November 28, 2014

Chester Committee Drops Plan for Main Street North Side Sidewalk as Town is Awarded $1 Million Grant for Library Project

CHESTER— In an abrupt change of plans, the Main Street Project Committee voted Tuesday to drop plans for a continuous north side sidewalk as part of the Main Street East reconstruction project. The decision came as town officials learned Monday that Chester has been awarded a $1 million state grant for construction of a new library at North Quarter Park, the 22-acre town park that would have been served by the proposed north side sidewalk.

The Main Street Project Committee, working with engineers Kent & Frost Associates of Mystic, last March recommended the continuous north side sidewalk as part of the Main Street East plan to reconstruct 1,800 feet of Main Street from the intersection with Middlesex Avenue (Route 154) west to the vicinity of the Laurel Hill Cemetery. The plan drew a mixed response at an April 22 public information meeting, with some residents objecting to removal of two mature maple trees along the section of street, while others agreed a sidewalk was necessary, particularly if the town pursues construction of a new library at North Quarter Park.

The plan also drew strong objections from Jeff and Comer Gates, property owners at 137 Main Street, who contended the sidewalk would be too close to the front of their house. The board of selectmen later endorsed the plan with the north side sidewalk, and directed engineers to prepare design plans that included it. Officials were hoping to put the project out to bid this winter.

But earlier this fall, selectmen learned the total cost of the project would be about $1..3 million, exceeding the approximately $1,154,000 in available funding that included  $780,000 in state Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grants, and $374,000 in set aside town capital funds. Engineers were reviewing the plans for possible cost savings as the board of selectmen last week scheduled a Dec. 9 town meeting to vote on authorizing a release of the $374,000 in set aside town funds for the project. The Gates’s continued to oppose the plan, posting a large sign on the front of their property calling for removal of the continuous north side sidewalk to save money.The board of finance at a Nov. 20 meeting expressed concerns about the approximate $150,000 funding gap, and tabled a any decision on authorizing release of the town funds.

As the Main Street Project Committee convened Tuesday evening, Chairman Michael Joplin announced that he would recommend scaling back the project to include only the area from the intersection with School Lane west to the parking area at the entrance to Laurel Hill Cemetery, deferring any work east of School Lane including a continuous north side sidewalk. Joplin said the reluctance of the finance board top approve release of the town funding indicated the plan could face opposition, and possible rejection, by voters at the Dec. 9 town meeting. He said a town meeting defeat could jeopardize the state grant funding that is needed for the project.

Other committee members, and First Selectman Edmund Meehan, reluctantly agreed. Meehan said the plans for a continuous north side sidewalk could be “pulled off the shelf,” and revisited when the town is closer to completing final plans for a new library at North Quarter Park. The committee later voted to direct project engineers to revise the plans to focus on the segment west of School Lane, along with some limited, and possibly temporary, improvements to roadway from School Lane east to Route 154.

Meehan said Wednesday the board of selectmen would discuss the Main Street East Project, and the proposed new library, further at its Dec. 2 meeting. The selectmen over the summer appointed a library building committee that has hired a Pawtucket, R.I. firm, Lerner, Lads & Bartells, to prepare preliminary plans for a new 5,600-square-foot library on the front section of North Quarter Park.

Meehan said the terms of the $1 million grant require the town to approve full funding for a library project within three years. He said the grant is only expected to cover about a quarter of the total cost for a new library, with an authorization of town bonding funds and private fundraising expected to be needed for the plan for a new library to move forward.

Essex Conservation Commission Considers Lethal Trapping of Beavers at Town Park

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ESSEX— The conservation commission will discuss possible lethal trapping of beavers in a pond at Viney Brook Park at its next regular meeting on Dec. 4. The meeting is set for 7:30. PM at town hall.

The appointed commission, which supervises town open space land, had already voted unanimously at a Nov. 6 meeting to pursue the trapping with a state licensed trapper that had worked with the commission previously. But word of the plan to allow lethal trapping of the beavers has drawn objections from some residents, including several residents who expressed their opposition at the Nov. 19 meeting of the board of selectmen.

First Selectman Norman Needleman said the commission has decided to receive public comment on the plan at the Dec. 4 meeting, and then vote again on whether to authorize the trapping. The panel is concerned that a beaver lodge in one of the ponds in the 90-acre park is leading to damage to trees and a trail. The commission had previously authorized lethal trapping of beavers at the park in March 2011, a decision that also generated objections from some residents.

Chester Main Street Bridge Reconstruction Expected to Begin 2016

CHESTER— State Department of Transportation officials reported Monday that a $3 million reconstruction of the Main Street bridge over Pattaconk Brook is expected to begin in early 2016, with the bridge in the downtown village expected to be closed to vehicular traffic from mid-January to mid-May 2016. About 30 residents turned out at the Chester Meeting House Monday for a public information meeting on a project that is entirely funded by the state.

Project managers Andrew Fesenmeyer and David Stahnke presented the latest plans for replacement of the 1921 bridge that carries up to 3,600 vehicles per day. Town officials and residents were supportive of the project, which is expected to set the stage for completion of the final phase of a town sponsored Main Street improvement project that would begin after the new bridge is completed.

But DOT officials cautioned that any delays in securing permits for the project could delay a start of construction to 2017. Fesenmeyer said the project requires permits from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He said the permits must be approved by May to allow the project to be put out to bid for a start of construction late next year that would precede the five month bridge closing in 2016. First Selectman Edmund Meehan, along with several residents, said they want to be notified as soon as possible if the bridge closing is to be delayed until January 2017.

DOT has already accepted a construction schedule requested by the town that would limit any closing of the road and bridge to the winter and spring months to reduce disruption for Main Street businesses and annual events. Under the planned schedule, the bridge and road would reopen no later than May 22, 2016. The plan calls for work to be done between 7 a.m. to 6 p.m,. six days per week, with no night work.

The new bridge would be slightly longer and wider than the existing bridge, with a concrete deck and a roadway width of 37-feet. Plans call for preserving the existing stone abutments while reinforcing the abutments with concrete. There would also be improvements to a small section of Main Street and West Main Street (Route 148) in the vicinity of the bridge, including new sidewalk, granite curbing, a new crosswalk, added street trees, and an improved and wider turning radius from Route 148 on to Main Street.

Dec. 15 Referendum Set for Proposed $8.085 Million Bonding Authorization for Essex Capital Projects

ESSEX– Voters will go to the polls for an all-day referendum on Dec. 15 to act on a proposed $8,085,000 bonding authorization for town capital projects. The board of selectmen approved the bonding resolution question Wednesday after a public hearing where the plan drew general support from residents.

About 60 residents turned out for the public hearing on the capital projects plan that was developed over the past year by a three-member Capital Projects Building Committee led by Selectman Bruce Glowac. While there were several questions, no one spoke in direct opposition to any of the proposed building projects or the proposed $8 million bonding total. The cost estimates for each project were developed by CME Associates Inc. a Woodstock engineering fire retained by the town.
The bonding authorizations would be presented as five separate ballot questions for bridge projects, Essex Elementary School projects, town hall projects, public works garage projects, and a $600,000 authorization to purchase a new pumper fire truck for the volunteer fire department.

The largest projects, which had already been identified as priorities when the committee began its work, include replacement of the Walnut Street and Ivory Street bridges in the Ivoryton section for an estimated cost of  $2,845,000, and replacement of the elementary school roof for an estimated cost of $1.4 million. Four additional projects, including $600,000 for air conditioning the school building, would bring the total estimated cost for elementary school projects to $2,815,000. The Walnut Street bridge replacement and the elementary school roof would be eligible for federal or state grant funding reimbursement of $2,055,000.  The funding reimbursement would reduce the total cost borne by town taxpayers to $6,030,000, though the bonding authorizations must be for the total project cost amounts.

The six improvement projects at town hall have an estimated cost of $1.3 million, including $500,000 to renovate land use offices, $200,000 for roof replacement, and $200,000 for air conditioning the building that was first constructed as a high school in the 1890s. Four projects at the town public works garage have an estimated cost of $525,000 including $109,000 for roof replacement and $264,000 for a two bay addition that would provide space for equipment storage.

Glowac acknowledged the proposed $8 million in bonding is ” a big number,” but maintained all of the projects are “real needs as opposed to wants,” that would address town and elementary school capital improvement issues for the next 20 years, which would also be the term of the bonds. He said all of the cost estimates represent  “worst case” projections with the actual amount to be bonded likely to be less than the requested authorizations. First Selectmen Norman Needleman said selectmen and the finance board may decide to pay for some of the smaller projects with transfers from the town’s $2.9 million undesignated fund balance, without the need for bonding.

