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CT Construction Digest Tuesday January 7, 2019

A crucial day for Lamont’s transportation ambitions

The Senate Democratic majority intends to take a hard count Tuesday of votes in favor of a 10-year transportation financing plan that would rely on truck tolls, a pivotal moment for Gov. Ned Lamont as he approaches the last day of his first year in office on Wednesday.
“We hope we can get to 18,” said Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, a reference to the bare minimum necessary for passage. “We hope we can move on to the main business of the next session.”
Eighteen votes would guarantee at least an 18-18 tie, with Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz poised to cast a tie-breaking vote in favor as the presiding officer of the Senate. Democrats hold 22 of the 36 seats in the Senate.
“We’re looking forward to tomorrow’s caucuses,” Max Reiss, the governor’s communications director, said Monday.
Democrats still hope to pass a transportation package in special session before the regular 2020 session opens on Feb. 5, allowing the majority party to focus on less controversial measures before adjourning in May to begin re-election campaigns. 
The administration has said an early vote would allow the state to begin the process of applying for low-interest financing available from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, and Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said there is no policy rationale for a special session, only a political desire to neutralize a difficult issue with a quick vote and minimal public review.
“It’s not a popular issue,” Fasano said. “They want to get the dirty laundry out early.”
“If you think you have the votes, then wait until the session starts,” Klarides said. “There is no urgency.”House and Senate Democrats are both caucusing Tuesday to review the latest iteration of the Lamont administration’s fitful campaign for revenue it says is necessary to return Connecticut’s highways and transit system to a state of good repair and make improvements to shorten commutes.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, was unsure Monday if he would take a vote during his caucus, but he said his sense for months has been that the House Democratic majority would support even a broader tolling plan.
“I still feel feel very comfortable,”  Aresimowicz said. “We were in a very good area with tolls before. This is a drastically reduced and more politically positive plan moving forward. As Marty has said, rightly so, this has been tested at the polls.”
Lamont, who was elected on a platform that included truck tolls, instead made an initial proposal in February of a comprehensive system of highway tolls on all motor vehicles using Route 15 and Interstates 84, 91 and 95. It would have included at least 50 toll gantries.
A CT 2030 plan, as the administration dubbed the new version released in November, still would have included tolls on passenger cars but was praised for making the case for individual projects, a failure of the original proposal.  The governor personally pitched it to Senate Democrats in November, only to be immediately told it was not “broadly palatable” to lawmakers.
House Democrats countered by suggesting a return to a version of Lamont’s original campaign proposal: truck tolls — something that has been implemented by Rhode Island, but is being challenged in court by the trucking industry.
On Monday, it was unclear how detailed a plan would be presented in caucus. Lawmakers and the administration have agreed to toll only heavy-duty trucks, without settling on a precise weight classification.
The U.S. Department of Transportation ranks trucks by eight classes of GVWR, or gross vehicle weight ratings, ranging from 1 to 8, with 1 being the lightest. One of the unresolved questions was whether to toll Class 7 and 8 trucks or only Class 8.
Class 8 trucks have a gross weight of at least 33,001 pounds and include tractor trailers and construction vehicles, such as cement trucks and large dump trucks. Box trucks and other vehicles used for local deliveries are Class 6 or lighter, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Last month month, the administration released a financial pro forma indicating that truck tolls on a dozen bridges could produce $187 million in net revenue annually and finance $19.4 billion in transportation infrastructure improvements over 10 years.
Lamont, a Democrat and wealthy businessman who self-funded his campaign in 2018, made transportation the focus of his first year, saying Connecticut’s slow economic growth was at least partly a consequence of highway bottlenecks and an inadequate Metro-North commuter rail system.
Looney and other Senate Democrats viewed the governor’s first toll proposal as politically toxic and a risk to the gains made in 2018, when Democrats won a strong majority after two years of sharing power in an evenly divided chamber. But Looney said the version to be presented Tuesday “is even a more modest plan than the one he ran on successfully.”
Opponents of truck tolls say it would be the first step to a broader system, but Looney noted that car tolls gained no traction in the General Assembly, making expansion a political non-starter.
The legislation under consideration would not give the state Department of Transportation the authority to toll cars, meaning that broadening the system would require the consent of a future General Assembly.
“We’re clear,” Looney said. “We are supporting no plan that involves tolls on passenger cars.”
 Lamont will talk about transportation at 9 a.m. on WNPR’s “Where We Live” and Thursday morning on WTIC-AM. If there is a special session, the legislature is expected to hold at least one informational hearing.
“It’s in their hands now,” Reiss said of lawmakers. “At the end of the day, it’s the legislative process. And we respect the legislative process.”

