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CT Construction Digest Thursday January 9, 2020

Towns Weigh Huge Cost To Update Trash-To-Energy Plant

The plant burns a third of Connecticut’s refuse and turns it into electricity.
“[MIRA] has infrastructure in dire, desperate need of reinvestment, repair, refurbishment,” said Thomas Kirk, executive director of the agency. “Its ability to sustain operations is quite frankly in doubt right now.”
MIRA needs most of its 51 member towns to sign long-term deals in order to make the renovation project viable, he said.
“If only a handful of towns move forward, there is no project,” Kirk said. “We need to get moving. We do not have time or the luxury of more study. If we don’t rebuild the plant, [Connecticut’s trash] is going into a hole, and the hole is in Ohio, New York, or Virginia.”
Towns with MIRA contracts are currently paying about $83 per ton, projected to go up to about $91 in the next fiscal year. MIRA officials said they are trying to combine state bonding, a new power-purchase agreement for the energy generated by the plant and renewable energy credits to keep the cost of disposal to about $95 per ton after the plant is renovated.
But without those three additional revenue sources, towns would have to pay $145 per ton for their waste disposal.
“I’m going to call this a constructive crisis,” Durham First Selectwoman Laura Francis said. “I think this is going to finally give us the impetus to have some tough conversations with our residents and say, ‘how do you want to handle this?’”
She said after years of trimming budgets, increased costs for items like waste disposal to towns will almost always mean a tax hike or a cut to some other service. Town leaders will have no choice but to go to their legislators and ask for attention in the coming session.
“It’s going to be directly an increase in property taxes if we can’t absorb this increase in another way,” Francis said.
MIRA has been working with a European developer chosen by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection for more than two years on a plan to modernize.
Kirk made a presentation Wednesday to municipal leaders at the state Capitol. He said MIRA would be sending its member towns a suggested commitment letter to bring to town and city councils for approval.
The $330 million proposal is to rebuild the current infrastructure. It would be somewhat more efficient based on newer technology, but it would continue offering the same service MIRA currently provides at its southern-Hartford facility.
Future projects to improve waste diversion efforts would require additional funding as a later phase.
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin was critical of the plan Wednesday. He said other states have made great strides to reduce waste, and that such efforts in Connecticut could substantially ease the burden on the waste disposal system.
“As the mayor of the city I have concerns that go beyond the most cost-effective disposal, including whether doubling down on an ancient facility at strategic riverfront land at the intersection of two majors highways, the likes of which would be hard for us to find anywhere in New England, is the right choice for our state,” Bronin said.
He said reduction efforts could greatly reduce the reliance on a huge regional plant.
“I fully admit that part of my eagerness to look for alternatives comes from the fact that I think this is a strategic mistake for the state, an additional burden on the capitol city in a way that’s damaging to the entire state and I think we’re pursuing this particular site for the reason that many of us in municipal government despise most, which is because it’s the way we’ve always done it,” Bronin said.
The dire state of MIRA’s equipment has received wide attention in the last two years with major breakdowns that put the plant out of service and caused huge trash pile-ups.
MIRA Board Chairman Don Stein, the first selectman of Barkhamsted, said it’s unclear how the 51 member towns will react to the increased costs associated with the plant renovations, but some will probably not be able to absorb major price hikes.
“The state has been a leader in environmentally-conscious solid waste disposal,” Stein said. “We want to continue to do the right thing for the environment. The harsh economic reality is the problem, and how do you offset that environmental consciousness with economic reality. That’s probably going to be hard sell at $145 per ton.”
There is currently no commitment from the state or the legislature to provide funding for the project, officials said.
“We recognize that it’s time to focus on bringing a balance back to the way we manage our regional waste in this state. The proposed cost of this project is a challenge and there is no decision without feedback from the municipalities. If this project is not feasible, we look forward to working with municipalities to explore alternatives,” DEEP Spokeswoman Kristina Rozek said in a statement.