Finance Director Kelly Sterner said the town expects to use bond anticipation notes, which have a one-year maturity, for some of the initial projects, such as the bridges. Most of the bonds would be issued in late 2016 or early 2017. The highest year for debt service is expected to be 2017-2018, when debt payments would add about 0.49 mills to the property tax rate that is currently set at 21.99 mills, or $21.99 in tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value.

Sterner said the 0.49 mills in 2017-2018 would represent about $147 in additional tax for a property assessed at $300,000. Debt service costs would begin dropping in 2020-2021, falling more steeply around 2027 leading to a final pay off in the 2036-2037 fiscal year.

The bonding resolutions will be presented for further discussion, but not amendment from the floor, at a Dec. 3 town meeting that begins at 7 p.m. in the auditorium at town hall. The Dec. 15 referendum would be conducted from 6 a.m.  to 8 p.m.

Chester Main Street East Project has Nov. 25 Public Information Meeting, Dec. 9 Town Meeting Vote on Funding

CHESTER— Final plans for the Main Street East reconstruction project will be presented at a Nov. 25 public information meeting, with a Dec.9 town meeting scheduled to authorize use of $375,000 in town capital expenditure program funds for the project.

First Selectman Edmund Meehan reported at Tuesday’s meeting of the board of selectmen that nearly complete design plans for the project will be presented at the public information meeting that is set for 7 p.m. on Nov. 25  in the community room at town hall. The project calls for reconstructing 1,800 linear feet of Main Street from the intersection with Route 154 east to the vicinity of the Laurel Hill Cemetery. Plans also call for new sidewalks, including a new continuous sidewalk on the north side of the street.

The plan for a continuous north side sidewalk drew objections from two abutting property owners and some residents at an April public information meeting, but project engineers are working with the two property owners to reach agreement on the exact design for the north side sidewalk.

The project, the first phase of a long-range plan for a full reconstruction of Main Street through the downtown business district, is projected to cost about $1.5 million, an amount that is about $160,000 over the available funding. The town has $980,000 in state Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grants for the project, along with $375,000 in town capital expenditure program funds that have been set aside in recent years.

Meehan said project engineers are currently working to scale back some elements of the project and develop bid alternates that would keep the total cost of the project within the $1.35 million in available funding. Officials are hoping to put the project out to bid early next year for a start of construction in the spring.

Release of the capital expenditures program funds requires approval from voters at a town meeting. Selectmen Tuesday scheduled a Dec. 9 town meeting to vote on the Main Street East project funding authorization, along with action on appropriations of $10,000 for new police mobile radios, and $6,055 as the town funding match to a state grant for security improvements at Chester Elementary School that include 10 new cameras and a gate that would limit access to one side of the school. building that is considered too accessible to intruders.

State Police Investigate Bomb Threat at Valley Regional High School

DEEP RIVER— State police are investigating a bomb threat that was called in Monday to Valley Regional High School. The telephone threat was received around 12:45 p.m., with students and staff evacuated as police with bomb-detecting dogs searched the building. Students were transported to the nearby John Winthrop Middle School.

By 1:15 p.m. students and staff were allowed to return to the building after no explosives were detected. Minutes later, around 1:30 p.m. there was a bomb threat made to East Hampton High School that also prompted an evacuation and police search of the school building. Both incidents remain under investigation by police.

Essex Annual Town Meeting Monday to Act on Board and Commission Appointments

ESSEX— Voters at the annual town meeting Monday will act on 20 board and commission appointments and two additional appropriations, along with acceptance of the annual town report for the 2013-2014 fiscal year. The meeting begins at 7 p,m., in the auditorium at town hall.

All of the appointments subject to town meeting confirmation Monday are incumbent members currently serving on the respective panels, with most of the appointments for three year terms. Voters will be asked to confirm  seven appointments to town land use commissions, including Alvin Wolfgram and William Reichenbach for the zoning commission, with Adrienne Forest as commission alternate, Thomas Danyliw for the planning commission, Fred Szufnarowski for the inland-wetlands commission, and William Veillette for zoning board of appeals, with Barbara Sarrantonio and Peter Decker as ZBA alternates

Voters will be asked to confirm appointment of Douglas Senn Robert Russo, and Anthony Mosa for the parks and recreation commission, and Walter Weigert for the harbor management commission, with Terry Stewart as harbor management commission alternate. Voters will be asked to confirm the appointment of David Winstead, Robert Laundy, and Edward Cook for the economic development commission, with Susan Malan and Mark Reeves for the water pollution control authority, with Alvin Wolfgram as WPCA alternate.

Voters will be asked to approve two supplemental appropriations for the 2013-2014 fiscal year that ended on June 30, including $21,431 for the town clerk’s office, and $68,653 for the highway department. The highway department overrun is for snow removal expenses last winter. Voters will also be asked to accept the annual town report for the 2013-2014 fiscal year.

State Dept. of Transportation Public Information Meeting on Chester Main Steet Bridge Replacement Project

CHESTER— The state department of Transportation will hold a public information meeting Monday on the latest plans for the replacement of the Main Street Bridge The session begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Chester Meeting House on Liberty Street.

DOT is planning to replace the Main Street bridge over Pattaconk Brook, with the latest information indicating that construction would begin in the spring of 2016.  DOT staff will be at the meeting to present the latest plans and construction schedule for the bridge project, with interested residents, business owners, and commuters invited to the session to learn about the project.

The town is planning a separate Main Street project for next year, reconstruction of the street from the intersection with Route 154 east to the vicinity of the Laurel Hill Cemetery  Plans for additional reconstruction of Main Street through the downtown business district are expected to be done after the state completes the Main Street Bridge project.

Essex Selectmen Set Nov. 19 Public Hearing on Proposed $8 Million Bonding for Capital Projects

ESSEX— The board of selectmen has scheduled a Nov. 19 public hearing on a plan for $8 million in bonding to fund capital improvement projects for town and school buildings, along with replacement of two bridges in the Ivoryton section. The hearing, which begins at 7 p.m., in the auditorium at town hall, will be followed by a regular meeting where the board may set the dates for a town meeting and subsequent December referendum to vote on the proposed bonding authorization.

The bonding plan was developed over the past year by a capital projects committee chaired by Selectman Bruce Glowac. The board of selectmen gave tentative approval for up to $8,085,000 in bonding last month, with the board of finance also voting preliminary approval after a presentation at an Oct. 16 meeting.

Plans discussed by the board at a Nov. 5 meeting call for the bonding resolution to be presented as five questions, with funding totals that are based on the latest cost estimates provided by engineers. The questions/authorizations include $2,845,000 for replacement of the Walnut and Ivory street bridges in Ivoryton, $2,815,000 for improvements at Essex Elementary School, including roof replacement, $1.3 million for improvements at town hall, $525,000 for improvements at the town public works garage, and $600,000 for a new fire truck.

First Selectman Norman Needleman said selectmen and the finance board could decided not to bond some projects on the list, particularly projects at town hall and the public works garage, even if an $8 million bonding authorization is approved by voters. Needleman said some smaller projects could be funded with surplus or set aside funds without the need for bonding.

Needleman said the bonding plan is still subject to change based on input received from residents at the Nov. 19 hearing.  Selectmen have agreed the top priorities of the capital projects are the two bridge replacement projects, which must be done in 2015, and the roof replacement for the elementary school. The bridge projects and most of the elementary school improvements would be eligible for federal/state funding reimbursement of about $2 million.

Selectmen are considering holding the town meeting on the bonding resolution, which would be for discussion only, on Dec. 3, with a tentative Dec. 15 date for a referendum vote on the bonding authorizations.

Ivoryton Village Project Draws Support and Some Questions at Public Hearing

ESSEX— A grant-funded improvement project for Main Street in Ivoryton village drew support and some questions from residents at a public hearing Wednesday. About 30 residents turned out to learn details and discuss the project that is funded by a $435,000 state Main Streets Investment Fund grant that was awarded in the summer of 2013.

The plan prepared by Anchor Engineering Services of Glastonbury drew general support, but several residents questioned the inclusion of two raised crosswalks that would be located on the east end of the village, near the intersection with North Main St. (Route 80), and to the west near the intersection of Main and Summit streets.

Project engineer Kevin Brendel said the raised crosswalks would be more accessible for the handicapped and would further a project goal of slowing traffic through the village area. But one resident contended the raised crosswalks would be “gridlock waiting to happen,” particularly when buses are dropping off patrons for the Ivoryton Playhouse. There were also questions about whether the raised crosswalks would hamper winter snow removal.

