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CT Construction Digest Wednesday August 17, 2022

Tweed development deal teed up for final vote

Thomas Breen

NEW HAVEN — Nearly 11 months after the Board of Alders signed off on a new 43-year lease between the city and Tweed’s airport authority, the Morris Cove airport’s board is set to vote on a parallel agreement that would pave the way for a long-sought major expansion.

That vote is scheduled to take place during the Airport Authority Board of Directors’ next meeting, scheduled to occur online via Zoom on Wednesday at 4 p.m.

According to a 660-page ​“Board Packet” document posted to the airport authority’s website on Monday night, Tweed’s board of directors plans to vote on several key resolutions on Wednesday that relate to expansion plans that airport boosters and local, state and federal politicians first detailed at a celebratory press conference in May 2021.

In particular, those expansion plans would include the construction of a new four-to-six gate passenger terminal and parking garage on the East Haven side of the airport authority, as well as the lengthening of a runway in a bid to attract new passenger air service.

One of the proposed resolutions up for a vote on Wednesday calls for the airport authority to board to approve a 43-year lease agreement between the City of New Haven and the Tweed New Haven Airport Authority. That’s virtually the same document that the Board of Alders OK’d back on Sept. 23, 2021, nearly 11 months ago.

Another one of the proposed resolutions slated for a vote on Wednesday is a ​“lease and development agreement” between the airport authority and The New HVN LLC, which is an affiliate of the Goldman Sachs-owned airport management company Avports. 

That 384-page so-called ​“facility agreement” between the airport authority and Avports offers the most detailed look yet at how and when the small regional airport plans to grow its footprint by moving into a new yet-to-be-constructed terminal on the East Haven side of the property and by lengthening its runway from 5,600 feet to 6,635.

These votes come as commercial air service out of Tweed has increased dramatically since November 2021, after the new budget airline Avelo made New Haven its ​“East Coast” hub and is currently running nonstop flights to 14 different communities, including Orlando, Tampa Bay, Nashville, Savannah, Charleston, Chicago, Washington D.C., and Raleigh. It also comes as the town government in East Haven has stepped up its resistance to the airport’s expansion plans, on the grounds that it will come at too high an environmental and quality-of-life and financial cost for neighboring residents.

“This is a big deal,” Tweed New Haven Airport Authority Executive Director Sean Scanlon told the Independent when asked why it took 11 months between the alders’ approval of the city-airport authority lease and the airport authority board’s vote on a separate, parallel agreement with Avports.

“It’s something that is relatively unprecedented in this country, and we wanted to make sure that we got it right. I think the deal that the board will consider tomorrow is a reflection of what we heard from the city, and, frankly, from the Town of East Haven, and what we’ve heard from neighbors,” he said. 

He also said that the plan as detailed in the proposed facility agreement with Avports ​“meets the needs of the public,” which in large part has been ​“very, very” supportive of Tweed’s expansion to date.

According to the airport’s current expansion plans, once the new East Haven-side terminal is built, the current terminal on the New Haven side of the property will be used only as office space. If Avports or the airport authority want to use that area in any other way, he said, they’ll have to go before the City Plan Commission to get approval.

What’s the latest with the airport authority’s discussions with East Haven town government about the planned Tweed expansion?

“We’ve never stopped talking to them, and we won’t stop talking to them,” Scanlon said. ​“And I’m hopeful that we can continue working through challenges that they identify.”

Asked about the estimated pricetag of the airport’s planned privately funded expansion, Scanlon said that, thanks to inflation, the $70 million that airport leaders put forward back in May 2021 has now likely risen to closer to $100 million.

New Terminal; Runway Extension; $550K Base Rent

So. What exactly does this proposed ​“facility agreement” between the airport authority and Avports actually say?

Well, the document is 384 pages long. So there’s a lot in there. Here are a few highlights:

The term of the agreement would be 43 years, which is the same amount of time as the parallel city-airport authority lease.

After winning necessary federal and state environmental approvals, Avports ​“shall be permitted” to build a new passenger terminal on the East Haven side of the property. The airport management company shall begin construction on the new terminal within 180 days of closing on financing for the project, and it must achieve ​“substantial completion” of that new terminal construction work within 30 months of starting construction.

The lease and development document defines ​“new terminal” as the ​“new passenger terminal building to be designed and constructed on the Leased Property.” In a Monday afternoon phone interview with the Independent, Scanlon said the scope for the proposed new terminal is the same as it was when the alders signed off on the city-airport authority lease last September — that is, a four-to-six-gate new terminal on the East Haven side.

