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CT Construction Digest Monday November 11, 2019

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CT2030
For too long, Connecticut has relied on in-state taxes, fees and the state’s credit card to fund and finance investments in transportation infrastructure. CT2030 leverages new funding and financing sources as well as Connecticut DOT efficiencies to deliver the highest possible return on investment at the lowest possible cost to Connecticut residents. By bringing in out-of-state funding and pursuing smart federal financing opportunities, we can dramatically reduce the cost of projects to Connecticut taxpayers
CT2030 is a vital opportunity to put federal and other out-of-state revenue to work for Connecticut.

High level points

  • Historic investment in the state’s infrastructure that sends a message to the region and the country that the state is forward-thinking and open for business.
  • Unprecedented $5 Billion commitment to modernize Metro North, the most important commuter rail in the United States.
  • Non stop service from Waterbury to New York City 
  • Connects cities and towns in Lower Fairfield County to New York City like never before leading to increased property values and more attractive development and expansion opportunities. Makes places like Stamford, Bridgeport and Norwalk specifically part of the New York ecosystem.
  • Biggest investment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and take cars off the road in the state’s history. Increased capacity on Metro North combined with targeted highway improvements means the state is making one of the biggest and most public commitments to the environment through transportation investment in the country.
  • Shores up the Special Transportation Fund beyond 2030, providing a reliable revenue stream and reducing the amount the state finances and borrows to pay for transportation infrastructure.
  • Protects the state’s annual $750 million in federal grants by getting the state’s transportation infrastructure to a state of good repair through the plans laid out in CT2030.
Quality of Life Improvements 

  • This group of projects is aimed at improving the lives of Connecticut residents. Rebuilt bridges, exits, intersections, and historic improvements in Metro North will take time of commutes, giving more time to Connecticut residents to be at home with loved ones rather than sitting in traffic.
  • With the completion of some projects, the state could provide up to an hour back to commuters per day, which approaches five hours per week that commuters won’t spend in their car or on a delayed train.
  • CT2030 is more time at home and less time getting to and from work. Less time waiting, more time working and spending time with loved ones.
  • This allows commuters on trains to use 4G and 5G data on their devices, keeping productivity going.
Economic Output
  • CT2030’s $21 Billion investment will result in 26,000 jobs per year over the Plan’s 10 years.
  • Jobs will come from the projects themselves, and as a result of the economic growth that will happen when we provide businesses and families with faster and safer transportation across the state.
  • CT2030’s $21 billion investment will result in approximately $40 billion of economic activity for Connecticut.
  • Spending on transportation is one of the most effective investments a state can make, as every dollar spent on improving transportation results in one-and-a-half to three times return in economic growth.
  • Any smart investor will tell you, invest your money where you can expect the greatest return on your dollars. Our transportation investments are the best and most cost-effective way to grow our economy and increase prosperity.
  • This group of 77 enhancements and dozens of other projects aimed at State of Good Repair for Connecticut’s infrastructure, it will keep the construction and engineering industries busy for years. That economic activity will help drive Connecticut’s economy.
  • By improving all segments of the state’s infrastructure, it provides predictability and reliability for employers. More people will be able to get to work more efficiently, reducing wasted times on congested commutes.
  • Improved infrastructure will lead to better opportunities for affordable housing and Transit Oriented Development.
Why user fees?

  • They collect funds from out of state vehicles which allows for specific projects to have direct funds to pay for completion. The revenue allows other funds to be spent on other projects. 
  • User fees provide a new revenue source which could be used to qualify for BAB TIFIA loans, providing a significantly less expensive option to taxpayers. Using GO authority is essentially borrowing to borrow.
  • Having cashflow to pay for projects now allows the projects to be done quicker. 
  • Gov. Lamont wants to avoid using the state’s credit card in an irresponsible way. This method provides a guarantee that these super-low interest loans will be paid back, and they keep the state’s debt at lower levels than through traditional transportation funding means.
Where are the discounts for CT residents?

  • 20 percent discount for all CT vehicles.
  • This is the least expensive and skinniest possible user fee program.
  • Goal was to provide the steepest discount to the most residents.
What are the prices?

  • Cars with CT transponders will pay $0.40 - $0.80 
  • Medium sized trucks with CT transponders will pay $1.00 - $2.00
  • Heavy trucks with CT transponders will pay $2.80 - $5.60
What happened to the income tax break for low income residents?

