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CT Construction Digest Monday February 17, 2020

Study suggests areas for improvement for CT utilities
Humberto J Rocha
STAMFORD — While utility companies have improved their emergency response performance since 2011, there is still room for improvement, according to a recent report by the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority.
Last summer, PURA commenced a review of United Illuminating Co. and Eversource’s performance during an emergency, defined as 10 percent or more of a company’s customers without power for 48 hours.
What the companies can do better, the study said, was improve communication and coordination with state and local emergency personnel and reporting data before, during and after emergency events, such as large storms.
Additionally, the study said it would consider possible updates to the “Make Safe” protocol, which requires that utility companies commit one crew to each community.
Throughout its review from the summer to January, PURA received comments from local and state officials.
At a PURA public hearing back in November, Stamford’s Director of Public Safety Ted Jankowski suggested that police escorts accompany utility companies’ emergency vehicles to the scene.
Jankowki’s idea came after an August car crash in the South End where two died and four were injured. First responders had to wait over half an hour for Eversource personnel to deactivate downed wires entangled on the vehicle.
Jankowski has previously said Eversource arrived as quickly as possible to the scene.
Other municipalities also suggested revisions to standard protocols as well as more communication between utility companies and local authorities, PURA’s report showed.
Fairfield’s fire and police department met with UI representatives last year and Fire Chief Denis McCarthy submitted a letter calling for changes to the “Make Safe” protocol and “improved staffing models” for life-threatening conditions.
“UI learned from this meeting that there was a need to improve communication between itself and the towns, and vice versa,” the PURA report stated. “Moreover, UI plans to ensure that there are more channels for communication between road clearing work and meet the needs of the town.”
In July of last year, Fairfield firefighters waited for an hour for UI personnel to respond and deactivate the live wires around a car where Jarrod Marotto, a 21-year-old, was located. He was later pronounced dead at St. Vincent’s Medical Center.
PURA already has plans to continue reviews on these topics for 2020, particularly an investigation into utility companies’ reporting procedures and communication coordination between both utility companies and local emergency personnel.
Mitch Gross, a spokesperson for Eversource, said the company was content with the report’s reference to its improvement since 2011.
“We’re pleased the report finds that our emergency response procedures serve as a solid roadmap for storm restoration planning and response,” Gross said. “We’re always evaluating ways to enhance our storm response and continue to partner with PURA, other state agencies, municipalities and elected officials to evaluate additional opportunities to coordinate a stronger emergency response.”
In a similar vein, UI spokesperson Edward Crowder said they would work with the state to improve their service.
“We’re proud of UI’s strong record of service reliability, and we welcome any opportunity to improve our performance that may come out of the PURA review,” Crowder said.
More stringent reviews of the companies’ emergency performances have taken place since PURA determined that Eversource and UI had “deficient and inadequate” performances in the aftermath of two major storms in 2011, the report said.
Utility companies are required to submit their emergency response protocols for review every two years, according to the report.
As a result of these reviews, PURA’s report said planning and preparation requirements have “significantly improved each company’s reponse performance” since the major storms of 2011.
While the authority can commission studies and reviews, eventually the results and conversation elicited by the study becomes a public policy decision, according to Gillett.
“We did say the utilities companies’ performance had drastically improved since 2011 and we don’t want to lose sight of that,” Gillett said. “Everyone should seek to continuously improve and we’ll work with elected officials on those areas.”