Selectwoman Stacia Libby, who is chairing a volunteer committee coordinating the project, said public works employees and the town engineer would be consulted to ensure the crosswalks would not interfere with snow removal. Jacqueline Hubbard, executive director of the playhouse, said buses do not discharge passengers on Main Street where the crosswalk would be located, but rather from Summit Street or the private parking lot on the south side of Main Street. But First Selectman Norman Needleman said he is not completely sold on the idea of raised crosswalks as part of the project.

Other elements of the project drew general support, including plans to remove a paved island at the intersection of Main and Summit streets to create a T shaped intersection, new lighting at the back section of the Ivoryton Park, new curbing, and about 400 feet of new sidewalk in front of the playhouse property and around the park,

Libby said the committee and project engineer would consider input received at the hearing and review the plans with a goal of putting the project out do bid in the early spring for a start of construction in May 2015.

Republican Art Linares Takes 57 Percent of Vote in Reelection Win Over Democrat Emily Bjornberg

AREAWIDE– Republican State Sen. Art Linares took 57 percent of the vote to win a second term Tuesday over Democrat Emily Bjornberg in the 12 town 33rd Senate District.Linares had 22,746 votes to 16,482, or 42 percent, for Bjornberg.2 The 6,264 vote margin is more than double the incumbent’s 2,562 vote victory over Democrat Jim Crawford in winning his first election in 2010.

Green Party nominee Colin Bennett had 484 votes, one of his lowest totals in four previous runs for the state senate seat. But the one percent of the total vote preserves the Green Party ballot line in the district for the 2016 election. Linares carried ten towns, with Bjornberg winning only in Chester and her hometown of Lyme.

Unofficial results gathered from town clerks are:

CHESTER— Bjornberg 798-Linares 724
CLINTON– LInares 2,693 Bjornberg 2,328
COLCHESTER– Linares 3,172 Bjornberg 2,312
DEEP RIVER– Linares 990 Bjornberg 915
EAST HADDAM– Linares 2,078 Bjornberg 1,455
EAST HAMPTON– Linares 3,153 Bjornberg 1,939
ESSEX– Linares 1,647 Bjornberg 1,504
HADDAM– Linares 1,946 Bjornberg 1,260
LYME– Bjornberg 636 Linares 539
PORTLAND–Linares 2,198 Bjornberg 1,680
OLD SAYBROOK—Linares 1,508 Bjornberg 1,184
WESTBROOK– Linares 1,687 Bjornberg 1.035

Foley Takes Essex While Malloy Carries Chester and Deep River in Governor Race

AREAWIDE– Republican Tom Foley carried Essex in his unsuccessful run for governor, while Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy carried Chester and Deep River on his way to re-election for a second term

In Essex, the Foley-Sommers ticket led 1,600-1,576.  Malloy carried Deep River 1,003-917, and Chester 907-693. Petition candidate Joe Viosconti, who ran with Haddam Neck resident Chester Harris for lt. governor before withdrawing Sunday, had 30 votes in Essex, 21 in Deep River, and 22 in Chester.

Democratic incumbents carried the three towns in most other state races. Democratic Secretary of the State Denise Merrill led Republican Peter Lumaj 1,588-1,471 in Essex, 994-817 in Deep River, and 919-588 in Chester. Green Party nominee Michael DeRosa had 52 votes in Essex, 61 votes in deep ruiver, and 53 votes in Chester. Democratic Attornmey general George Jepson carried the towns over Republican Kie Westby,1,747-1,300 in Essex, 1,079-726 in Deep River, and 1,010-503 in Chester. Democratic Comptroller Kevin Lembo led Republican Sharon McClaughlin 1,582-1,438 in Essex, 968-821 in Deep River, and 902-594 in Chester.

But in the extremely close race for state treasurer,Republican Tim Herbst carried Essex over incumbent Democratic Treasurer Denise Nappier 1,636-1,470. But Nappier took Deep River 946-916 and Chester 878-691.

Democratic State Rep. Phil Miller Wins New Term in 36th House District

State Representative Phil Miller

State Representative Phil Miller

AREAWIDE— Democratic State Rep. Phil Miller of Essex has been re-elected for a new term in the 36th House District, defeating Republican challenger Robert Siegrist of Haddam on a 5,522-4,701 vote. Miller carried the district towns of Chester, Deep River and Essex, while losing Haddam to Siegrist.

The vote in Chester was Miller-971, Siegrist-625. In Deep River it was Miller,1065, Siegrist 816. For Essex, the vote was Miller-1,865, Siegrist-1,295. Siegrist carried Haddam with 1,965 votes to 1,621 votes for Miller.
Miller, who served as first selectman of Essex from 2012-2011, was elected in a  Feb. 2011 special election, and re-elected for a full term in 2012. Siegrist, a 31 year-old former bartender making his first run for public office, ran the strongest race of the previous opponents to Miller, losing to the incumbent by 821 votes.

Republican State Senator Art Linares Elected for Second Term in 33rd District

State Senator Art Linares

State Senator Art Linares

AREAWIDE— Republican State Senator Art Linares of Westbrook was re-elected to a second term Tuesday, defeating Democratic challenger Emily Bjornberg of Lyme by a decisive margin and carrying 10 of the 12 district towns.

Unofficial results showed Linares with 22,170 votes to 16,922 votes for Bjornberg. Green Party nominee Colin Bennett of Westbrook garnered about 150 votes. Bjornberg carried her hometown of Lyme, 636-539, and Chester, 829-708. But Linares carried the other ten towns by decisive margins, with the closest result in Deep River, Linares, 975, Bjornberg 897.  The result in Essex was Linares 1,647 to Bjornberg 1,504. Linares also carried the district towns of Clinton, Colchester, East Haddam, East Hampton, Haddam, Portland, Westbrook, and Old Saybrook.
Bjornberg received the results while gathered with family members and supporters at the Democratic headquarters in Deep River. Bjornberg said she called Linares to concede when the result became clear around 9:20 p.m. “It was a good race but it was a tough year for Democrats in eastern Connecticut,” she said.
Linares appeared around 9:50 p.m. before a crowd of about 100 cheering supporters gathered in the ballroom at the Water’s Edge Resort in Westbrook., declaring that his victory, along with wins in state House races by Republicans Devin Carney in the 23rd District and Jesse McCLachlin in the 35th district represented ” a new generation of leadership.”
Linares also alluded to the sometimes harsh contest with Bjornberg. “We were attacked over and over again but the decent people of this district knew better,” he said. Linares, 26, also praised his 24-year-old brother Ryan Linares, who served as campaign manager. “He was the only campaign manager who actually lived with the candidate,” Linares said.

Republican Senator Art Linares and Democratic Challenger Emily Bjornberg in Hotly Contested 33rd District Race

AREAWIDE— Republican State Senator Art Linares’s bid for a second term is facing an aggressive challenge from Democrat Emily Bjornberg in of Lyme in a contest that also includes Green Party nominee Colin Bennett.

The race, which included three well-attended debates, has attracted statewide attention as Democrats make a determined effort to reclaim the seat that was held for two decades by former Democratic State Sen. Eileen Daily of Westbrook before Linares won it after a three candidate contest in 2012. This week U.S. Senator Chris Murphy and Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman campaigned for Bjornberg at separate appearances in Portland and Clinton. The district includes the towns of Chester, Clinton, Colchester, Deep River, East Haddam, East Hampton, Essex, Haddam, Lyme, Portland, Westbrook and portions of Old Saybrook.

State Senator Art Linares

State Senator Art Linares

Linares, of Westbrook, was elected in 2012 on a 23,813 to 21,251 vote, over Democrat Jim Crawford, a one term state representative from Westbrook, in a race where Green Party nominee Melissa Schlag received over 4,000 votes. This year, Linares also has the Connecticut Independent Party ballot line while Bjornberg also holds the ballot line for the Working Families Party.

Linares, who turned 26 Friday, and Bjornberg, 33, have campaigned heavily since last spring, making thousands of door-to-door visits throughout the 12 district towns. Both major party nominees have received the $94,850 grant available for state senate candidates under the state’s Citizens Election Program, using the funds to pay for several voters mailings and television ads on the cable channels.

Green Party nominee Colin Bennett

Green Party nominee Colin Bennett

Bennett, 34, of Westbrook, is spending little money on his campaign, but has raised some signs and participated in each of the debates. Bennett, who currently works as a substitute teacher in Region 4 schools, was the Green Party nominee for the seat in 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2010, garnering as many as 1,682 votes in 2008.