  • Under this proposal the user fee rates are the lowest possible rates while maintaining a responsible borrowing and financing level.
Can’t we just do all of this work without user fees?

  • The Wall Street Journal just spoke about Connecticut saying that a hole was dug for years and now the state is getting out of it and not digging any deeper. If you borrow to pay for CT2030, you are digging the hole deeper and deeper. The user fees act as the payback mechanism which is responsible and dedicated.
  • By utilizing the TIFIA and RRIF loan programs, these allow for the cheaper financing with the support of user fees. If you were to eliminate the user fee element of the financing, then the low-cost federal financing is no longer an option, changing the financing of the entire plan.
  • If Republicans or Tea Partiers have another idea on how to qualify for the federal financing with a different stream of revenue, the administration is all ears.
The legislature is terrible at keeping promises. What will stop you from just stealing this federal money to pay for other stuff? You stole $171 million from the STF to cover other expenses. Why is this any different?

  • This is different for multiple reasons. These loans are secured by the federal government and the Trump Administration requires an acceptable and approved payback mechanism. If the state changes that, sweeps funds, moves money around, that can put in jeopardy other federal transportation grants and funds the state qualifies for. It would be reckless and irresponsible for the legislature or governor to even consider such a concept. The Trump Administration is very clear on what Connecticut can and cannot spend Build America Bureau funding on. 
  • The state has never had an achievable vision like this before. This isn’t 50 years, 30 years, or 20 years. It’s 10 years and it’s spelled out how to pay for it. No administration has ever done this before in Connecticut’s history.
  • The administration also proposes locking in place the toll rates for a decade through a contract with the vendor operating the electronic user fee locations. This would be a proactive step to ensure there is predictability through CT2030.
A few months ago you were talking about the dire funding situation of the STF. Does this address that? What’s changed?

  • Nothing has changed. This is a different and innovative way to solve the state’s funding crisis. 
Why this list of projects?

  • These are projects that are already in the CTDOT pipeline. In some cases, most of the engineering and environmental work has been done. These are projects that will yield instant results for Connecticut residents.
  • In other instances, projects start with the initial work needed to get to the larger investment projects that will lead to the best results. For instance, a priority rail project is to replace the aging bridges on Metro North and the next project would be to improve the track itself. 
  • In the case of the SOGR projects, they have been identified as necessary to ensure the state receives its proper share of federal grants. A reduction or lack of commitment here could jeopardize the $750 million the state receives from Washington.
Is there room for compromise with CT2030?

  • This is precisely what compromise looks like, as a matter of fact. This is what collaboration, listening, and a willingness to negotiate looks like. 
  • The administration is the group that ha done all of the leg work here. The number of user fee projects is reduced, the kinds of projects are broadened, and the administration has backed off previous plans. THIS. IS. COMPROMISE.
  • It takes elements from Republican proposals of the past, and merges them with a scaled down version of the Lamont proposal from the Spring. This shows that the administration listened to criticism.
Why does this have to happen now? Can’t we wait until next year or 2021?

  • The time to act is right now. The budget is balanced and stable for the first time in years.
  • Credit and ratings agencies are giving Connecticut positive outlooks and commending the state on its efforts to stabilize it finances.
  • The state has to keep momentum going and have a plan in place for the next decade that keeps the state moving in the right direction.
Isn’t this just the GOP Prioritize Progress Plan with tolls?

  • This is a responsible financing and borrowing plan that relies on modest user fees to pay those loans back. Prioritize Progress essentially squeezed out any other bonding without a stream of revenue to pay for it. This abides by Gov. Lamont’s debt diet, while also providing reliable revenue.
 