If Avports has not started work on the new terminal within three years of the effective date of the lease and development agreement, then Avports ​“will in good faith seek any required FAA approval to relocate a portion of the vehicle parking spaces from the West Terminal Facilities to the Leased Property by developing 1,000 parking spaces that take advantage of existing pavement on the east side of the Airport and Existing Airport Gate 23 on Thompson Avenue”.

If the airport wins all necessary government approvals for the construction of a longer runway prior to Nov. 1 of this year, then the airport authority shall commence the extension of the runway by May 1 (otherwise, it must begin that runway extension work within 180 days of getting all necessary approvals.) That runway extension, in turn, will bring the runway to a length no greater than 6,635 feet and no less than 6,500 feet.

Avports shall pay the airport authority an annual base rent of $550,000, to be adjusted each year for inflation. It would also have to pay the authority an annual ​“revenue rent” based off of Avports’ gross annual revenue running the airport. That would equal to, for example, 1 percent of the portion of gross revenue greater than $20 million and less than $30 million and, for another example, 8 percent of the portion of gross revenue greater than $40 million. 

The authority will complete its environmental assessment for its expansion plans by no later than Dec. 31 of this year.

Avports shall make available a total of $5 million for traffic and noise mitigation initiatives for the areas surrounding the airport.

Here’s how a $16 million federal grant will finish the last stretch of the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail

Kenneth R. Gosselin

A federal grant of about $16 million will help finance the completion of the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail in Plainville, part of a $30 million project that also would connect the heritage trail to downtown New Britain.

Construction is expected to begin within a year, according to the Capitol Region Council of Governments, which is overseeing the project.

The heritage trail follows along the route of the 84-mile, historic canal that once connected New Haven with Northampton, Mass. and was later replaced by rail lines. The funding will finance the construction of a 2.7-mile stretch that will join the Northern and Southern ends of the heritage trail, which began coming together in the 1980s.

The heritage trail also will be connected with a new trail in Plainville that will run four miles to the CTfastrak trail at the busway’s downtown New Britain station.

Both trails are part of a larger vision to connect urban, suburban and rural communities with bicycling and walking options for recreation but also link to mass transit systems such as CTfastrak.

The completion of the heritage trail also will close one of the greater Hartford region’s two major, off-road gaps in the East Coast Greenway, a 3,000-mile trail from Maine to Florida.

Funding also includes $13.2 million in state funds and $600,000 from the state Department of Transportation’s Community Connectivity program that seeks to foster transportation connections for bicyclists and pedestrians.

In a joint release, U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, both D-Conn., said the federal funding will expand commuter options in the Farmington Valley.

“Smart infrastructure investments create jobs and further economic development while improving quality of life,” Murphy said. The completion of the heritage trail “will offer residents more recreation opportunities, connect communities and provide an alternative way to commute.”

Blumenthal described the heritage trail as a “real gem in the Farmington Valley.”

“Every weekend, dozens of families and outdoor enthusiasts flock to the trail to walk, ride bikes or fish on the banks of the Farmington River,” Blumenthal said. “With this funding, CRCOG will finally be able to close the gap between the Northern and Southern portions of the trail and build a path to the CTfastrak station in downtown New Britain.”

In New Britain, CRCOG said, the new trail will further boost the city’s aggressive moves to roll out a multi-phase “Complete Streets” plan. Three phases of the plan have already been completed and a fourth is scheduled for this year.

The plan involves road “diets,” bike lanes, expansion of the city’s central park, streetscape and intersection improvements and its Beehive Bridge project.

“Now more than ever people are prioritizing outdoor recreation and environmentally-friendly modes of transportation,” New Britain Mayor Erin E. Stewart said, in a release. “This trail connectivity project will enhance opportunities for people to enjoy nature, explore local landmarks and travel between neighboring communities.”

Secretary of Labor praises new workforce development program in Groton

Sten Spinella

Groton ― U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh became the latest in a parade of President Joe Biden’s cabinet members to visit Connecticut as he toured Ella T. Grasso Technical High School on Tuesday.

Tuesday’s visit by the former Boston mayor celebrated the start of CareerConneCT, which is funding 19 job training programs at a cost of $70 million.

The Eastern CT Workforce Investment Board received $7,850,000, the largest of the grants.

The the state Office of Workforce Strategy is running the program which is meant to help people whose employment was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic find work. The state legislature directed the federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act to this workforce development program.