Linares, who co-founded the Middletown-based Greenskies solar power company in 2008, said he has focused his campaign on economic issues. He contends tighter controls on government spending and easing of some business regulations would help add jobs and boost the economic recovery in Connecticut. While predicting a possible state budget deficit would approach $2 billion next year, Linares pledges to oppose any new or increased taxes and calls for reductions in taxes on gasoline, hospitals, and retirement income.

Democratic State Senate Candidate Emily Bjornberg

Democratic State Senate Candidate Emily Bjornberg

Bjornberg, a mother of two young children who works part-time with the youth and families ministry at Deep River Congregational Church, has also talked about helping small businesses and pledges to oppose any tax increases that would impact middle and working class families. But the first time candidate whose family owns the Reynolds Subaru dealership in Lyme has also sharply criticized the incumbent’s record over the past two years and questioned several aspects of his business, including purchasing solar panels from China rather than from companies in the United States.

Bjornberg has also brought social issues in to the fray, contending an endorsement from the Connecticut Family Institute shows Linares is an ultra-conservative who would seek to overturn state laws on same sex marriage and abortion rights. “People have a very clear choice in this election,” she said, promising to be a voice in the Democratic majority caucus for children, the environment, and small towns.

Linares said he “has no social agenda,” and is personally opposed to abortion while supporting same sex marriage rights. Linares said he would make no effort to change state law on the social issues, and suggests Bjornberg is highlighting these issues “just to scare people.” He said Bjornberg has “offered no solutions or new ideas,” while criticizing his two-year record and a business that he claims has created 300 jobs in the state.

Bennett has called for increased investments in clean energy, raising taxes on the state’s wealthiest citizens, and legalization or marijuana. While Bjornberg confirmed that she has asked Bennett to withdraw to avoid splitting progressive votes on Tuesday, Bennett said he is remaining in the race to provide another choice for “people who have lost faith in government.”

The candidates show both common ground and some differences on two issues that affect motorists, the option of restoring tolls on state highways and allowing use of red light cameras. Linares and Bennett expressed strong opposition to allowing red light cameras, while Bjornberg said she would want to see a specific proposal, including “where cameras would be placed and why and what safeguards would be in place for due process.”

On tolls, Bjornberg is opposed while Linares said he could be open to the option if it did not include new toll booths at multiple locations. “I would like to see the proposition in detail and what the new technologies are,” he said. Bennett acknowledged he is undecided on the issue of tolls.

Deep River Awarded $4.2 Million State Grant for Expansion and Renovation of Kirtland Commons Elderly Housing Complex

DEEP RIVER— The town has been awarded a $4.2 million state Department of Housing grant for an 18-unit expansion and renovations at the Kirtland Commons elderly housing complex. The grant was announced last week under the department’s Competitive Housing Assistance for Multi-family Properties program.

Joanne Hourigan, executive director for Kirtland Commons, said the award comes after more than three years of efforts to obtain grant funding for improvements at the 21-year-old complex on the northern end of Main Street (Route 154). “We’re beyond happy about finally getting a grant,” she said.

The plans call for adding 18 units to the existing 26-unit complex that opened in the spring of 1993. The new units would be added to the north on each of the three floors of the building.  The grant will also pay for other needed improvements, including new windows, doors and locks, along with a new entrance area and upgrades to the building’s heating system.

Hourigan said the long effort to obtain funding has resulted in design plans for the project that are nearly ready to be put out to bid. Hourigan said the “project team” includes consultant Dale Kroop of Hamden and architect Chris Widmer of Guilford. She said construction for the renovations and expansion should begin in 2015.

36th House District Contest Pits Two-Term Democratic Incumbent Against Republican Newcomer

State Representative Phil Miller

State Representative Phil Miller

AREAWIDE— The election contest in the four-town 36th House District pits a two-term Democratic incumbent with previous experience as a first selectman against a Republican newcomer whose most recent full-time job was as a bartender. The district includes the towns of Chester, Deep River, Essex, and Haddam.

Democratic State Rep. Phil Miller, 56, of Essex, is seeking a second full term in a seat he first won in a Feb. 2011 special election. After serving a nearly full term that included votes for the tax and budget plan presented by Democratic Governor Danel Malloy, Miller was re-elected in 2012, defeating Republican Vince Pacileo of Essex on a 7.105-5,352 vote. Miller previously served four terms as Essex first selectman, winning the top job in 2003 after unsuccessful runs in 1999 and 2001.

Robert Siegrist

Republican candidate Robert Siegrist

Robert Siegrist, 31, of Haddam, is making his first run for political office from a spot on the Haddam Republican Town Committee. Siegrist emerged as a candidate in June after the nominee of the May party convention, Chester Harris of Haddam, withdrew to run for lieutenant governor on a conservative petition ticket. A 2001 graduate of Haddam-Killingworth High School, Siegrist received a degree in political science from Quinnipiac University and has worked as a bartender in recent years at two establishments in Chester. Siegrist said he gave up bartending in August to focus on the campaign, and currently works for a local landscaper.

Both candidates have received the $27,850 grant for House races through the state’s Citizen’s Election Program, and are waging active campaigns that have included door-to-door visits in the four towns. Siegrist, seeking to build some name recognition, has deployed more than a dozen large signs at various locations in the district.

An Oct. 8 debate at Valley Regional High School in Deep River showed Miller, known as a progressive with a focus on the environment, and Siegrist, who has a libertarian bent, agree on several social issues such as support for abortion rights, same sex marriage, and decriminalization of marijuana. But differences have emerged over state spending, taxes, and the possibility of returning tolls to two interstate highways in Connecticut.

Miller said this week he does not believe any possible budget shortfall in 2015 will be as large as predicted by some fiscal analysts. He discounts the possible need for new or higher taxes, and suggests any future tax increase should be limited to a hike in income tax for the state’s wealthiest citizens. Siegrist believes the deficit could be higher, and calls for a renewed effort to cut state spending. He also calls for reducing state taxes on gasoline and social security income, along with elimination of a business entity tax on companies with less than 50 employees.

The rivals differ sharply on the issue of restoring tolls, with Siegrist rejecting any consideration of tolls as a way to boost funding for road and bridge projects. Miller said he could support restoring tolls to certain locations on Interstate 95 and Interstate 84 as a way to build funding for transportation projects while also allowing for reductions in the gasoline tax that would put Connecticut prices more in line with prices in neighboring states.

The candidates may also differ on the possible authorization of red light cameras in Connecticut. Siegrist said he would oppose any legislation for red light cameras. Miller said he is undecided, but sees some possible benefits that could include greater safety for pedestrians and bicycle riders “It’s a tough issue and there needs to be a lot more discussion on it,” he said.

The candidates have avoided negative campaigning and personal attacks, Siegrist said he has been running a positive campaign that seeks to present himself as a new face in local politics. Miller said Siegrist’s lack of government experience could hamper his efforts for the district. “I respect that he is a working person but I don’t think Bob has the knowledge and skills to discern what is important.” Miller said.

Court Orders Recovery of Legal Expenses in Region 4 Principal Lawsuit

REGION 4— A Middlesex Superior Court judge has authorized the regional school district to recover legal costs in the lawsuit involving former Valley Regional High School Principal Eric Rice that was resolved in the district’s favor in August after more than two years of legal proceedings.

After an Oct. 21 hearing at the Middletown court, Judge Julie Aurigemma ordered Rice to pay the district $54,149 in attorney fees and court costs for the lawsuit he filed in December 2011 against the three town school district, Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy and former assistant superintendent Ian Neviaser. The amount includes $52,327 in attorney fees and $1,832 in court costs.

Rice, who was a Chester resident, resigned as principal at the high school in October 2010 after only weeks in the job amid reports he had been given a resign or be fired ultimatum from Levy based on complaints and concerns raised by some staff at the high school. Under terms of the resign and release agreement, Rice received $62,000 in severance pay and medical coverage until he secured new employment. The agreement also called for both parties to refrain from public comment about Rice’s employment with the school district.

But Rice, represented by the Hamden firm Gesmonde, Pietrosimone & Srignari, later claimed in the lawsuit that he was defamed in a June 2011 Hartford Courant article about the situation that included information from emails and other communications released by the district to the newspaper under a freedom of information request. In a summary judgment issued in August, Judge Aurigemma dismissed the lawsuit after determining the resign and release agreement signed by Rice was comprehensive, and that school officials responded properly to the newspaper FOI request.

In the Oct. 21 order on legal fees, Aurigemma also noted the resign and release agreement included a provision that could require Rice to pay “all costs including court costs and reasonable attorney fees,” if he later filed suit against the district. The judge noted she had reviewed an accounting of legal fees and court costs provided by attorney Peter Murphy with the Hartford firm Shipman and Goodwin, who worked on the case for the school district.

