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CT Construction Digest Wednesday October 2, 2019

Transportation, nursing home funds, bonding limits on General Assembly agenda
Keith M. Phaneuf
Since the regular General Assembly session wrapped on June 5, lawmakers have said they’d be back this fall to tackle unfinished business.
A legal settlement with the hospital industry and a new state bond package have been on the to-do list since early June. Not long after that, Gov. Ned Lamont made it clear he wanted another crack at a long-term plan to rebuild transportation infrastructure.
And, as the summer waned, restaurant wages, payments to nursing homes and a potential ban on vaping cropped up.And now, with two months left before the winter holiday season brings new scheduling challenges, Lamont and legislators are struggling to solve a Rubik’s Cube of policy issues and agree on an agenda they can adopt in special session this fall.
Legislators from both parties want a state bond package resolved soon, especially because tied up within that are key grants for cities and towns.
They also want to reverse a cut in funding for nursing homes with high vacancy rates.
Lamont says the bond package is fine, it should be on the agenda — and nursing homes at least can be discussed — provided legislators are ready to craft a long-term plan to rebuild highways, bridges and rail lines.
This may or may not include a discussion of tolls, an issue that lawmakers balked at earlier this year.
The governor also wants an immediate ban on flavored vaping products. And if he cannot impose one unilaterally, he wants legislators to do so. But some key lawmakers say that’s fine, provided the governor is ready to approve a bonding package.
A package that works
House Democrats and Republicans in both chambers have pushed for changes to rules governing wages of restaurant employees who work for tips. The governor, who vetoed one bill to make those changes, also says there’s a compromise option ready to go. But Senate Democrats haven’t endorsed that option yet.
“I’m not too worried that there are linkages and a lot to do,” said House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford.
This is par for the course at the Capitol, he said. “But at some point the legislature and the Executive Branch have to figure out a package that works. We may be able to move some things and not others.”
“While the priorities mentioned are all intertwined and interconnected —as most complicated legislative issues are — legislators ought to work collaboratively to address these long standing and long overdue issues,” said Max Reiss, Lamont’s communications director. “It’s what’s best for our state financially and economically in the long term.”
But are Lamont and his fellow Democrats in the legislature’s majority working toward Connecticut’s best interests? House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said the majority’s failure to build an agenda around issues that can pass is the problem.
Lawmakers from both parties are ready to ratify that tentative legal settlement with the hospital industry and end the latter’s four-year battle against the state’s provider tax, she said.
Klarides also said there’s bipartisan support to assist nursing homes and to reform restaurant wage policy rules. Several restaurants say they’re being unfairly sued — despite following state regulation guidelines — over the wages they paid workers who work a portion of the time for tips and for a portion doing non-tipped work, like clearing tables.
House Republicans haven’t taken a position on a vaping ban, though Klarides said she personally believes flavored products shouldn’t be sold.“I don’t think anybody dreamed it would take this long to get these issues resolved,” she said, adding hospitals, nursing homes and restaurants are important in every district.
So what’s the hold up?
Hung up on tolls
Klarides said Lamont’s push for tolls on all vehicles — despite his campaign pledge last year only to impose them on large trucks — is a big part of the problem.
“The governor’s office was not successful in its push to get tolls in this state because people stood up and spoke their minds,” she said, adding that lawmakers should resolve issues like restaurant wages now, rather than delay to build support for a new transportation plan. “But unfortunately this is politics and this is what people do.”
Though the administration began briefing lawmakers behind closed doors last week on a new long-term transportation plan, Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano said it “is still in a very amorphous form, so I don’t see that happening this fall.”
Fasano echoed Klarides’ call for action on restaurant wages, nursing home relief and the hospital settlement.
The administration counters there is nothing more important to Connecticut’s economic future that rebuilding its aging, overcrowded infrastructure.
And Ritter said that while the GOP has been most wary of tolls, there’s overwhelming bipartisan agreement the transportation system’s rebuilding is overdue.
“There is no disagreement that we need a massive infusion of cash” into transportation, Ritter said, adding he’s optimistic a special session agenda will be developed at some point this fall.
Compromise language on restaurant wages is under development and a legislative informational hearing will be held in the near future, he said.
Similarly, lawmakers are receiving details on and doing research into the governor’s latest transportation plan.“I think it’s fair to say we’re making progress” on transportation, Ritter added.
Transportation plan essential
Reiss said Lamont considers adoption of a transportation plan this year to be an essential, right up there with the hospital lawsuit settlement and the bond package.
But that last item has been a key sticking point for the governor and his fellow Democrats in the House and Senate majorities.
Connecticut has more than $25 billion in bonded debt and ranks among the nation’s most indebted states on a per capita basis.
The governor initially recommended that lawmakers authorize no more than $1 billion per year in general obligation bonds, two-thirds of what it issued on average between 2012 and 2019.
G.O. bonds are repaid with income tax receipts and other revenues from the budget’s general fund and are primarily used to finance local school construction and projects at state colleges and universities.
Lamont offered this summer to consider as much as as $1.3 billion per year in G.O. bonding — provided legislators would agree to dedicate $100 million of that extra $300 million for transportation projects.
Democratic legislative leaders have countered that they need $1.3 billion per year in G.O. bonds to meet all of their non-transportation needs. If Lamont wants an extra $100 million for transportation infrastructure, they said, then the G.O. bonding total needs to climb to $1.4 billion.
Meanwhile, the bonding gridlock has harmed cities and towns.Connecticut bonds $60 million annually for a local road repair grant, typically sending $30 million to communities in July and $30 million in January.The first installment never went out, prompting some municipalities to scale back summer road repaving, and others to dip into their winter snow removal budgets — with the assumption they’d replenish those accounts when the $30 million due in July finally arrives.Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, who co-chairs the legislature’s Appropriations Committee and also is first selectwoman of her community, said she’s not ready to vote on any issue in special session — if the agenda also doesn’t include a bond package and aid for towns. Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney of New Haven, the top Democrat in that chamber, said the hospital settlement and the bond package must be the “two pillars” of any fall session agenda.
The bond package “really needs to get done as soon as possible,” Looney said. “It has gotten caught up, I think, from the administration’s point of view, with the transportation issue.”
Looney said it really is vital to more than municipal budgets, but also for the construction industry and for many nonprofit community projects that serve the disabled and disadvantaged youth.
But Looney also remains hopeful that lawmakers will resolve many issues this fall. “It remains to be seen whether these issues are so negative they can’t become consensus items,” he said. “They are vital to so many members whose districts have a strong interest in these issues.”