Lamont to answer public questions on tolls
Kaitlyn Krasselt
Gov. Ned Lamont will make several public appearances this week to take questions from constituents over his proposed transportation plan, which includes controversial highway tolls.
Lamont will take call-in questions on WNPR’s Where We Live at 9 a.m. Tuesday, and on WTIC 1080 AM at 8 a.m. Thursday. The governor and Transportation Commissioner Joseph Giulietti will also attend a town hall forum in Westport Sunday.
The forum, hosted by state Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport, and state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, was scheduled following a weekend uproar over an email from a pro-tolls activist group that suggested their members keep the forum, originally in the works for Tuesday, a secret. Tolls opponents have accused Lamont of conspiring with the local group to keep opponents away from the forum, but they have not cited any evidence.
The Tuesday forum was postponed due to scheduling conflicts, Haskell and Lamont’s office said over the weekend.
“Improving our infrastructure is a top concern for my district. That’s why I’m so excited to host Governor Lamont and leaders from his administration to hear directly from my constituents at this town hall meeting,” Sen. Haskell said in an emailed statement Monday morning. “After finally finding a date to work around busy schedules, I hope constituents of all political opinions will come to share their thoughts on how we should build faster trains and safer roads.”
Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, is also slated to attend the newly-scheduled forum, which will take place at 4 p.m. Sunday at Bedford Middle School, 88 North Avenue, in Westport.
The House and Senate Democratic caucuses will meet Tuesday at the state Capitol to discuss Lamont’s latest plan, among other legislative issues for the upcoming session.
Lamont publicly promised late last year to hold town hall meetings across the state about his CT2030 transportation plan. An earlier version of the plan, calling for 14 toll gantries that would levy charges of 50 cents to $1, failed in the fall after Democrats balked at it. Under the latest plan, Lamont returns to a version of his 2018 campaign plan, tolling trucks only, at 12 locations.
Tolls opponents, including Patrick Sasser, founder of No Tolls CT, have repeatedly and publicly requested a schedule for the public discussions.

Lamont plans tolls forum in Westport; another possible in Waterbury
PAUL HUGHES
HARTFORD — Gov. Ned Lamont will discuss highway tolls at a forum on transportation funding Sunday in Westport that two local Democratic legislators have organized.
Lamont is now backing a limited plan to impose tolls on medium and heavy commercial trucks to support a dozen bridge improvement projects across the state, including the Mixmaster interchange of Interstate 84 and Route 8 in Waterbury.
A Lamont spokesman on Monday confirmed there have been discussions between the governor’s office and Waterbury Mayor Neil M. O’Leary about the possibility of scheduling a transportation funding forum in the state’s fifth largest city.
Max Reiss, the governor’s director of communications, said a Waterbury event may not be possible to schedule now because of preparations for a possible special legislative session on transportation funding later this month and the upcoming regular 2020 session that opens Feb. 5.
“We have not ruled it out,” he said.
Lamont and Democratic majority leaders announced they had agreed on a truck-only tolling plan just before Thanksgiving after Senate Democrats had rejected a revised 10-year, $21.3 billion funding plan that the governor had proposed on Nov. 7.
In between, Lamont had stated that he was planning a series of town meetings to personally pitch his revised CT 2030 plan, including possibly one in Waterbury.
None had been scheduled since Lamont and Democratic leaders had reached consensus on trucks-only tolls until state Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport, and state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, announced the Westport forum on Monday.
The event is to be held Sunday at Bedford Middle School at 88 North Ave. in Westbrook. The start time is 4 p.m. In addition to the trucks-only tolling plan, there will be discussions of other proposals for overhauling the state’s transportation infrastructure.
“Improving infrastructure is a top concern for my district,” Haskell said.
In addition to Lamont, Joseph Guilietti, the commissioner of the Department of Transportation, will also attend along with Senate President Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk.
Tolling opponents had been pressing Lamont to announce a schedule of town meetings and release a revised transportation funding plan with truck-only tolls.
Reiss was unaware of any other planned meetings after the Westport forum. He said the governor’s office has updated its CT2030 website to identify the 12 proposed tolling locations. The website is www.ct2030.com.