Rice is attempting to appeal the Middlesex judge’s decision to the Connecticut Appellate Court. Aurigemma rejected a motion from Rice’s attorneys to stay the order on legal fees, noting that issue could be part of any appeal to the higher court.

33rd Senate Candidates Face Off at Final Debate in Clinton

CLINTON— The three candidates for the 33rd Senate District seat faced off in a final campaign debate at Morgan High School in Clinton Thursday, with the sharpest exchanges coming during the final minutes of the one hour session.

About 100 voters turned out for the debate that was organized by students in the school’s current issues class, with students posing questions and moderating the session. It is expected to be the final public debate between one-term incumbent Republican Sen. Art Linares of Westbrook, Democratic challenger Emily Bjornberg of Lyme, and Green Party nominee Colin Bennett of Westbrook.

The candidates stuck to familiar themes through most of the debate. Linares pledged to work to reduce state taxes on gasoline and phase out taxes on retirement benefits while touting his endorsement by the Connecticut Business and Industry Association. Bjornberg said Linares has “voted against the most vulnerable among us,” over the past two years while noting her endorsements from the Connecticut Working Families Party, unions representing teachers and college professors and various women’s and environmental groups.

Bennett, declaring he “will not pander,” occasionally used his time to raise issues that were not part of the initial question, including racial justices, police shootings of minority citizens, and the expense of incarceration for non-violent crimes. He called for a “maximum wage” rather than just increasing the minimum wage and higher tax rates for the wealthy.

Most of the exchanges were cordial in a formant that did not discourage applause and cheers from the audience. But the gloves came off in the final minutes after Bjornberg noted that Linares is “the only person on this stage who has proposed a tax increase,” as she pointed to Republican budget proposals backed by Linares that would eliminate the state’s earned income tax credit that provides limited cash rebates to low income workers. Bjornberg also criticized Linares votes on issues related to the environment and women’s rights.

Linares said the earned income tax credit is ” a tax credit for people who don’t pay taxes.” In his closing statement, Linares said Bjornberg “desperate and void of solutions, has begun a smear campaign against me in regards to women and the environment.”, before pointing to his support for funding for the Preserve land purchase and labeling of genetically modified foods.

Bennett used his closing statement to claim that some Bjornberg supporters have contacted him and urged him to withdraw from the race to avoid pulling liberal-leaning votes from Bjornberg. While confirming that he would “rather see Emily elected than Art,” Bennett said such efforts are “100 percent antithetical to democracy” and vowed to continue his campaign to the Nov. 4 vote

The 33rd District includes the towns of Chester, Clinton, Colchester, Deep River, East Haddam, East Hampton, Essex, Haddam, Lyme, Portland, Westbrook and portions of Old Saybrook.

Three Dogs Quarantined After Attack on Smaller Dog in Ivoryton

ESSEX— Three dogs are being held at the town dog pound after an morning incident on Oct. 14 where the dogs attacked and killed a smaller dog on Chord Lane in the Ivoryton section. The fatal attack was witnessed by neighborhood children waiting for school bus pick up.

Phil Beckman, of 16 Chord Lane, raised the issue at the Oct. 15 meeting of the board of selectmen. First Selectman Norman Needleman said the three dogs were brought to the town shelter by Animal Control Officer Jae Wolf, with the incident under investigation by town police.

The dogs, described as mixed Labradors, are owned by Pauline Budney of 23 Chord Lane. The dog that was killed, a Papillon, was owned by Robert and Mary Lizotte of 6 Chord Lane. The three dogs are expected to be held at the town shelter for 14 days, though Wolf could not be reached Friday for comment on the status of the dogs.

Gun Rights Supporters Voice Opposition to Requested Chester Shooting Ordinance

CHESTER— Gun enthusiasts packed the Chester Meeting House Tuesday to express opposition to a requested municipal ordinance that would prohibit target shooting and discharge of a firearm in residential neighborhoods.

But a smaller group of residents expressed support for an ordinance, or some other restrictions, that would regulate the shooting that is frequently occurring on a nine-acre Wig Hill Road parcel that is owned by a Deep River resident. More than 150 residents, including some non-residents, turned out for a public information meeting that was called by the board of selectmen in response to a petition submitted in August by more than a dozen residents living near the Wig Hill Road property. The board of selectmen has taken no position on the requested ordinance.

The undeveloped parcel, owned by Deep River resident Warren Elliot, contains a fixed trap target shoot area that neighbors contend is a heavily used rifle range. John Ratchford, whose 85 Wig Hill Road property abuts the Elliot parcel, said an ordinance would enhance public safety by clarifying what type of shooting is allowed in a residential neighborhood. His wife, Sally, said the frequent sound of gunfire from large rifles has driven her indoors on sunny days.  Marzena Adams said she is concerned for the safety of visitors and children in the neighborhood, noting “it only takes one bullet.” Cynthia Monahan said she is “all for guns but I’m not for shooting in may back yard.”

Other residents, including many gun owners and some who shoot on the Elliott property, said any town ordinance would be unnecessary and could not be tailored to the topographical conditions of Chester. Some said target shooting should be expected in a rural town like Chester, and one resident compared the request for a shooting ordinance to a  controversial 2012 request from one resident for a zoning regulation to prohibit hens and roosters in residential areas.

Jason LaMark, of 62-1 Wig Hill Road, said a small hill separates the shooting area from any nearby homes that he contends are nearly 500 feet away. LaMark said existing state laws already prohibit reckless discharge of a firearms, and noted conditions on the Eilliot property have been monitored by police. He added that no rural towns in Connecticut have a local shooting ordinance.

First Selectman Edmund Meehan, who has also inspected the Elliot property, said  he believes the shooting “is being conducted in a safe way,”  based on differences in elevation and distance to nearby homes. Meehan said the board would discuss the shooting issue further at a future meeting, while also noting that any possible ordinance would require approval from voters at a town meeting.

Based on the volume of applause for speakers on both side of the issue at Tuesday’s meeting, a shooting ordinance would be unlikely to win voter approval at a town meeting. But resident Joe Cohen, speaking at a selectmen’s meeting that followed the public information meeting, said the shooting activity on Wig Hill Road is a land use issue. Cohen said selectmen should have investigated regulating the activity through that avenue before calling an information meeting on an ordinance.

Oct. 21 Information Meeting on Shooting Ordinance to be Held at Chester Meeting House

CHESTER— The Oct. 21 public information meeting on a possible municipal ordinance regulating target shooting in residential neighborhoods will be held at the Chester Meeting House on Liberty Street. The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. The location of the meeting is a change because most town meetings over the 18 months have been held in a second floor meeting room that was constructed after interior renovations to the town hall on Route 154.

The board of selectmen scheduled the session in response to a petition submitted in August signed by about 30 residents requesting consideration of a town ordinance that would limit and regulate target shooting and discharge of a firearm in Chester. Most of the petitioners were from the Wig Hill Road-Baker Road neighborhood, with many objecting to shooting that is occurring at one residential property in the area. First Selectman Edmund Meehan will present information at the meeting on shooting ordinances that are in place at other cities and towns in Connecticut.

Essex Selectmen Schedule Nov. 5 Public Information Meeting on Ivoryton Main Street Project

ESSEX— The board of selectmen has scheduled a Nov. 5 public information meeting on a grant-funded improvement project for a section of Main Street in the Ivoryton village. The session will begin at 7 p.m. in the auditorium at town hall.
The project, which includes four new raised crosswalks, new curbing and sidewalks and some new lighting, is to be funded by a $435,000 grant awarded last year from the state’s Main Streets Investment Fund program. The town has hiredAnchor Engineering Services of Glastonbury to prepare design plans for the improvements.

Selectwoman Stacia Libby, who been coordinating the project said at Wednesday’s board meeting that project engineers would be at the Nov. 5 meeting to review the plans with residents and answer questions. Libby said the plans have been reviewed by the parks and recreation and planning commissions, and had received a favorable response at a recent meeting with members of the Ivoryton Alliance, a group comprised of business and property owners in Ivoryton Village. The preliminary design plans will also be on display at the Ivoryton Library before the Nov. 5 meeting

The plans also include removal of a paved island at the intersection of Main and Summit streets that was constructed in the early 1970s. The removal would create a wider T-shaped intersection that would be safer and more convenient for winter snow plows and fire trucks from the Ivoryton Firehouse on Summit Street. Selectmen are hoping to put the project out to bid by May 2015 for construction next year.