Stamford senior living facility approved for Long Ridge Road
Humberto J Rocha
STAMFORD — A senior living facility will be coming to 210 Long Ridge Road but not without several conditions.
The Zoning Board approved the planned 200-unit assisted living facility at its Tuesday meeting, but asked that the developer build a pedestrian sidewalk on Long Ridge Road and present a landscaping plan before starting any site work.
Last year, TC NE Metro Development Inc. partnered with Allegro Senior Living — who will be the operator of the facility — and proposed a three- and four-story building specifically for people with assisted living needs.
The facility is slated for construction on the eastern half of a 15-acre parcel, bordering Long Ridge Road. The rest of the acreage on the western side along the Rippowam River has little development rights left, meaning it would be untouched.
Ninety-eight independent living units, 87 assisted living units and 15 memory care units are proposed for the project, according to an application filed by the developer.
The facility would also bring in 195 parking spaces spread out through open-air parking spots and a basement garage.
“Any other use of the eight acres, they have to come back to us for approval,” Zoning Board Chairman David Stein said.
The residential project didn’t go without pushback during the approval process.
A number of residents in the area attended previous  Planning and Zoning board meetings to voice their concern, particularly about how construction would impact trees and greenery on the parcel where the building is expected to go up. The lot currently sits vacant and has been open space for two decades.
Nearly 200 trees would be cut down, but a similar quantity would be planted as part of a frontage plan for the property, according to Raymond Mazzeo, a project manager with Redniss & Mead, the civil engineering company hired by the developer.
Residents’ concerns resonated with several board members.
“There’s been strong community input as to the size of the building on the property and the frontage,” Zoning Board member Richard Rosenfeld said. The board adopted a condition that the developer present a planting and frontage plan prior to any sitework. Construction for the senior living facility is expected to take up to two-and-a-half years.
 
Matt Pilon
oshua Gottfried and Matthew Somberg have come a long way since opening a retirement and financial planning firm in a 144-square-foot office 20 years ago, shortly after each graduated college.
Today their firm, Gottfried & Somberg, has grown to 20 employees across three adjacent offices on Hebron Avenue in Glastonbury, and more than $900 million in assets under management. Next year, they’ll have a brand new, bigger home office.
The two owners won local approval last month to demolish those three buildings -- all former residential homes that are located in a business zone -- and construct a 20,000-square-foot, three-story office with an estimated price tag of up to $6 million, Somberg and Gottfried said in an interview.
“We’ve run out of space,” Gottfried said. “We have no space for new workers. We’re on the cusp of hiring three people in the next year.”
During construction, employees will work from temporary space on Eastern Boulevard.
When the project is complete, Gottfried & Somberg will occupy the top floor. The owners said they will market the Class A space on the first two floors to accounting firms, estate attorneys, insurance agents and other businesses that could assist their own clients.
“We want to have complementary businesses in the building,” Somberg said. “One-stop shopping all within one building.”
The two business partners, both in their early 40s, said their firm’s assets under management grew 27 percent in 2019, and they added 80 families to their client roster.
Gottfried & Somberg has remained independent amid lots of private equity activity and acquisitions in the financial-planning sector.
“We've been very fortunate for a number of reasons to experience organic growth,” Somberg said. “We’ve been growing 15 to 20 percent a year pretty consistently.”

