage not only helps meet their clean energy goals but saves money.Utilities have long argued that fossil-fuel power plants are necessary because solar power is intermittent. Adding battery storage enables solar to provide on-demand power as effectively as a gas-fired plant, but, historically, the economics didn’t pan out. However, falling prices of battery storage have tipped the scales, making combined renewables-plus-storage cost-effective versus gas.

“The declining cost of wind and solar and now batteries makes it conceivable to consider 100% renewables,” said Paul Denholm, a principal energy analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. And according to Julian Spector of Greentech Media, “We’re already seeing batteries compete and win against gas plants for this role of on-demand power.”

Just last week, Texas-based utility CenterPoint Energy issued a request for proposals for 1,000 megawatts of solar-plus-storage to serve its customers in Indiana, replacing power from shuttered coal plants. CenterPoint is committed to replacing coal with renewables, not fossil gas.

Another gas-fired power plant will saddle Connecticut not only with higher costs but also serious health side-effects. Fossil gas emits significantly less carbon dioxide than coal when it is combusted, but smokestack emissions do not tell the full story. Over its lifecycle, the climate impact of gas is actually far worse than that of coal. The drilling, fracking and transportation of gas results in so-called “fugitive” emissions of methane, a primary component of fossil gas that is 86 times stronger than carbon dioxide at trapping heat over a 20-year period.

law of holes: If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”

The onset of the coronavirus has fundamentally altered the energy industry. As oil, gas and coal companies struggle financially, analysts expect the renewable sector to continue to grow. More importantly, the coronavirus pandemic has also reminded us of our collective capacity to make change when the political will exists. Under Gov. Lamont’s skilled leadership, Connecticut has responded vigorously to a health crisis bringing a deadly virus under control. Now it is time to bring this sense of urgency to addressing the climate crisis.

Before the Killingly Energy Center reaches the point of no return, the state must commission a study of the alternatives. Solar-plus-storage is competing and winning against gas-fired power elsewhere in the country. We owe it to ourselves to see if it could win here too. Building another fossil fuel plant, knowing all the while that a cleaner, cheaper alternative existed, would be a tragic mistake. Future generations will take us to task.

Connecticut lawmakers will tackle school construction, utility accountability in special session later this month

Christopher Keating  Christopher Keating  The legislature will return to the state Capitol later this month to vote on important school construction projects for cities and towns and a consumer protection energy bill that is becoming known as utility accountability, legislators said. 

Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney, a New Haven Democrat, said that school construction is a top priority for communities all across the state that receive reimbursements from the state in order to expand and improve their facilities. The grants are awarded on a sliding scale with higher percentages of state reimbursement going to poorer communities and lower reimbursements to affluent areas. Final decisions, he said, have not been made on the full agenda of bills and the dates when the session will convene.

Another priority is focusing on utilities that have been in the news lately after widespread power outages caused by Tropical Storm Isaias.

Eversource Energy declined to pay customers for spoiled food during the recent power outage, but a 40-page draft bill would force electric utilities to pay up to $500 for food or medication that spoil during outages. Eversource CEO James Judge testified during a legislative hearing last month that the utility was sorry “for the stress and anxiety’' caused by the tropical storm, but he maintained that utility crews had worked hard to get the power restored in a “significant accomplishment.” But Looney said the utilities should help consumers in a way that they have not on food spoilage.

“We think that’s unacceptable,” he said. “The Eversource CEO sees himself as the CEO of a standard corporation and not in a regulated industry. They’re operating in a protected area. You’re not a regular corporation. Your mission is different.”

Lawmakers, Looney said, are also working on an “environmental justice” bill that would help ameliorate the long-running practice of locating incinerators and other pollution-causing facilities in inner cities. He conceded that the issue is complicated and might not be ready for action on a relatively short timetable.

“Urban areas have been unfairly dumped upon for years — rather than elsewhere,’' Looney said.

The Senate will likely convene in mid-September and House Democrats have been asked to clear their calendars on Sept. 29 and 30 as possible session days. Since the COVID-19 pandemic short-circuited the legislative session on March 11, hundreds of bills remained unfinished without public hearings and debates. Since then, Gov. Ned Lamont has been operating the state with extraordinary powers during a public health emergency that have allowed him to modify state laws unilaterally in a way that normally needs legislative approval.

While some lawmakers thought that a special session might be avoided, House Majority Leader Matt Ritter of Hartford has been predicting for weeks that the session would be necessary.

“There’s just some bills that we have not been able to get to,” Ritter said. “I’ll give you three examples: school construction, failure to file, which is tax deadlines, and the conveyance bill. There’s three bills that we do on an annual basis that have not been done. So I don’t know how you avoid going in in September. For those who say we’re not going in in September, I disagree. I think we have to go in in September.”

Ritter said the legislature needs to keep its commitments because cities and towns across the state have approved projects to modernize schools.

“Voters voted on these projects under the assumption that the state would support them, and we owe that to all these municipalities — some are very wealthy, some are very poor,” Ritter said. “We owe it to make sure that they get their schools built, just like everybody before them and everybody after them. You have schools in New Britain and Hamden and New Fairfield. There’s tons of schools in there. That’s an obligation the state owes to them that’s an annual, bipartisan bill that is important. We should invest in our kids’ education.”