2 CT toxic Superfund sites part of growing backlog under Trump administration
Ellen Knickmeyer, Matthew Brown and Ed White, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration has built up the biggest backlog of unfunded toxic Superfund clean-up projects in at least 15 years, nearly triple the number that were stalled for lack of money in the Obama era, according to 2019 figures quietly released by the Environmental Protection Agency over the winter holidays.
Two of the Superfund projects are in Connecticut: One in Durham and one in Waterbury.
The accumulation of Superfund projects that are ready to go except for money comes as the Trump administration routinely proposes funding cuts for Superfund and for the EPA in general. The four-decade-old Superfund program is meant to tackle some of the most heavily contaminated sites in the U.S. and Trump has declared it a priority even while seeking to shrink its budget.
“There hasn’t been a sense of urgency,” said Violet Donoghue, who has lived for 31 years on Bon Brae Street in St. Clair Shores, Michigan. Toxic PCBs have poisoned some local soil, water and fish at nearby Lake St. Clair, and the neighborhood is one of the 34 Superfund sites where clean-up projects languished for lack of money in 2019.
“I feel many people have been harmed, but that’s only my opinion," Donoghue said. She said the last word from the EPA was that soil would be removed from the front of her house. “Now when they say they’re cleaning it, I say, ‘OK, give me the date,'" she said.
The unfunded projects are in 17 states and Puerto Rico. They range from abandoned mines that discharged heavy metals and arsenic in the West to an old wood pulp site in Mississippi and a defunct dry cleaner that released toxic solvents in North Carolina.
In Connecticut, the Durham Meadows site includes an area of groundwater contamination generally centered on Main Street. It contains industrial and residential properties. The 30-acre Scovill Industrial Landfill site in Waterbury includes cleanup of a site previously used for disposal of ash, cinders, demolition debris and other wastes generated by the company that was at the site until the 1970s.
Congress created the Superfund program in 1980 after the Love Canal episode and other notorious pollution cases. Its intent is to hold polluters responsible for cleanup costs or provide taxpayer money when no responsible party can be identified.
Trump “is focused on putting Americans first,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told a Senate environment committee early 2019. “There may be no better example than our success in the Superfund program.”
“We are in the process of cleaning up some of the nation’s largest, most complex sites and returning them to productive use,” Wheeler said then.
But two former EPA officials whose work dealt with Superfund oversight said the growing backlog of stalled Superfund projects under the Trump administration, and steady or ebbing numbers of clean-up construction projects completed, point to a different picture.
“They’re misleading Congress and the public about the funds that are needed to really protect the public from exposure to the toxic chemicals,” said Elizabeth Southerland, who worked for 30 years at EPA, including as director of science and technology in the water office, before retiring in 2017. ‘’It’s detrimental.”
This is a “regulatory failure,” said Judith Enck, who served as the EPA’s regional northeastern U.S. administrator under President Barack Obama.
Given the growing numbers of unfunded clean-up projects, “EPA should be knocking on the door of Congress and saying, give us more money to deal with the sites,’’ Enck said.
Asked what the EPA spent money on instead, and why the agency didn’t ask Congress for more to deal with the growing backlog, EPA spokeswoman Maggie Sauerhage offered few specifics Thursday.
The EPA’s Superfund program “will continue to prioritize new construction projects based on which sites present the greatest risk to human health and the environment,” Sauerhage said in an email. “Further, the agency maintains the authority to respond to and fund emergencies at these sites if there is an imminent threat to human health and the environment.”
She pointed to some areas where Trump's Superfund effort was more on par with that of his predecessors. Long-term remedial efforts to make sure contamination didn’t rebound at existing Superfund sites, for example, averaged 64 a year under Trump. That compares with an average of 60 a year in Obama's last five years.
But overall, the backlog of 34 unfunded projects is up from only 12 in 2016, Obama's last year.
At the site of another of 2019's unfunded Superfund projects, Montana’s Upper Tenmile mining region, which includes the community of Rimini and a subdivision downstream, the EPA has been providing bottled water to residents for the past decade in response to water supplies polluted by about 150 abandoned gold, lead and copper mines.
Pollution still flows from the mines and into Upper Tenmile Creek more than 20 years after the area was added to the Superfund list.
About 6 miles from Rimini in the rural Landmark subdivision is a huge pile of contaminated soil that was removed from residential yards. It was supposed to be hauled away but now has weeds growing over it after sitting untouched for several years, said Patrick Keim, who lives nearby.“It’s a sword of Damocles hanging over us,” Keim said. “It just seems counterproductive they would spend two or three million dollars re-mediating this piece of property, haul it off and stockpile it across the road and then run out of money and leave this big pile for everybody to look at.”
Montana environmental regulators also are involved in the cleanup but say they need the EPA to come through with money for the work to resume, since the federal agency is providing 90 percent of funding.
Under Trump, the EPA has pointed to a different yardstick in declaring it was making progress on Superfund clean-ups — the number of cleaned-up sites officially deleted from the roster of more than 1,300 Superfund sites.
In 2019, for instance, the EPA said it had deleted all or part of 27 sites from the official Superfund list, saying that was the most deletions since the George W. Bush administration. But deletions from the list typically reflect clean-up work done over decades and often completed on the ground years ago, meaning Trump is sometimes taking credit for work done under his predecessors.
In 2018, for example, the EPA cited the seven Superfund sites fully or partially removed from the list in the previous year as a signature accomplishment of the Trump administration. Records showed the physical work was completed before Trump took office, The Associated Press reported at the time.
Sauerhage, the EPA spokeswoman, did not directly respond to questions about the backlog of 34 unfunded Superfund clean-up projects. The EPA posted the total on its website without fanfare the day after Christmas. Some of the projects that are ready to start have languished for lack of money since Trump’s first year in office.
EPA has been one of the main focuses of Trump’s efforts to cut federal regulations and oversight that he sees as burdening businesses. Trump each year has asked Congress for nearly one-third cuts in EPA’s budget, and has sought much smaller cuts for Superfund.
Congress has kept both levels of funding roughly even.