Wethersfield’s ex-Puritan site slated for ‘$8M-plus’ medical-office development
Gregory Seay
A pair of medical-office buildings are proposed for the former Puritan Furniture site on Wethersfield’s Silas Deane Highway, the developer says.
Developer Michael Panek, president of Southbury-based Phoenix Realty Management, said the 12-acre site -- which is the former home to a Puritan showroom-warehouse at 1210 Silas Deane Highway -- has been purchased and the edifice raised to make way for a pair of 40,000-square-foot medical-office buildings.
Phoenix Realty bought the property in May for $3.9 million, town records show.
If the town approves Phoenix’s site and building plans, construction would get underway on the first building for completion in 2021, Panek said. Timing for development of the second building will hinge on the pace of the first and market conditions.
Discussions are pending with several potential anchor tenants for the buildings, but Panek declined to identify them.
The Silas Deane Highway corridor already is home to several medical-office buildings and professional medical practices, among them Hartford HealthCare Medical Group at 1025 Silas Deane and ProHealth Physicians, 1331 Silas Deane.
During the Great Recession, Greater Hartford underwent an explosion in new medical-office development, or renovation of existing space to accommodate healthcare providers.
Panek said there is still enough demand for medical-office space to support his development.
Phoenix Realty is an active developer, owner and property manager whose three other proximate Wethersfield properties include: 1190-1206 Silas Deane, home to Lasik Plus; and 890 Silas Deane, housing Russian School of Mathematics.