As we review the details of Gov. Ned Lamont’s CT 2030 transportation plan, I have a strange sense of déjà vu. Haven’t we been through all this before?
Journey back with me to 1999 when the famous Gallis Report warned that southwestern Connecticut’s transportation woes were strangling the entire state. If something wasn’t done, they warned, we would become “an economic cul de sac” in the burgeoning northeast.
The solution? Yet another study, this one undertaken by Wilbur Smith Associates for the SouthWest Regional Planning Agency (now part of WestCOG). The report specifically examined “congestion mitigation,” like doing something about our traffic problems.
The $903,000 report was submitted in February 2003 and was titled “Vision 2020.” You see the pattern — Vision 2020 morphs into CT 2030?
Rereading the report, I am struck with its many good ideas, a few of which actually came to pass:
Land use review
The idea of transit-oriented development has been embraced throughout the state with municipalities planning for dense (hopefully car-free) developments near transit hubs.
More rail station parking
While there has been some progress, many towns have wait lists for annual permits that are six or more years. And 20 years ago, who would have even imagined apps like Boxcar or Uber?
More bike and pedestrian options
We now have more sidewalks and bike paths as well as bike racks on buses and Metro-North.
But other ideas still haven’t happened
FlexTime, staggered work hours and van pools to lighten the rush hour. Next time you’re stuck in traffic, look around: it’s almost all SOVs (single-occupancy vehicles).
A “Smart Card” universally accepted for payment on all public transit. And free transfers from buses to trains.
A “Weigh In Motion” system to monitor trucks without long queues at seldom-open weigh stations.
But never addressed were the big (expensive) ideas
Ramp metering, like they have in California, to stop cars from piling onto Interstate 95 at will.
Closing some interchanges to make I-95 a truly interstate highway, not a local shortcut.
Adding a “zipper lane” to I-95 heading west in the morning and east in the evening — with tolls.

Running BRT (bus rapid transit) along the Route 1 corridor.
Double tracking the Danbury branch of Metro-North.
Start a “feeder barge” system to bring shipping containers from New Jersey to New England by water, not truck.
Resume rail freight service by adding a train bridge across the Hudson River.
Widen I-84 and Route 7 to four lanes.
Study the idea of high-speed ferry service along the coast.
Haven’t we heard all of this before? How many of these ideas are posed again in Lamont’s CT 2030? A lot of them.
We are not lacking in ideas, just political will. For decades, the Legislature has been unwilling to commit resources to our transportation infrastructure and economic future, instead wasting millions on more and more studies of the same problems.
All of these big ideas take money — big money. But the “No Tolls CT” folks have tapped into residents’ cynicism that anything in terms of new revenue will be misspent. They’ve intimidated lawmakers with threats of “Vote for tolls, lose at the polls” that even the bravest members can’t muster the courage to do the right thing.
    Transportation funding: Toll proposal has potential
    For Connecticut to bring its roads, bridges, tunnels and railways to modern standards, two things have to happen. Thing 1: Drivers from out of state, especially over-the-road truckers, need to pay a share of the staggering expense, and that means highway tolls. Thing 2: The revenues from the tolls, fuel taxes and other sources earmarked for the Special Transportation Fund need to flow into the fund in full there must be no diversions or deceptions.
    Is either thing even possible? Not if legislative Republicans maintain their knee-jerk anti-toll stance, articulated in a Nov. 8 news release from the Conservative Caucus – which “stands by its commitment to oppose tolling of any kind in Connecticut.” And not if Democrats persist in their equally staunch safeguarding of the flow of taxpayers’ money to their favorite charity, Big Public Labor.
    Gov. Ned Lamont has exhibted persistence and a willingness to compromise over tolls. His original plan called for more than 50 gantries on multiple highways. He’s reduced that to 14, which would be located at bridges – such as Waterbury’s infamously intricate Mixmaster interchange linking Interstate 84, Route 8 and local streets – that have been judged to be in need of repair or replacement. Motorists would pay 50 cents to $1 – or less, if they have EZ-Pass tags – each time they drive under a gantry.