Controversial solar project is back on the table
Mary Biekert
Waterford — The developers who proposed a 75-acre solar project off Oil Mill Road that state officials rejected two years ago have asked the state to reconsider its decision.
Opponents, including town leaders and a local environmental group, say they are again ready to speak against the project and remain concerned about its potential environmental impacts. The developers, though, say they’ve revised the project to better address those concerns.
Originally proposed by Greenskies Clean Energy in 2018, the proposal's application was denied by the state Siting Council after the town and Save the River-Save the Hills raised concerns ranging from the potential impact on wildlife to clearcutting dozens of acres of forest.
Greenskies, a Connecticut company co-founded by former state Sen. Art Linares, a Republican from Westbrook, was acquired in December 2017 by Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Clean Focus Yield Limited.
Greenskies submitted a request to reopen the effort in late January, as well as a new petition outlining details of the project. The Siting Council is scheduled to decide Feb. 27 on whether to reopen Greenskies’ application and hold a public hearing on the plan.
Greenskies’ petition argues that its developers and newly hired engineering consultants VHB of Massachusetts have carefully addressed the issues brought forward by both the town and STR-STH by redesigning the project to lessen the impact on wildlife and the impact of a poor stormwater management design.
The new plan decreases the size of the project from 55,692 solar panels to 45,976. According to Greenskies VP of Marketing Jeff Hintzke, the project would generate 16 megawatts of energy, which can power more than 3,000 homes, helping Connecticut meet its emissions-reduction targets of 45% below 2001 levels by 2030.
“We have been going through what I would say is a very rigorous process,” Hintzke said. “One of the reasons we are petitioning is that we believe we have gone above and beyond what’s required to get approval this time. If we didn’t think we would get approval, we wouldn’t bother.”
Over the next 35 years, the panels would sit on a 152-acre parcel owned by Rosalie Irene Maguire and Todd Carl Willis. The land is located between the Oil Mill and Stony brooks, both of which are “critically important” to maintaining the health and functions of the surrounding watershed area, according to town officials. Both brooks drain into what they’ve described in 2018 letters sent to the Siting Council as “the already impaired Niantic River.”
First Selectman Rob Brule wrote to the Siting Council last week requesting it hold a public hearing on the proposal. The town did not comment on the contents of Greenskies’ application in that letter, but Brule wrote that town officials would if Greenskies’ application were reopened.
In the letter sent to the Council in 2018 advising against the project, Town Planner Abby Piersal wrote, “Maintaining conditions in the tributary watersheds that support the biodiversity and water quality in these streams is a critical concern of the town.”
Protecting those brooks is paramount, said Southbury-based civil engineer Steve Trinkaus, who has worked closely with the STR-STH group to raise awareness statewide about the importance of well-planned stormwater mitigation techniques associated with solar installations.
Trinkaus said he believes Greenskies’ new proposed stormwater plan is still inadequate and “has not materially changed from the original application."
Trinkaus argued that the newly submitted plans “are interchangeable” with those Greenskies submitted to the Siting Council in 2014 when proposing to build a 24-acre solar project in East Lyme, a third of the size of the project proposed in Waterford.
“It’s a disaster waiting to happen,” Trinkaus said, explaining that Greenskies has not adequately planned for the amount of runoff that could be produced by the project and claimed the company is not planning to follow standard erosion-control guidelines.
In a recent letter that STR-STH submitted to the Siting Council, Trinkaus and STR-STH Vice President Deb Moshier-Dunn argue that Greenskies has a particularly “poor track record of creating solar installations that don’t have a substantial adverse environmental effect in the state.” The letter specifically points to the company’s history on its 24-acre East Lyme site, built in 2014 by a Greenskies Renewable subsidiary and which is known as the Antares Solar Field.
That same year, East Lyme resident John Bialowans Jr.'s property, which sits downstream from the Antares Solar Field on Walnut Hill, was heavily damaged by large amounts of stormwater runoff coming from the solar installation, he claims, destroying stream habitats for trout.
“The (new) plans are still grossly underestimating the amount of runoff that will be generated by the panels – just like they did in the East Lyme construction disaster,” wrote Trinkaus and Moshier-Dunn. “STR-STH is very disappointed that the Petitioner has not studied the stormwater failure that occurred in East Lyme at their Antares Solar Farm. Much can be learned from reviewing the damage done there.”
Don Danilla, a STR-STH fisheries biologist and former environmental consultant for Dominion, agreed, saying, “We are not against green power and we’re not against solar energy power. I put solar panels on the roof of my house last year. I just think there has been a big rush to develop these multiple megawatt projects in Connecticut, and its easy for them to find undeveloped land, clear cut forest, take over productive farmlands and put up thousands and thousands of solar panels. And we just don’t think this is the right place for them.”
Danilla, also an East Lyme representative on the Niantic River Watershed Committee, worried how eel grass in the Niantic River, which support scallops and fish, might be affected by increases in stormwater runoff that might come rushing down both Oil Mill and Stony brooks. He noted that additional runoff could bring increased nitrogen levels and other organic matter that could “smother the eel grass.”
“It’s a unique estuary in Connecticut and we want to keep it healthy,” Danilla said. “This is a very large development, very close to the Niantic River. And this thing is going to be here for 35 years.”
“But this is the problem, we have to rely on our state agencies,” he continued. “It takes a lot of things out of local control. We have to hope that DEEP will ensure these guys are doing the right thing.”
According to state statutes, the Siting Council has final jurisdiction over whether the project can proceed. With council approval, Greenskies would not need to obtain any land-use permissions from the town. Though the Siting Council does evaluate stormwater management plans as part of its review process, stormwater management falls exclusively under DEEP’s jurisdiction through a General Permit process, Siting Council Director Melanie Bachman said.
The project developer is required to submit an application for a General Permit to DEEP prior to commencement of construction if the Siting Council approves the project, she said.
Responding to worries brought up by STR-STH, Hintzke, speaking on behalf of Greenskies, said, “We are following all the guidelines and regulations around how DEEP has specified for (stormwater management).” He added that Greenskies has been meeting with DEEP employees and curbing its project to meet updated, stricter stormwater regulations. “We are a local company — almost all of our employees live in Connecticut and typically the employees that work here are environmentally conscious and very much want to support local environmental causes. And that includes everything from stormwater runoff to renewable energy, as well as conserving watersheds. We don’t want to slash and burn and cut down trees for no reason. We are local, and our workers are local, and we want to do the best we can for our local community.”

