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CT Construction Digest Tueday February 4, 2020

Letter: Power plant a win for CT
The Hearst Connecticut Media editorial of Jan. 30 (“Editorial: CT right to reconsider future power needs”) gets it exactly wrong: The Killingly Energy Center will provide reliable, affordable electricity for more than 500,000 New England homes while attracting $500 million in private-sector investment and generating nearly 500 construction and full-time operating jobs. It will also continue Connecticut’s three decades of major progress in reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and smog-producing pollutants by replacing older, less efficient and higher-emitting power plants with state-of-the-art, clean-burning natural gas units. That progress includes a 23 percent drop in Connecticut’s energy-related CO2 emissions since 2005, according to the latest U.S. Energy Information Administration data.
Having approved this important and needed energy facility seven months ago, Connecticut should be moving full speed ahead with the Killingly Energy Center. As the same official now threatening to flip-flop on her not-even-year-old vote of support for the power plant said just five months ago, the Killingly Energy Center will meet a “need for the whole New England region” for increased, affordable, reliable, low-emissions electricity. By providing power that can cycle up instantly when the sun stops shining or the wind stops blowing, the plant will allow Connecticut to accelerate its push into renewables.
The Killingly Energy Center is a big win for Connecticut ratepayers, energy reliability, our economy and our environment — the kind of big win Connecticut would be foolish to forfeit.

Aside From Pushing His Transportation Plan, Lamont Says He Isn’t Considering Big Changes In 2020

BRIDGEPORT, CT – Just days ahead of his second budget proposal and State of the State address, Gov. Ned Lamont signaled Monday that his cards are on the table.
At a pre-school event Monday in Bridgeport, Lamont said that aside from the transportation plan that he announced last year and is still trying to pass, he has no plans to increase spending, decrease taxes, or to announce any other sweeping new policies in 2020.
Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, who was also at the event, said the administration is planning to celebrate the victories they had last year – like the increase in the minimum wage, gun-safety measures, eliminating tuition at the University of Connecticut for in-state families making less than $50,000 a year, and making child care more affordable.
Lamont joined other state and local officials to celebrate the allocation of an additional $14 million in federal funding to help 300 parents keep their childcare subsidies despite earning a little more at work.
“We’re doing everything we can to make this state more affordable for the middle class,” Lamont said.
It’s a message he will help drive home Wednesday when he addresses the General Assembly during his second state-of-state speech.
Meanwhile, the property tax relief he promised on the campaign trail in 2018 was not something he mentioned Monday.
On the campaign trail in 2018, Lamont said he wanted to increase the property tax credit for middle class homeowners to $300. The credit is currently $200 for individuals over the age of 65 or families with dependents. Individuals without kids who own a home currently don’t qualify for the credit.
Under Lamont’s campaign proposal, individuals with incomes up to $138,500 and married couples earning up to $160,500 would be able to qualify for the credit, which would increase the revenue loss to the state by $165 million a year.
The revenue loss to the state would increase to $400 million in the third and fourth year of the proposal, but it would give some taxpayers who pay more than 6.5% of their income taxes in property taxes up to a $1,200 tax credit.
For every dollar of property tax relief that goes out the door, the state needs to replace it by spending less or taxing more in another area.
On Monday, state Comptroller Kevin Lembo predicted that the state would end the year with a $58.8-million budget deficit.
Lamont said while the deficit prediction was true, the budget also is showing a “$300 million surplus.” But all of that money has to go to the Rainy Day Fund under the volatility cap adopted in 2017.
Lamont said they are going to erase the deficit “without raising any tax rates.”
Lamont said there’s a very strict spending cap in place and there are rules about what he can do and what he can’t do when it comes to the budget.
One way around the spending cap in the past has been to instead borrow the money the state needs for various things through the Bond Commission. Lamont has said he’s not interested in doing that. He said he’s agreed to put $1.7 billion on the state’s credit card in 2020, but he needs the legislature to approve his truck-only tolling plan first.
Meanwhile, he said he would be going to Washington at the end of the week to lobby on Connecticut’s behalf so that the state can get more money back from the federal government.