    Gov. Lamont has not, however, sought public support for renegotiating the deals his predecessor, Dannel P. Malloy, struck with the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC) in 2011 and 2017. Only by reclaiming the governor’s power to order layoffs, and compelling unionized state workers to pay more for their health and pension benefits, can he credibly guarantee toll and gasoline-tax revenues wouldn’t be diverted to cover contractual obligations.
    That said, Gov. Lamont is right to continue beating his head against the wall of toll opposition. While we would like to see some of the new revenues spent on rail-freight improvements – no such funding is in the works, even though restoring the state’s rail-freight system has enormous potential to reduce highway damage and congestion – the governor’s 10-year, $21 billion CT2030 program is crafted to do what needs to be done, without frills, to improve the state’s highways, passenger-rail system, maritime ports, and airports. For example, it does not include the demolition and reconstruction of the Mixmaster, a “Little Dig” project on the I-84 viaduct in Hartford, or funding for the CTfastrak system.
    It makes no sense to continue giving drivers from out of state, especially truckers, a free ride through Connecticut, while imposing the bulk of highway and railway renovation costs on state taxpayers. The Lamont administration has offered a tolling compromise in good faith. Republicans and other toll opponents won’t accept it at face value; nor should they. But they also should not take a hard-line position against a plan that comes close to striking a balance between need and affordability.
    The Weak Points
    • Improving Connecticut’s infrastructure could be, and should be, part of a grander vision. The CT2030 plan is somewhat cautious and clearly aimed at winning political support among those who so far have resisted. But if we want to make Connecticut a destination for commerce and culture, if we want people to get out of their cars, if we want to commit to serious environmental change, this doesn’t go far enough. A major infrastructure plan should go into detail about game-changing mass transit improvements, greater accessibility for bicycles and bike-sharing, the eventual adoption of self-driving cars, expanded charging stations and more. Let’s get serious about investing in ourselves while preparing for a future that is far less about people driving around in their own automobiles on jam-free highways.
    • The plan to shave 30 minutes off the New Haven-New York trip is fine but lacks ambition. If we want world-class companies here, we need world-class mass transportation. We are so close to New York and Boston, but we are leaving that advantage on the table because getting to either place is such a hassle. Better infrastructure will put much more of Connecticut in commuting range of those cities.
    • The proposed 14 toll gantries are too few. If we’re going to have tolls on our roads, let’s make sure they do the job, with provisions to protect people of lower incomes. Put toll gantries where they will bring in the income and prioritize those places with the most out-of-state drivers — i.e., along I-95. Congestion pricing and dedicated lanes are ways to leverage tolls to achieve a grander vision of a world with fewer cars and less pollution. The rest of the Northeast has learned to live with tolls. We can too.
    • The way the federal loans are being leveraged is a concern. They require specific revenue streams to finance, and that means tolls. If we have to establish tolls just to hope for federal funding, that might be a necessary risk, but there has to be a clear plan B for what happens if the federal funding doesn’t come through, and that has to be written into law.The Unknow
      • What guarantee is there that the money for this project will actually go to infrastructure? Enabling legislation should make that clear, whether the money is coming from federal loans or from traditional bonding. The legislature has raided transportation money repeatedly in the past. That has to end.
      • Does it make sense to give a portion of tolls to towns in which gantries are stationed? If that proposal is there just for political expediency, it needs to go. If the money will realistically go toward fixing roads that become bypasses, fine.
      • Will politicians be able to debate this plan without trying to simply score political points with dug-in constituencies? Will the governor at some point drop bipartisan efforts and enlist the Democrats to push the plan through, regardless of Republican objections?
      It is time to commit to Connecticut’s infrastructure. The CT2030 plan is a good start. Politicians on both sides of the aisle should take it seriously.