Feds gift CT $36.4M to upgrade affordable housing
Joe Cooper
The federal government has awarded a $36.4 million grant to help Connecticut public housing agencies make capital improvement to their properties.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on Friday said the funding will help local public housing authorities to build, repair, renovate and modernize numerous housing authority properties throughout Connecticut.
A full list of recipients can be found here.
The grant to Connecticut is part of a total of $2.7 billion HUD’s Capital Fund Program is awarding nationwide.
HUD said local housing authorities typically spend the grant money on large-scale improvements, including roof replacements and energy-efficiency upgrades.

EPA paves way to rid Housatonic of GE’s PCBs
Tacked to trees along the banks of the Housatonic River are signs warning anglers to release – and not eat – any fish they land, the only indication in the idyllic setting of the toxin underfoot.
The bed of the Housatonic is laced with PCBs, a man-made carcinogen, but there is now more hope that people may one day be able to safely consume what they catch.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently announced a deal paving the way for a long-delayed cleanup of a heavily polluted 10.5-mile stretch of the Housatonic in Massachusetts, where the river originates.
“A big step forward was made,” said Betsey Wingfield, deputy commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
The agreement was hammered out among the EPA; General Electric, which will foot the bill; environmental and municipal groups, and the state of Connecticut.
The project would remove PCBs legally dumped by GE at its former transformer plant in Pittsfield, Mass., from 1932 to 1977. PCBs were outlawed in 1979.
While all of the dredging will be done in Massachusetts, most of the river is in Connecticut. PCB levels are lower south of the state line, but an advisory has been in place since 1977 against eating fish from the Housatonic, one of the top trout streams in the Northeast. Connecticut’s interest in this cleanup is in minimizing downstream transport of PCBs into Connecticut,” said Wingfield. “GE’s work will do exactly that. We are very glad the litigation and legal wrangling is ending.”
In 2014, the EPA unveiled a 13-year, $613-million cleanup proposal that had been tied up in the appeals process ever since. The project appeared likely to wind up in federal court until the settlement was reached.
GE had contested a requirement that it ship all of the tainted sediment dredged from the river to out-of-state disposal facilities.
The company, which has already spent more than $500 million on remediation in the Pittsfield area, argued that using a local landfill licensed to handle the waste would be just as safe and save $250 million in transport costs.
Under the compromise, the most toxic material will still go out of state, but soils with lower levels of PCBs will be disposed of at a site not far from the river in Lee, Mass.
In exchange, GE agreed to remove additional material from the river and its flood plain, instead of merely capping it as previously proposed.
“We are cautiously optimistic,” said Allison Dixon, Berkshire outreach manager for the Cornwall-based Housatonic Valley Association. “This seems like a good path forward. It is increasing the amount (of soil) removed and decreasing capping. For Connecticut, that means less likelihood of PCBs being carried downstream.”
Another sticking point had been the responsibility for future cleanups. This was especially relevant for Connecticut, where much of the PCBs are buried in the muck behind dams on the Lower Housatonic.
The state feared the possibility of PCBs getting stirred up during dam maintenance. The original proposal mandated GE foot the bill for any future cleanups. “That continues to be the case,” Wingfield said. “That was very important for us.”
The EPA will hold public hearings in February and March and accept comments on the revised proposal, with the hope that a new permit for the project can be finalized this year. GE has agreed to begin investigation and design work for the project immediately.
Estimating the cost and timeline for the project is difficult at this time until GE’s preliminary work is undertaken.
“The costs associated with disposal are likely to be less than in the 2016 permit and the costs of the cleanup of PCBs is likely to be more than the 2016 permit,” EPA spokesman David Deegan said.
That makes it hard, too, to know when Connecticut will see all of the benefits of the project, such as advising people they can safely eat fish from the Housatonic.
“EPA expects that over time, these advisories will be relaxed to allow for more consumption,” Deegan said.
“That is absolutely our goal,” Wingfield said. “We want people to be able to eat the fish from the river.”

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