Massachusetts company competes to harness wind power for Connecticut, pitching Bridgeport as a hub

A Massachusetts company has submitted a bid to state energy officials to harness offshore wind power in a project tied to Bridgeport that promoters say would boost the economy of Connecticut’s largest city.
Vineyard Wind, based in New Bedford, Mass., submitted bids Monday for a 400-megawatt plan and options to develop projects that will generate 800 megawatts, 1,000 megawatts and 1,200 megawatts. The project, known as “Park City Wind,” was submitted to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection in response to the agency’s 2019 solicitation for offshore wind power.The projects would be built in one of Vineyard Wind’s two federally designated lease areas south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket “and would not be visible from any shoreline in Connecticut,” it said.Lars Pedersen, chief executive officer of Vineyard Wind, said the project offers the potential to develop an offshore wind workforce in the Bridgeport area and a supply chain with Connecticut manufacturers. Over the last two years states along the East Coast have announced plans to buy more than 22,000 megawatts of offshore wind power valued at $85 billion or more in investment and economic development, he said in an email."Vineyard Wind envisions Bridgeport, along with New London and other ports throughout the region, playing a significant role in an industry that will create thousands of good paying Connecticut jobs for years to come,” Pedersen said.A spokeswoman for Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim did not immediately comment on the project.Vineyard Wind is a 50-50 partnership between Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners and Avangrid Renewables. Avangrid is the parent company of United Illuminating.Ørsted, an energy company based in Denmark, and Eversource also are bidding to generate wind power off southeastern Connecticut in a project known as Constitution Wind that will have the capacity to power up to 500,000 homes.Joint venture partners Eversource and Ørsted have committed $57 million for upgrades to the New London State Pier to accommodate the industry and establish an offshore wind “staging hub.” The Connecticut Port Authority and terminal operator of the State Pier in New London announced in May a public-private partnership to upgrade the pier to capitalize on growing offshore wind energy.
Mayflower Wind, a joint venture of Shell New Energies and EDPR Offshore North America, also has submitted bids of its planned offshore wind farm to DEEP.DEEP released its request for proposals in August, seeking interest in building offshore wind power resources soon after the General Assembly and Gov. Ned Lamont enacted legislation boosting offshore wind. The request for proposals seeks up to 2,000 megawatts of offshore wind. The request for proposal represents the state’s first solicitation dedicated to offshore wind development, broadening solicitations in 2018 when Connecticut bought 304 megawatts of offshore wind.A Vineyard Wind project in Massachusetts is facing resistance. The proposal to install wind turbines off the shoreline of the Bay State was delayed in August when the U.S. Department of the Interior ordered additional analysis of the impact on the fishing industry.

Discovery of buried fuel tank slows down Mattatuck Museum renovations
MICHAEL PUFFER
WATERBURY – An ongoing $8 million renovation of the Mattatuck Museum has stalled with the discovery of a buried fuel tank in late August.
The discovery halted progress on construction of an addition to the museum and could add cleanup costs to the project.
The museum has opted to push back the grand reopening of its West Main Street facility – originally planned for next September – to spring of 2021, Museum Director Robert Burns said Tuesday.
Given the delay, Burns said, the museum might as well push back its grand reopening until fairer weather.
It’s a piece of bad luck for the project. But Burns stressed the finished product will be well worth the effort. Renovations inside the museum are proceeding, he said.
Burns said he informed the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. A spokesperson for the state environmental agency, contacted Monday and Tuesday, was unable to relay any information about the discovery of pollution at the site.
The museum launched its construction project this spring intending to improve and expand its gallery space; open curatorial space and upgrade an elevator and mechanical systems.
The project also ripped down a 1989 addition, with the aim of putting up a new one with a rooftop lounge for special occasions.
Burns said planners knew there had been a gas station, then a dry cleaner, where the original addition sat at the corner of West Main Street and Park Place. But it was thought that any contamination, and old fuel tanks, were removed with the construction of the original addition nearly 30 years ago.
“We assumed they had taken everything out,” Burns said. “Clearly, they didn’t.”
Burns said Terryville-based Eagle Environmental Inc. has taken soil samples and is finishing up water samples, which should allow the company to produce an estimate of the extent and cost of needed environmental cleanup.
The renovation project launched with a $3 million grant from state taxpayers. Planners expect it to draw thousands more to the museum and add $1 million to the local economy.
In the meantime, the Mattatuck has moved its displays to the nearby Rose Hill Estate, at 63 Prospect St.
Burns said fundraising is ongoing and the museum still needs to raise about $1 million to reach its original $8 million budget for the renovation project.

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