    The governor’s new plan for fixing Connecticut’s roads and railways is ambitious, but it also needs to be visionary.
    Gov. Ned Lamont’s new $21 billion “CT2030” transportation plan is focused on key areas in need of repair — from longstanding choke points to the Metro North commuter rail. There are some strong elements of the plan, while others need more work. And key questions about how this will play out in the political arena remain unknown. Here’s our take:The $21 billion investment in infrastructure, in principle, is good. Connecticut’s roads and bridges need repair, and the mass transportation system needs to join the 21st century.
  • The key components of the mass transportation aspect of the plan seem well-chosen. Improving train service to New York, with more, better and faster trains, brings Connecticut that much closer to New York’s financial and cultural ecosystem. Building a rail connection to Bradley International Airport seems like a no-brainer, and aspects of such a thing have been discussed for decades. Now’s the time.
  • The financing plan makes sense. Using low-interest federal funds, which would be paid for over 27 years by tolls with locked-in rates, effectively keeps a good portion of the improvements off Connecticut’s books.
  • There are many details, and they are debatable. Far better to be dealing with a transparent proposal than for the legislature to start from scratch.

  • Lamont, businesses strike positive tone on day tolls plan unveiled
    Greg Bordonaro
    Connecticut Business & Industry Association events don’t always provide a cheery outlook, given the state’s economic and fiscal woes in recent years, but Thursday night struck a different, more positive tone.
    The CBIA held its 204th annual meeting in downtown Hartford, which opened with the chair of the state’s largest business lobby -- Pegasus Manufacturing President Chris DiPentima -- praising the Lamont administration's focus on manufacturing and workforce development.
    "With his business background he has really pushed for public-private collaboration to address our state's economy," DiPentima said.
    He continued: "All of us in this room are well-aware of Connecticut's challenges. It's very easy to get caught up in the negatives particularly around the state's fiscal issues. But we must focus on all the opportunities."
    "I know we can constantly find things to complain about, but there are so many good things happening, we just have to be persistent and keep our shoulder to the wheel and make things happen in the state," Brennan said.
    Brennan also acknowledged that CBIA has taken heat over the years for being too negative, but he defended the organization, saying it rightly and proudly stood up to raise alarm bells that Connecticut was slipping in competitiveness.
    "I thought it was the right thing to do," he said. "Since then, I think it's been a little bit harder for legislators and others to do things make us less competitive."
    Both men, however, avoided talk about Lamont’s new transportation plan that includes highway tolling, which is an issue that has split the business community in the past. CBIA took heat earlier this year for not choosing sides on the issue.
    Of course, Brennan and DiPentima had an incentive to play nice. Lamont was in the audience Thursday night and gave brief remarks through which he tried to establish his private-sector bona fides.
    “I’ve tried to turn a new page in this state … and get a new relationship with the business community,” Lamont told around 500 business leaders in a crowded Marriott hotel banquet room.
    Lamont reminded the audience of his small-business past and also touted his administration's efforts to enlist business leaders. His checklist included:
    • Ryan Drajewicz, his chief of staff and a former senior management associate at hedge-fund giant Bridgewater Associates.
    • David Lehman, Department of Economic and Community Development commissioner, and a former Goldman Sachs partner.
    • Josh Geballe, Department of Administrative Services commissioner, and a former IBM executive and tech company CEO.
    • Sibongile Magubane, Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles commissioner and a former IT executive at Aetna.
    • Colin Cooper, the state’s new Chief Manufacturing Officer, who was a long-time chief executive of Eastford aeroparts maker Whitcraft Group.
    Lamont also boasted about some of his first-year accomplishments, including having an open-door policy with the business community, building up a $2.5 billion rainy day fund and passing a budget that didn't raise rates on major taxes, although there was an overall significant increase in tax revenues.
    “We still have some work to do there,” Lamont said referencing the state budget, which faced a multibillion-dollar deficit coming into 2019.
    Lamont also briefly touched on his transportation plan, noting that it includes a subtle rebranding. Tolls are no longer tolls. Instead, he's calling them user fees, which indicates he hopes that might make them more palatable to the public.
    He also discussed his focus on workforce development and training workers for tens of thousands of unfilled jobs in the state.
    CBIA names new board members
    At its annual meeting the CBIA also announced 14 new board members. They include:
    • Chris Allen, president and founder, iDevices LLC in Avon
    • Michele Etzel, EVP and CFO, National Graphics Inc. in North Branford
    • John Burkhardt, SVP, Pfizer Inc. in Groton
    • Rohan Freeman, president and CEO, Freeman Cos. LLC in Hartford
    • Shelia Denton, SVP and general counsel, Boehringer Ingelheim in Ridgefield
    • Lucia Furman, president, Mercantile Development Inc. in Shelton
    • Kevin Grigg, president and CEO, Fuss & O’Neill Inc. in Manchester
    • Lisa Morgan, SVP and president, construction, energy and marine, Travelers Cos. in Hartford
    • Michael Kennedy, VP, tax and treasury, Barnes Group Inc. in Bristol
    • Rinal Patel, executive director of operations, RSCC Wire & Cable LLC in East Granby
    • Matthew Luxton, VP facilities and general counsel, General Dynamics Electric Boat Corp. in Groton
    • Rachel Stansel, president, Environics Inc. in Tolland
    • Brian Montanari, president and CEO, HABCO Industries LLC in Glastonbury
    • William Tommins, market executive global commercial banking, Bank of America in Stamford