Linares, Bjornberg to Meet in Final 33rd District Debate

AREAWIDE— Republican State Senator Art Linares has committed to participating in a final 33rd Senate District debate on Oct. 23 at Morgan High School in Clinton after skipping a session held Tuesday at Haddam-Killingworth High School amid disagreements with the sponsor and moderator for the session.

Linares announced his willingness to participate in the Oct. 23 debate, set for 7 p.m. in the auditorium at the Clinton school, after declining to participate in the session Tuesday that was sponsored by the Haddam Bulletin, a monthly newspaper for Haddam. The Oct. 23 debate will be run by students in the Morgan High School current issues class, which had sponsored 33rd Senate debates in previous years.

Democratic challenger Emily Bjornberg and Green Party nominee Colin Bennett faced off Tuesday before about 30 voters in the Haddam-Killingworth High School auditorium, with an empty chair on the stage for the absent Linares. Moderator Edward Schwing, editor of the Haddam Bulletin said Ryan Linares, the senator’s brother and campaign manager, had imposed several conditions on participation in the session that included a demand to review questions in advance. Schwing said such a condition would be “contrary to the spirit and intent of the debate.”

Ryan Linares said Wednesday it was Schwing’s role as moderator that prompted the demand to review questions in advance. He noted that Schwing had helped run the 2012 state senate campaign of Green Party nominee Melissa Schlag in the three candidate contest where Art Linares was elected for his first term. Schlag was elected in 2013 as the Democratic first selectwoman of Haddam, and has endorsed Bjornberg for the Nov. 4 vote. “The senator is not interested in that kind of debate,” he said.

Bennett, who has run as the Green Party nominee in previous 33rd Senate contests, used the session in Haddam to contend the current Democratic majority in the Legislature has failed to address several issues and priorities that Bjornberg has stressed in her campaign. Bennett said he is “100 percent committed to this campaign” despite raising and spending no money on the race. Bjornberg said if elected she would be a voice for the district towns in the majority party caucus.

The three candidates had faced off previously at debates on Sept. 16 at the Lyme-in Old Lyme High School, Sept. 23 at Valley Regional High School in Deep River, and an Oct. 6 session with House candidates that was sponsored by the Westbrook Council of Beaches. But Bjornberg has pushed for a debate in one of the northern towns of the sprawling 12 town district, and suggested the session Tuesday at Haddam-Killingworth could have been the missing northern town debate. The 33rd District includes the towns of Chester, Clinton, Colchester, Deep River, East Haddam, East Hampton, Essex, Haddam, Lyme, Portland, Westbrook, and parts of Old Saybrook.

Bjornberg said Wednesday she will participate in the Oct. 23 session in Clinton, but contended Linares is “locking out” the northern towns of the district from a public debate. “The district’s two most populous towns in particular, Colchester and East Hampton, deserve to have their residents’ questions asked and their issues addressed” she said.

Bjornberg said she is still working to have the Norwich Bulletin sponsor a debate at the high school in Colchester, but Ryan Linares said Wednesday no one from the newspaper has contacted the campaign about a debate in Colchester.

Region 4 School Boards Approve Three Year Contract for District Para-Educators

REGION 4 — District school boards have approved a three-year contract for the 82 para-educators working at the five district schools. The agreement was approved at an Oct. 2 joint meeting of the four district school boards.

The contract with Municipal Employees Union Independent SEIU Local 506, which is retroactive to July 1, extends through June 30 2017. It provides annual salary and step increases in exchange for high premium cost sharing in the health insurance plans for the employees.

A restructuring of the salary and step schedule will bring an overall cost increase for the 82 employees services of 4.62 percent in the first year, 2014-2015. In 2015-2016, the pare-educators will receive a 0.54 percent wage increase and a step increase for a total cost increase of 1.42 percent. In 2016-2017, there will be a 0.54 percent wage increase and a step increase for a total cost increase of 1.46 percent.

Employee premium cost sharing will rise each year for the two health insurance plans offered to the employees. Under the Century Preferred Plan, where premium cost sharing is currently set at 14 percent, the employee share will increase to 15.5 percent in the current tear, 16 percent in 2015-2016, and 16.5 percent in 2016-2017. Under the HSA plan, where employee cost sharing is currently set at 12 percent, the employee share will increase to 12.5 percent in 2015-2016 and 13 percent in 2016-2017. Garth Sawyer, district finance director, said this week most of the para-educators work a 32 hour week for 129 work days per year, with an average salary of about $20,000.

36th House District Candidates Face Off in Cordial Debate

AREAWIDE— The two candidates for the 36th House District seat, incumbent Democratic State Rep. Phil Miller of Essex and Republican challenger Robert Siegrist of Haddam,  faced off Tuesday in a cordial campaign debate held at Valley Regional High School in Deep river.

About 70 voters turned out for the 90-minute session in the school auditorium that was moderated by Essex Library Director Richard Conroy, who posed questions that had been submitted in  advance by district voters. The 36th District includes the towns of Chester, Deep River, Essex, and Haddam.

Miller, a former four-term first selectman of Essex who was elected in a February 2011 special election, said he is a “right to now advocate,” who has worked to help the four district towns on various local issues, including remediation and reuse of vacant “brownfield” industrial properties. Siegrist, a former bartender and member of the Haddam Republican Town Committee, said he is a “new face” who would be “beholden to no one,” at the state Capital. Siegrist stepped forward as a candidate in June after the candidate nominated by district  Republicans at the May convention, Chester Harris of Haddam, withdrew to run for lieutenant governor on a conservative petition ticket.

The two candidates found agreement on several issues, including support for decriminalization of marijuana and medical marijuana,  gay marriage rights, and the state’s  Citizens Election Program public financing of campaigns for state office. They also agreed to oppose unfunded mandates ion public schools and higher electric rates.

Miller said he was proud to support the increase in the state’s minimum wage that was approved by the Legislature this year. Siegrist said he does not object to the hike in the minimum wage, but believes it could become a burden on small businesses. There were also nuanced differences on the 2013 gun law, with Miller defending his vote in support of the law and maintaining it is not a burden on law abiding gun owners. Siegrist said the law has “some parts that are good,” but also represented an overreach that violates the rights of gun owners.

The candidates differed sharply on state spending, with Siefgrist contending government spending is “out of control” and pledging to oppose any tax increases to address a possible budget deficit for 2015. Miller, who supported the Malloy Administration tax increases of 2011, said the state was facing a “deficit that was too big to cut our way out of,” adding that he “hopes to avoid” tax increases during the next two-year term.

The rivals differed on a Nov. 4 ballot question that would allow the Legislature to consider changes in election laws to allow early voting. Miller said he would vote yes on the ballot question and support allowing the early voting that occurs in several other states. Siegrist said he would be voting no, declaring “the system we have in Connecticut works very well.”

One key difference emerged in the final minutes of the debate on a question about state transportation policy After Siegrist objected to past “raids” on the state’s dedicated transportation improvements fund, Miller said he would support restoring tolls to locations on Interstates 95 and 84. After the debate, Siegrist said he does not believe tolls are needed to maintain the dedicated transportation improvements fund.

November Town Meeting Expected for Funding Votes on Chester Main Street Project

CHESTER— The board of selectmen is expected to schedule a November town meeting for votes on funding components for the Main Street East Project, including votes on accepting state grants for the project and authorizing the use of set aside town capital funds for the project that includes reconstruction of an 1,800-foot section of Main Street east of the downtown village.

First Selectman Edmund Meehan told the board of selectmen Tuesday that project engineers with Kent & Frost Associates of Mystic are expected to have nearly complete design plans for the project ready later this month. The project is scheduled for an advisory review by the planning and zoning commission at aNov. 13 meeting.

The estimated $1 million project calls for reconstructing an 1,800-foot section of Main Street from the intersection with Route 154 west to the vicinity of the Laurel Hill Cemetery. The project drew some opposition at an April public information meeting held by the Main Street Project committee, which is coordinating the project along with plans for additional reconstruction and improvements to Main Street in the coming years. Some residents, including one property owner, had objected to plans for a continuous sidewalk on the north side of the street that would require removal of some mature trees.

Meehan said project engineers are working with all property owners on the street to reach agreement on final design plans. Officials hope to put the project out to bid during the winter for a start of construction in spring 2015.

Meehan said town meeting approval is required to formally accept two state Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grants awarded for the project, including a $450,000 grant awarded last April and a $333,000 grant that was redirected from funds left over from a previous grant that paid for construction of a new public water main on a northerly section of Route 154. He said a second vote is required to authorize release and use of $375,000 in town capital improvements funding that had been set aside for the project over several fiscal years.