Industry Waits for 2020 Funds to Start Flowing
With a massive appropriations package now in place for the rest of fiscal year 2020, engineering firms and contractors can breathe easier as the construction season approaches, knowing how much funding is available  through Sept. 30 for important federal infrastructure programs. Now they wait for the dollars to be released.
Jimmy Christianson, Associated General Contractors of America vice president for government relations, says that it can take 60 to 90 days from the date a spending bill is enacted for agencies to learn from the Office of Management and Budget the details of that legislation. The fact that the latest package wasn’t signed into law until Dec. 20, nearly three months into fiscal 2020, may also slow the process down. Still, Christianson expects to see project solicitations using fiscal 2020 funds surfacing “as early as Q2.”
The pace of the funding flow, however, will vary from agency to agency and even from program to program within each agency.  At the Dept. of Transportation for example, core federal highway funding, which is distributed to states by formula and financed by the Highway Trust Fund, should be among the first aid to hit the street. That program relies on the overall annual highway obligation limit, which the new spending measure boosted by 2%, to $46 billion.
State DOTs  are awaiting a formal notice from the Federal Highway Administration making the funding available from the $46-billion obligation limit. They hope that will happen soon.
Joung Lee, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials director of policy and government relations, says that in recent years there has been “at least a few weeks of lag between when the ‘approps’ legislation is enacted versus when the ‘ob lim’ notice goes out from FHWA.” But Lee says one positive development has been that in the past several years appropriations have matched the annual authorizations set in the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation, or FAST, Act. The 2020 bill also follows the FAST Act template.
Lee says, “So everybody knows what the full-year ob lim amount is. It’s just a matter of getting the official notice from FHWA.” He adds, “We would certainly like to see that as soon as possible, obviously, so that [state DOTs] can start putting the money to work.”
U.S. DOT also has several discretionary grant programs, for which states and localities apply and compete. Those grant dollars will take much longer to get into states’ and localities’ hands  than will the formula funds. The longest-lived is the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development, or BUILD, grants, formerly named TIGER grants. DOT’s fiscal 2019 appropriations became law Feb. 15, and DOT announced the 2019 BUILD winners in November, more than a month after fiscal 2019 ended.
Appropriators do like BUILD, which has been routinely oversubscribed since the TIGER days. The lawmakers increased BUILD 11% for 2020, to $1 billion. A newer, larger discretionary highway account, which draws on the general fund, was cut 33%, to $2.2 billion.
Among other winners in the 2020 spending package is the core Dept. of Defense construction program, which received a 10% increase, to $11.3 billion.
Also scoring higher funding is Army Corps of Engineers civil works. Spending will rise 9%, to $7.65 billion. Within that, the Corps construction account did even better, with a 23% increase.
On the minus side is the Federal Transit Administration Capital Investment Grant program, which funds new project starts. It was cut 22%.
The General Services Administration public buildings construction and acquisition account dropped 84%, to $152.4 million. All of that is earmarked for a new border port of entry in San Luiz, Ariz. GSA buildings repairs and alterations, a separate budget account, did see spending climb 23% for 2020, to $833.8 million.
Though Congress missed the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year, the appropriations picture is significantly brighter for 2020 than in January 2019, when a budget fight between the White House and congressional Democrats caused much of the federal government to close for 35 days. It was the longest such shutdown in U.S. history. Christianson observes, “It’s much nicer to start off the new year with the fiscal year appropriations complete.”
 
Finance board approves $62K for shared bridge’s replacement
WESTPORT — With some reluctance the Board of Finance unanimously approved a $62,000 appropriation for the replacement of the Cavalry Road Bridge over the West Branch of Saugatuck River on Wednesday.
The appropriation represent a portion of the design expenses shared with Weston that will set in motion a $2.32 million plan to replace the bridge. 80 percent of the costs will be reimbursed by the federal local bridge program.
The funds were previously the cause of slight controversy due to the towns debating over how the remaining 20 percent of the bridge’s total cost — around $464,000 — would be split.
“The issue here is the split,” Public Works Director Pete Ratkiewich said. “This is a border bridge...and there’s two ways of splitting the expenses.”

One option would be an interlocal agreement between the towns to do a 50-50 split, he said. The other option, which Weston favored, was to follow a state statute that would see Westport bear about 73 percent of the remaining costs.
“The statue says for lack of interlocal agreement you take the last three years of the grand list for each town, compare them, and apply the expenses proportionally,” Ratkiewich said, adding they will have to re-evaluate the shared costs.
He noted getting an interlocal agreement would be a more difficult path and face more bureaucracy, potentially slowing the process.
“A good majority of towns do it this way for simplicity,” Ratkiewich said of following the statue.
Weston’s decision to follow the statute previously caused some tension between the towns when one Westport BOF member suggested increasing the price of beach stickers for Weston residents as retaliation.
BOF Chairman Brian Stern noted the dividing line of the build of the towns goes through the center of the bridge, with the left-hand side owned by Westport and the right-hand side by Weston.
“It’s a different case than what I think the legislature was put in place for, which is a bridge from one town to another,” Stern said.
Finance board members expressed some reluctance to approve the costs due to what they considered as Weston being “bad neighbors.”

“I think the other annoying factor here is that it was Weston that was ordered to fix it not us,” BOF member Nancie Dupier said.
BOF members also alleged Weston had previously agreed to a 50-50 split.
“When the 50-50 split was agreed between to it was between two town engineers not necessarily two town administrations,” Ratkiewich pointed out. “The value of the bridge work at that time was much less than this.” Stern said it was likely the traffic across the bridge was mainly Weston residents traveling to Westport.
“They have chosen to pursue this statutory route and we have to get this bridge fixed,” Stern said. “They have not been good neighbors with respect to this, but that’s the way they wish to act and they are within the rights of the law.”
He added he was disappointed because the two towns share a lot services and Westport has been good neighbors in the past.
“There’s not much we can do except to approve this because we have to get the bridge fixed,” Stern said. “We have to be mature about it and say we’ll remember this event and lets hope that next time they don’t behave this way.”



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