    Dozens of New England dams a safety risk, in need of repair
    Michael Casey
    CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Merrymeeting Lake is like so many others in the New Hampshire woods, a bucolic summer getaway of cabins and second homes where vacationers sail, swim and fish.
    Like dozens of other lakes in the state, it also has a problem that is hidden from most of the people who come to enjoy it.
    The lake's state-owned dam is in poor condition, due in part to a spillway that would not be able to handle a historic storm under certain conditions. State regulators also found the spillway's design is a problem: A buildup of water between the concrete slab and earthen embankment could erode the soil and lead to failure of the dam.
    If that happened, water from Merrymeeting Lake could inundate a marina, a state fish hatchery, three state roads and several homes. Parts of New Durham, with around 2,600 people, also would be flooded.
    "The concern we have with that dam is the spillway, the construction of the spillway. It's a design that we wouldn't probably incorporate now," said Jim Gallagher, the chief engineer in the state's dam bureau
    The state has installed a drainage system as a stopgap.
    The dam was among at least 1,680 nationwide identified by The Associated Press as high-hazard because of the potential for loss of life if they failed and considered to be in poor or unsatisfactory condition. Inadequate or poorly designed spillways were cited as a problem for many of the dams identified in the more than two-year investigation .
    Emergency action plans obtained by the AP indicate that thousands of people living and working downstream could be at risk if those dams were to catastrophically fail, while separate inspection reports cite a variety of problems. Those include leaks that can indicate a dam is failing internally, unrepaired erosion, holes from burrowing animals and extensive tree growth, which can destabilize earthen dams.
    The AP's investigation covers the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico but excludes five states that did not fully comply with records requests.
    New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine had 51 of the potentially problematic dams. New Hampshire had the most, with 37, followed by Vermont with nine and Maine with five. The numbers could have changed if repairs had been made since last year.
    Many of the dams were built decades, if not centuries ago, to provide water and power to textile mills and other manufacturing shops. But today, most structures that hold back ponds and lakes are for recreation, drinking water and hydropower.
    A review of dam inspection reports in northern New England found problems similar to those plaguing structures nationwide. Dams were cracking and eroding. Spillways were clogged with debris or unable to withstand 100-year floods. Animal burrows and overgrown vegetation plagued many structures, problems that can eat away at earthen dams.
    More than 50 dams have failed in New Hampshire over the past 100 years, though deaths are rare. One exception was the Meadow Pond Dam, which failed in 1996, killing a woman and flooding a small neighborhood. Nearly 70 have failed in Vermont, including the 1947 failure of East Pittsford Dam that devastated Rutland.
    Some of the problems with high hazard dams go back years but have not been addressed because of inadequate government funding or an inability or refusal by private owners to make the repairs. An example is East Long Pond dam in Woodbury, Vermont.State inspectors found the dam has an inadequate spillway, seepage on its auxiliary spillway and a downstream retaining wall that appeared unstable. Overgrown vegetation prevented inspectors from evaluating some parts of the dam.
    According to its emergency action plan, a failure of the East Long Pond dam would flood 215 properties in the towns of Hardwick and Woodbury, 20 roads and overwhelm three dams downstream.
    The state has recommended the dam owner, Hardwick Electric Department, make repairs to the spillways and improvements to the dam embankment. Removing the dam also is an option.
    But state officials acknowledged they lack the authority to force Hardwick to make repairs. The dam safety program received rule-making authority only in 2018, and the rules allowing enforcement of its findings are being drafted and won't be ready until 2022.
    "It is difficult to regulate all but the worst of the worst dams," said Ben Green, Vermont's chief dam safety engineer. "Right now, we don't have a lot of tools to require owners to make repairs.
    A request for comment left with the Hardwick Electric Department was not returned.The Lake Christina Dam in Maine, which is owned by potato processor McCain Foods, is another rated in poor condition, according to the AP's investigation.
    Inspectors say the dam has no emergency spillway and could not find construction records that would show what materials were used to build it. An analysis had also not been done to determine if it could withstand a historic storm.
    If the dam failed, its emergency action plan said the flood waters could inundate at least two dozen homes. McCain Foods did not return a request for comment.
    Maine dam safety officials said they are hoping to visit the dam soon but acknowledged one of their challenges is trying to inspect 600 dams in the state with just two staffers. The state's staffing and funding for its dam safety program are among the lowest in the country. That's similar to Vermont, which also has two full-time dam safety inspectors.
    Several states are finally getting federal help. New Hampshire and Vermont are among those benefiting from a $10 million grant program run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
    New Hampshire is receiving $475,437 for Pawtuckaway Lake Dolloff Dam, Mendums Pond Dam and Upper Wilson Dam. Vermont received $202,612 to assess the risk to 10 dams.