The board Tuesday deferred setting a specific date for the town meeting, preferring to wait until after the board of finance considers the various funding components at an Oct. 16 meeting. Meehan said he wants to hold the town meeting after the Nov. 13 planning and zoning session, but before the Thanksgiving holiday.

Essex Selectmen Endorse Possible $8 Million Bonding for Capital Projects

ESSEX— The board of selectmen Wednesday gave a preliminary endorsement to a possible $8 million bond issue for capital projects, adding $600,000 for a new fire truck to a list of projects that had been recommended by an advisory capital projects committee.

The board discussed the capital projects report that was submitted last month for nearly an hour, along with a separate 10-year capital expenditures plan that was submitted by the Essex Volunteer Fire Department. The selectmen crafted a motion to approve a capital projects plan, but deferred a final vote on an exact recommended projects and bonding total to its Oct. 15 meeting.

First Selectman Norman Needleman said the board of finance would begin discussing the capital projects plan at it’s Oct. 16 meeting, with the next step a public hearing on the projects and proposed bonding that would be held in mid-November. He said a referendum vote on a possible bonding authorization for capital projects could be held before the end of the year.

The volunteer fire department last month submitted a 10-year capital expenditures plan that would include possible renovation and expansion of the Ivoryton Firehouse in 2024. The most immediate item on the list is the $600,000 purchase of a new pumper fire truck by 2017 that would replace a 1994 model truck.

Selectmen agreed to add the new fire truck to the capital projects list recommended by the committee, concluding that bond funds should be available to purchase the truck by 2017. The capital projects plan recommended by the committee would require about $6 million in bonding, though the town would be eligible for $2 million in state or federal funding reimbursement for a bridge replacement project and improvements at Essex Elementary School.

The work at the elementary school, including roof replacement and other improvements, would cost about $2.52 million. The two Ivoryton section bridge projects, replacement of the 30 year-old Walnut Street bridge and a much smaller bridge on Ivory Street, are estimated to cost $2.1 million. The plan also includes $1.65 million for renovations and improvements at town hall, and $470,000 for improvements at the town public works garage.

There was no discussion Wednesday on removing any projects from the list recommended by the committee. But Needleman said the list of projects and proposed bonding total would be subject to possible change based on the review by the finance board and input received at the public hearing.

Mystic Company Picked for $4 Million Deep River Sewer Expansion Project

DEEP RIVER— The town has hired  B&W Paving and Landscaping of Mystic for the sewer expansion project in several neighborhoods in the Kirtland Street-River Lane area on the east side of Main Street. The board of selectmen voted unanimously to hire the firm at a Sept. 24 joint meeting with the town’s water pollution control authority.

B&W Paving and Landscaping, with a base bid of $3,609,985, had submitted the lowest of four bids for the project that were opened last month. The project was put out to bid a second time over the summer after all of the bids opened in June came in over the $4 million in available funding . Voters at a May 2013 town meeting had approved the $4 million project, which is funded by a combination of federal/state grants and a low interest 30-year loan. The project was intended to extend municipal sewer service to about 120 properties in the Kirtland Street-River Lane area.

But First Selectman Richard Smith said this week  several properties that are located on small streets that were listed as alternates in the bid documents would not receive service in the initial construction because of the limited funding. Alternates that have been deferred include providing service to four properties on River Street, and a new pumping station that would be located to the south on Essex Street. Smith said the town could work on the new pumping station separately, possibly using the pubic works department and subcontractors.

Smith said the work included in the base bid from B&W Paving and Landscaping would extend service to about 95 residential properties, along with bringing sewer service to the town landing on the riverfront  at the end of Kirtland Street.
Smith said the town has asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture for an increase in the grant and loan funding and is expecting to receive a reply to the request by the end of this month. He said selectmen decided to award the base bid now to advance the project because any additional grant and loan funding would require a separate approval from voters at a town meeting. Smith said preliminary work for the expansion project is expected to begin before the end of the year, with most of the construction of the new sewer line to be completed in the spring of 2015.

Three 33rd District Candidates Hold Lively Debate at High School in Deep River

Democratic candidate Emily Bjornberg, Republican candidate Senator Art Linares and Independent Candidate Colin Bennett (photo by Jerome Wilson)

Democratic candidate Emily Bjornberg, Republican candidate Senator Art Linares and Green Party Candidate Colin Bennett (photo by Jerome Wilson)

DEEP RIVER— The three candidates in the 12-town 33rd State Senate District, one-term incumbent Republican Sen. Art Linares, Democratic challenger Emily Bjornberg, and Green Party candidate Colin Bennett, held a lively debate Tuesday that covered the economy and taxes, along with social issues such as reproductive rights and possible right-to-die legislation.

A crowd of more than 100 voters filled the auditorium at Valley Regional High School, with sign waving supporters of the two major party candidates gathering outside the school before the start of the debate. The 90-minute session was moderated by Essex  Library Director Richard Conroy, who posed questions that had been submitted in writing before the debate from district voters.

Linares, describing his record as “pro-growth and pro jobs,” attempted to tie Bjornberg to tax increases imposed during the administration of Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy and the Democrat-controlled legislature. Bjornberg noted that she was not in the legislature when most of the higher taxes were approved, and pledged to be “very wary” of increases in “regressive taxes,” such as the sales and gasoline taxes, in any future budget decisions.

Objections from Linares to the Malloy Administration First Five program of grants and loans for business expansion prompted one of the sharpest exchanges of the session, with Bjornberg noting that Linares had accepted a $350,000 state low interest loan for his Middletown-based Green Skies solar power company while later voting against funding for the program.  She also contended Green Skies resells cheaper solar panels from China at the expense of producers in Connecticut and the United States. Linares replied that Bjornberg’s comments show “my opponent is ready to attack a good thing,”  describing the business he co-founded as a clean energy company that is providing jobs.

The candidates differed on possible right-to-die legislation for the terminally ill, with Bjornberg pledging support for what she called the “compassionate choices” bill that failed to win approval in this year’s legislative session. Linares said he is “concerned about human error,” under the proposed legislation. Bennett also expressed support for the bill that is expected to be considered again next year.

A question on reproductive rights and insurance coverage for birth control brought passionate remarks from Bjornberg, declaring that she is concerned about her young daughter losing rights that women have fought for and secured over the past 40 years. Linares said he was “born a Catholic” and is “not running for the U.S. Supreme Court,” before changing the topic to his support for new legislation to protect women from domestic violence.

Marijuana and the minimum wage brought the most passionate remarks from Bennett, who has run as the Green Party candidate in three previous elections in the 33rd District. Bennett said  “ending the prohibition” on marijuana would help the state’s economy and finances. Linares dismissed the idea of legalizing marijuana, while Bjornberg said she would not support legalization at the present time but favors a “careful and measured” review of the option and possible further reductions in penalties for possession of marijuana.

Bennett said the minimum wage, set to increase to $10.10 per hour in the coming years, should be even higher and suggested there should be a “maximum wage” for the highest paid earners. Linares said he opposed the minimum wage hike adopted earlier this year because Democrats had blocked all amendments to establish a lower starting wage for workers under age 21. Bjornberg said Linares and state Republicans were “fear mongering” on the minimum wage issue and quoted Eleanor Roosevelt’s Depression era comment that “we all do well when we all do well.”

In her closing remarks, Bjornberg called on Linares to agree to hold another campaign debate in one of the northern towns of the sprawling district. Other sessions set for early October are more limited forums that include candidates for state House seats. The 33rd District includes the towns of Chester, Clinton, Colchester, Deep  River, East Haddam, East Hampton, Essex, Haddam, Lyme, Portland, Westbrook, and sections of Old Saybrook.

Essex Selectmen Review Plan for Ivoryton Main Street Improvements

ESSEX— The board of selectmen Wednesday reviewed a conceptual plan for state grant-funded  improvements to Main Street in the Ivoryton section that could be put out to bid in the spring of 2015.

The town last year was awarded a $435,000 state Main Street Investment Fund grant for several improvements that would  slow traffic through Ivoryton village and create an improved pedestrian environment with four new or improved raised crosswalks. Based on a recommendation from an advisory committee chaired by Selectwoman Stacia Libby, the town earlier this year hired Anchor Engineering Services of Glastonbury to prepare preliminary plans for the project.
One key component of the plan is the removal of a raised island at the intersection of Summit Street and Main Street  that was constructed in the early 1970s with little input from the public.  The removal would create a wider T intersection for the two streets.