Residents approve additional funds for Ledyard track and field project
Amanda Hutchinson
Ledyard — Residents at a town meeting Monday voted 136-15 to approve an additional $616,163 to rebuild the outdoor track and football field complex at the high school.
The new facility is expected to be ready for the 2020-21 school year, according to Superintendent Jay Hartling, and the field would also be available for graduation in June.
The $2.53 million project would replace the track and the football field, installing an artificial turf multipurpose field that can also be used by soccer and lacrosse teams.
The original $1.92 million for the project was already budgeted for, coming from Education Cost Sharing and Federal Impact Aid Grant revenue set aside in the town's undesignated fund. The $661,163 overage would come from the town's mill rate stabilization fund.
Construction for the track and field had been set to begin last October, but it was discovered last fall that the project would need a lot more earthwork than was budgeted to fix grading and drainage problems.
Jim Buonocore, athletic director and assistant principal at the high school, said the facility has been closed since then because the track fails to meet minimum safety requirements.
Since the administration had anticipated the facility being under construction, the fall sports season wasn't impacted much because late-season games had already been scheduled at other schools, he said.
After presentations Monday by finance committee Chairman Bill Saums and Board of Education finance committee Chairman Mike Brawner, residents and taxpayers spoke for about an hour. Some of the questions focused on maintenance and costs of the artificial turf as opposed to natural grass.
While the turf field costs slightly more over its coservatively estimated 12- to 15-year lifespan, the Board of Education calculated the turf field can be used three or four times more than grass for a lower cost per event.
Several residents spoke in favor of the project, citing their children's experience in the sports that would be able to play on the new field. Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Nate Woody said the commission had been looking for a solution for the facility for years, and as a runner himself, he has had to use the Fitch track rather than using the Ledyard track. He said he hopes his daughter can participate in track and field on the new complex.
Board of Education member Steve Munger said he came to Ledyard because of his military service, and he chose to stay because he's proud of the town. The track and field in their current state aren't something he's proud of, and he joined the school board to make an impact on the town through projects like this.
"It's all about the kids, so let's give them the best we can," he said.

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