    Sherman school board selects firm for conceptual designs
    Kendra Baker
    SHERMAN — The Board of Education has selected a firm to create conceptual designs for the Sherman School.
    But first, it needs the approval of the Board of Selectmen.
    The school board is looking to hire Tecton Architects — the same firm that did conceptual designs for Brookfield’s $78.1 million elementary school building project — to come up with architectural designs and associated cost estimates for a possible Sherman School building project.
    Tecton was selected during the school board’s meeting last Wednesday.
    The board’s next step is to make a recommendation to the Board of Selectmen for funding of no more than $50,000 for Tecton’s conceptual design services. That is expected to take place during the selectmen’s Nov. 21 meeting.
    If approved, the request would then go to a town meeting for vote, said Board of Education Chair Kasey Diotte.
    The Sherman School at 2 Route 37 serves children in preschool through eighth grade. Since its construction in 1937, the building has undergone a number of additions and renovations — the last in 2000.
    A Friar Architecture study of the 85,745 square-foot building revealed areas in need of significant capital investments, and recommended architectural, mechanical, plumbing and electrical areas needing repair or replacement.
    Upon reviewing the facility study report, the Board of Education formed an ad hoc Design and Innovation Committee in April to suggest courses of action.With committee recommendations, Friar’s study and enrollment projections in mind, the Board of Education decided Sept. 13 to put out a request for proposals and qualifications — seeking conceptual design options and cost estimates from firms, which were asked to consider renovations and new structures in their proposals.
    Firms from across the state responded to the district’s request, said Superintendent-Principal Jeff Melendez, and 11 respondents participated in a mandatory walk-through of the school in September.
    The pool was eventually narrowed down to four, and those firms were interviewed during a special Board of Education meeting last Monday.
    Diotte said she was “really impressed” with Tecton.
    “I think all the firms that we interviewed could do a phenomenal job — they were each different in their own ways — (but) I was pleased that we were all pretty unanimous pretty quickly about this one particular firm,” she said.
    Another school board member agreed and said Tecton’s representatives had “qualities that would work well within our community.”
    “They definitely have the qualities that we would find in Sherman,” he said.
    Diotte noted that conceptual designs would provide a cost estimate — “not blueprints — for a building project.

    After legal spat, Newington apartments to break ground in 2020
    Joe Cooper
    he developer of a proposed $32 million affordable-housing project in Newington, which was denied last year by the town’s planning board over safety concerns, says he will break ground on the development in 2020 after a judge overturned the town’s decision.
    The town’s Planning and Zoning commission last fall voted against the 108-unit apartment complex, proposed by Massachusetts developer-landlord Dakota Partners Inc., citing several concerns, including the safety of the development near one of Newington’s CTfastrak busway stations.
    Dakota filed a lawsuit against the town arguing the rejection was illegal.
    In late August, Judge William A. Mottolese overturned the town’s ruling, stating that its reason for denial did not provide enough evidence that the development at 550 Cedar St. would pose public harm.
    Following DOT approval, Dakota would still need to receive a site plan approval from the zoning board, according to Town Planner Craig Minor. A meeting between Dakota and DOT has not yet been scheduled, Minor said.
    In a statement Thursday, Dakota Principal Marc Daigle said he expects to break ground on the 7.7-acre lot, formerly home to automobile dealership Crest Motors, in late summer 2020. Daigle has said construction on the so-called “Cedar Pointe” development would last between 12 to 14 months.
    The town’s zoning board pushed the project along in recent weeks, approving a pair of zoning amendments to create a “workforce assisted housing development” (WAHD) zone, and converted the parcel from a planned development zone to a WAHD zone.
    Daigle said the three-building complex will include a total of 81 two-bedroom and 27 one-bedroom units.
    Applicants for affordable housing units at Cedar Pointe must meet certain low-income thresholds and prove employment, among other requirements.
    Dakota has said monthly rents will range from $410 to $1,046 for one bedroom and $486 to $1,240 for two-bedroom units.
    Dakota Partners has acquired and developed multi-family rental properties across New England, New York and mid-Atlantic states. The developer has built housing in Hartford, New Milford and Brookfield, among other areas.

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