The U.S. Department of Labor wrote in a news release that Walsh visited Grasso Tech to highlight the CareerConneCT effort and to “build partnerships across several industries and offer short-term training solutions to get thousands of people back to work.”

Employers such as Accenture, Eversource, Electric Boat, Hubbard-Hall, Infosys, Orsted and Yale New Haven Health have committed to hiring 4,000 people through the program.

CareerConneCT is looking to train and place workers in the manufacturing, health care, information technology, infrastructure/construction, life sciences and business services sectors, among other career paths.

The new program comes as Electric Boat continues to ramp up its hiring.

Spokesman Dan McFadden said the submarine builder is looking to hire a total of about 3,900 people in 2022. This includes 900 skilled trades positions in Groton and 1,343 at Quonset Point.

In addition , the company’s engineering/design fleet support at all sites, but primarily Groton and New London, it is aiming to hire about 1,300 people.

Since EB began working with the workforce investment board in 2016, the company has have hired 1,800 workers through the program, and is expecting an uptick in hiring this year due to the expansion of CareerConneCT.

Walsh called Grasso Tech “beautiful” during his remarks and said its participation CareerConneCT should serve as a nationwide example.

“The state of Connecticut is an important partner to the Biden-Harris administration,” Walsh said Tuesday. “This is the model for what we need to do all across America; identify a situation in which we have opportunities to get employment for young people and create new opportunities.”

Members of Biden’s administration have visited Connecticut often. In July, U.S. Health and Human Services Department Secretary Xavier Becerra visited a Planned Parenthood in Waterbury and also made a visit to Norwich. In May, U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm visited Waterford and New London. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have also made trips to Connecticut during their tenure.

Walsh, Democratic U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont and others spoke during a news conference following a tour of the school. New London Democratic Mayor Michael Passero, state Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, state Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague and state Rep. Christine Conley, D-Groton, all were in attendance.

Walsh spent some time stumping for Biden, downplaying “the great resignation” and arguing that the American economy is turning a corner, and opportunities for workers are expanding.

“We are focused on workforce programs that are innovative, that provide real pathways to good, in-demand jobs, and that are equitable, supporting workers who have lost out for these opportunities in the past,” Walsh said. “Connecticut employers have been eager to get involved. It’s a win-win for employers and workers.”

Lamont said that once people complete these short-term training programs, they will essentially have jobs waiting for them as employers search for skilled workers. He praised the Manufacturing Apprentice Center at Grasso Tech.

“Here at Ella Grasso, they’re oversubscribed, a waiting list. Tougher to get into than Yale,” he said. “This is a place where people want to be because of the incredible guaranteed jobs you have on the back side of this.”

Lamont, as he has many times throughout the pandemic, urged people to take up a trade and fill the state’s job openings.

“Every single company that’s looking to expand to the state of Connecticut asks me about, workforce, workforce, workforce,” Lamont said.

Blumenthal made a similar point.

“The most common question I get from the Pentagon is, are you going to have enough people to fill those jobs and build those submarines?” Blumenthal said.

Courtney, who was credited for securing the first batch of funding for the Eastern CT Workforce Investment Board (EWIB) agreed about the need for workers as construction on Columbia-Class submarines has begun.

“The demand signal is still incredibly intense between Quonset Point and Groton,” he said. “This CareerConneCT initiative … is all about trying to size up the success that’s here and also extend it to other sectors and other populations throughout the state.”

“The funding did emanate from the rescue plan that President Biden signed into law in March of 2021,” Courtney added. “Governor Lamont and the legislators … recognized that it was more than just disaster response, it was about pivoting out of COVID and trying to grow the economy.”

Participants chosen for CareerConneCT will have supportive services available, such as funding for childcare, housing and transportation which can create obstacles for employment.

Another speaker during Tuesday’s news conference, 18-year-old David Dorr, who attended Ledyard High School and Norwich Free Academy, said he went through EWIB’s Youth Manufacturing Pipeline Initiative and is now employed at Collins and Jewell, an industrial equipment supplier in Bozrah.

“I always liked working with my hands,” Dorr said. “I’m not a desk worker, I just can’t do it.”

“It was a great opportunity going through the class,” Dorr said. “You’re taught so much. You’re taught safety. You’re taught how to use tools. You’re taught career paths. There’s so many doors open. There’s so much variety and so much you can do with what you learn there. I’m glad there’s so much going on to make it a bigger idea.”