Lamont: Focus on upgrading existing train stops, not building Bridgeport’s long-sought second station
Brian Lockhart
BRIDGEPORT — Although Gov. Ned Lamont did not use the word “dead,” he made it clear Monday that the city’s long-sought-after second train station will not be built anytime soon.
“We’re going to do something, certainly, with the rail station in Bridgeport,” Lamont said when asked by the Connecticut Post while visiting a local nonprofit about the chances of the state funding the $300 million East Side station.
Lamont then clarified he was referring to the downtown train station on Water Street.
“Right now our plan is to look at existing stations,” he said, adding later: “I want to make sure existing stations are up to speed, state of the art.”
State Rep. Christopher Rosario, one of the East Side stop’s most vocal proponents, said in an interview afterward he was very frustrated to hear about Lamont’s comments, particularly because the state already spent money to design the new rail destination.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced $2.75 million for the design in 2014 during a successful re-election campaign that relied on strong Democratic turnout in big cities like Bridgeport.
“To just, literally, cease any plans or act like it doesn’t exist is very disappointing,” Rosario said, pledging, “I’m going to continue to push and fight for it however long I’m there (in the legislature).”
But it has been clear for some time now that the East Side station was in trouble.
First sought in the mid-2010s by then-Mayor Bill Finch and some business leaders, the project when Malloy got behind it cost $75 million and was supposed to open in 2018. Supporters argued it would provide an economic boost to the East Side neighborhood, while critics complained Connecticut had greater needs, like investing in existing public transportation infrastructure.
And from the start the second station had not been a priority of the state Department of Transportation, which, as emails obtained at the time by the Connecticut Post showed, was caught off guard by Malloy’s 2014 announcement.
In an interview in early 2018, DOT spokesman Judd Everhart admitted the second train stop was “essentially on hold while questions are being debated regarding the long-term solvency and sustainability of the (state’s) Special Transportation Fund.”
Then last January the DOT issued a memorandum that officially confirmed “the CTDOT has since determined that it is not in a financial position to undertake the proposed project” and had tabled it.
But when Lamont needed Bridgeport lawmakers’ support last year for his first ultimately failed highway tolling proposal, the East Side station was back on the table. Then the station was dropped from the scaled back tolling plan Lamont presented last fall.
Lamont acknowledged during Monday’s stop in Bridgeport that the need to scale back his tolling pitches to try to win legislative votes also meant changing the priorities of how to invest the reduced revenues.
“We had a much bigger plan under our original transportation proposal,” he said.
Still, the second Bridgeport station remains a local priority. It was included in the new 10-year municipal master plan drafted and passed last year by Mayor Joe Ganim’s administration.
Ganim, who lost the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial primary to Lamont, met with the governor Monday but was not present when Lamont made his comments about the East Side station. Ganim afterward admitted the project has been on “a little bit of a downward spiral” over the last few years despite the best efforts of his administration and Bridgeport legislators.
“I don’t think there’s ever been real clarity on consensus beyond us in Bridgeport,” he said.
But, Ganim said, he and Lamont had “good conversations” about the making the downtown facility a “state of the art” transportation hub.
“There’s a real opportunity there to see something really positive happen while we mull through what will be, could be or might be in the future for the East Side station,” Ganim said.
City Council President Aidee Nieves, who represents the East Side neighborhood where the station would be built, called Lamont’s comments “disheartening” and said they undermined his 2018 campaign pledge to help Connecticut’s urban centers. And Bridgeport, despite Lamont’s sometimes bitter primary battle with Ganim, ultimately was crucial in electing Lamont governor.
“When will Bridgeport finally be at the table when it comes to urban transportation development?” Nieves said in an interview.
State Rep. Steven Stafstrom, who lives in the Black Rock section  of town, has been supportive of the second station. But Stafstrom also acknowledged Monday that the city’s downtown station and the Fairfield Metro stop just over the border that his constituents use need major improvements.
“For the state’s largest city only to have one rail station and that one rail station ... looks like it was built in the 1950s and no one has paid much mind to it since is an absolute travesty,” Stafstrom said. “The other piece to this conversation we need to have is we’ve underfunded Greater Bridgeport Transit (the bus system) for far too long as well.”
“I don’t know if the current tolls proposal will solve all those problems,” Stafstrom continued. “But we need to begin by shoring up the Special Transportation Fund.”
Joe Cooper
A Westbrook developer has sued the town of Rocky Hill citing an “illegal” denial of its proposal to build a $10-million hotel and restaurant on Silas Deane Highway.
Developer Ron Lyman, of Sam Center LLC/REL Inc., filed the lawsuit in November just weeks after the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously denied his application for a special permit and site plan approval to allow construction of a four-story, 126-room hotel and 5,660-square-foot restaurant on the east side of Silas Deane Highway adjacent to the Interstate 91 northbound on-ramp at interchange 24.
Months earlier, Lyman, who has owned the property for two decades and has proposed several unsuccessful developments there over that time, scored commitments from Woodsprings Suites Hotel and LongHorn Steakhouse restaurant to occupy the two proposed buildings on 12.91 acres.
Lyman also received a wetland permit from the town's Open Space and Conservation Commission to conduct regulated activities related to development and enhancements on the commercially zoned site.
But residents last year came out against it. A number of residents delivering public comments at zoning commission meetings argued the proposed extended-stay hotel would bring more crime and disruption to the area. Others said the project would negatively impact nearby hotels, reduce property values in the area and discourage the use of nearby buildings, further decreasing their value, among other concerns.
However, Lyman’s complaint and appeal of the zoning commission decision argues that “there is no legal support for any of the reasons for denial cited by the commission… .”
It also states there is significant distance between the proposed hotel and homes on Sutton Road, which would be buffered with landscaping and fencing and by major changes in elevation.
“The alleged impact on property values from the nature of a hotel use is illogical and unsupported as the existing, abutting, motel, use is longstanding and clearly any impact of that use would already be absorbed by the neighborhood,” the complaint continued.
The town’s zoning board is scheduled to discuss the matter in executive session, meaning a closed-door meeting, at a special meeting Wednesday night.
Appeals success
It remains to be seen whether a judge will overturn Rocky Hill’s denial, but the appeal process has been favorable to other area developers blocked by municipal planning boards.
The Mass.-based developer-landlord of a proposed $32-million affordable-housing project in Newington -- which was denied in 2018 by zoning officials over safety concerns -- is moving forward with the development this summer after a judge overturned the town’s decision.
Dakota filed a lawsuit against the town arguing the rejection was illegal.
Last 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.

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