The plan also calls for new curbing and sidewalk, along with the new crosswalks. There would also be several new lantern pole-style streetlights installed on the easternmost end of Main Street, extending lighting that was first installed with state grant funding in 2005.  A reconfiguration of the parking area for the Ivorvton Park on the north side of Main Street would add a handful of additional public parking spaces for the village.

Libby said some of the improvements depicted in the plan would require approval from owners of private property on the street. Libby said the conceptual plan is now being reviewed by several town commissions, with a goal of putting the project out to bid by May 2015.

33rd Senate Candidates Clash Over Task Force Appointment in First Campaign Debate

Colin Bennett (Green Party), Republican Senator Art Linares and Democratic challenger Emily Bjornberg in first campaign debate

Green party candidate Colin Bennett, Republican Senator Art Linares and Democratic challenger Emily Bjornberg in first campaign debate

OLD LYME— A legislative appointment to a state task force on children’s jewelry was the focus of the sharpest exchange Tuesday as three candidates for the 12-town 33rd State Senate District seat faced off in the first campaign debate.
Republican State senator Art Linares of Westbrook, Democratic challenger Emily Bjornberg of Lyme, and Green Party nominee Colin Bennett of Westbrook appeared before a crowd of nearly 100 voters at the Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School for an hour-long session that was co-sponsored by the New London Day and the League of Women voters. Day editor Paul Chionere posed written questions, most submitted from audience members, to the candidates.

Linares, a 25 year-old incumbent seeking a second term, and Bjornberg, a mother of two who works in the Youth and Family Ministry of Deep River Congregational Church, agreed on some issues, such as support for small businesses, and differed on others, such as the  stricter state gun law enacted last year. Linares had voted against the gun bill, contending it was never fully presented at a public hearing and imposed “unnecessary” restrictions on “law abiding citizens.” Bjornberg, noting she is from a “family of hunters”, said she would have supported the legislation, and contended Linares was not engaged during the crafting and debate on the bill.

Linares called for tighter control over state spending, along with possible reductions in the state gas and sales taxes. Bjornberg promised “fiscal responsibility,” while adding that she would “not balance the budget on the backs of children and senior citizens.”

But it was a question on the environment that prompted the sharpest exchange of the session, with Bjornberg contending a Linares appointment to a 16-member state task force reviewing the safety of children’s jewelry, particularly the presence of cadmium in the jewelry, showed a lack of concern for the environment and children’s safety.

As the ranking Republican member of the Children’s Committee, Linares was appointed to the task force, or allowed to designate a member in his place. Linares named Brent Cleaveland, the executive director of the Fashion Jewelry and Accessories Trade Association of  Rhode Island.

Bjornberg said Cleaveland is a paid lobbyist for the children’s jewelry business, and has publicly opposed limits on the mineral cadmium in jewelry.  She noted that cadmium has been listed as a potential human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration, and also claimed that Cleaveland has publicly downplayed the hazards of lead. Bjornberg raised this issue during the exchange on the environment, and again in the final minutes of the debate.
Linares said Cleaveland is “an advocate for making children’s jewelry safe.”  Linares also contended a bill that Bjornberg had expressed support for, to ban all pesticides from high school athletic fields, would have imposed a costly new mandate on schools districts in the 33rd District.

Bennett, a substitute teacher who has run for the seat previously on the Green Party line, avoided direct criticism of the two major party candidates. Bennett said he was uncertain whether he would have supported the 2013 gun law, but expressed opposition to plans to expand natural gas service in Connecticut because much of the gas is produced through hydraulic fracking. Bennett also called for expanded investments in clean energy technology and legalization of the recreational use of marijuana as economic development measures for the state.

Bennett will also participate in a second debate scheduled for Tuesday Sept. 23 at 7 p.m. at Valley Regional High School in Deep River. Another debate sponsored by the Westbrook Council of Beaches is scheduled for Oct. 6 at the Mulvey Municipal Building in Westbrook. The 33rd District includes the towns of Chester, Clinton, Colchester, Deep River, East Haddam, East Hampton, Essex, Haddam, Lyme, Portland, Westbrook and sections of Old Saybrook.

Regional School District 4 Prevails in Lawsuit Filed by Former High School Principal

REGION 4— A summary judgment from Middlesex Superior Court Judge Julia Aurigemma has ended a lawsuit filed against the school district by former Valley Regional High School Principal Eric Rice, though an appeal of the decision to the Connecticut Appellate Court remains a possibility.

In a decision issued on August 15, Judge Aurigemma rejected claims by Rice that the school district violated terms of his October 2010 release and resignation agreement when it released emails and other information on his brief tenure as the high school principal in response to a freedom of information request from the Hartford Courant. The newspaper published an article on Rice’s departure from the principal position in June 2011 that included information from the emails. Rice, represented by the Hamden law firm Gesmonde, Petrosimone & Srigrinari, filed a lawsuit in December 2011 contending the release of the information violated the terms of the agreement and defamed him. The legal action was also filed against Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy and former assistant superintendent Ian Neviaser as individuals.

After months of proceedings and motions before four different judges, and depositions from Levy and Neviaser, Aurigemma agreed last spring to hear arguments and issue a summary judgement on the case, which was initially listed for a trial at the Middletown courthouse in November.

In the decision, Aurigemma determined the release and resignation agreement between Rice and the school district that was signed before his departure from the high school principal job in October 2010 was “comprehensive,” and under its terms Rice waived any further legal claims against the school district. Under the agreement, Rice, who assumed the principal job in August 2010 and was later a subject of complaints from teachers and other staff, received $62,000 in severance pay and health insurance coverage until he found other employment.

The agreement also included a letter of recommendation which was negotiated by attorneys for Rice and the school district. Rice, a Chester resident, later assumed a teaching position with the West Haven school system.
The judge’s decision also rejected claims that the school district had defamed Rice by releasing the emails and other documents in response to the freedom of information request. Aurigemma determined that all of the documents were from the time period covered by the release and resignation agreement, and that school officials had been “deliberative” in deciding which documents to release to the newspaper. The judge determined that Rice had not been defamed by the school district, or by Levy and Neviaser.

Attorneys for Rice earlier this month filed a motion to appeal Aurigemma’s decision to the Connecticut Appellate Court. A status hearing ion the case is scheduled for Oct. 9 at Middlesex Superior Court.

Contracts to be Signed for Deep River Industrial development

DEEP RIVER– The board of selectmen this week approved contracts with three local firms for development on a town-owned parcel at the Plattwood Park Industrial Area. The board endorsed the contracts at a meeting Tuesday after selecting the three firms earlier this summer following a request for proposals.

First Selectman Richard Smith said the three firms, Top Notch Electrical Services LLC, Winthrop Tool LLC, and Moyers Landscaping Services LLC, will be required to begin construction of an industrial building on their assigned parcel by April 2015. The industrial building lots are being divided from a four-acre parcel on the northwest corner of the town industrial area that the town purchased last year for $270,000 from local resident Gary Mislick.

The plans, which have received approval from town land use commissions, call for three lots fronting on a new road that would end in a cul-de-sac. The agreement calls for the town to construct the access road for the parcels.
Under the contracts, the three businesses would be required to pay municipal property tax on the property, including tax on all buildings and equipment. Under the terms of a 40-year lease, the businesses would pay a nominal rent on the land of only $1 per year for the first ten years, with annual rent increasing to $3,600 per year in October 2024. The lease also includes an option to buy the parcels, with the annual rent on the parcels rising every ten years through 2054.

In a separate development Smith reported that a large manufacturing company that had expressed interest in a 59-acre industrial parcel on the east side of Route 154 has now stepped back from a possible purchase of the land from the Mislick family. Smith had announced a possible sale of the parcel, which was rezoned industrial in 2006, at the Aug. 12 board of selectmen meeting.

Smith said the costs of constructing an access road in to the parcel, which would have to extend more than 1,000 feet after a crossing of the Valley Railroad tracks, were too much for the unidentified prospective buyer. Smith said the land remains on the market for sale and development.

Republican Senator Art Linares and Democratic Challenger Emily Bjornberg Schedule Debate for 33rd District Contest

AREAWIDE— Republic State Senators Art Linares and Democratic challenger Emily Bjornberg have agreed to at least three public debates for their election contest in the 12-town 33rd Senate district, though Bjornberg is calling for at least one more face-off to be held in one of the northern towns of the district.

In a separate campaign development, Colin Bennett of Westbrook has been endorsed the receive the Green Party line on the Nov. 4 ballot. Bennett has run for the seat several times as the Green Party nominee in past elections where former Democratic State Sen. Eileen Daily of Westbrook faced Republican challengers.

The Green Party has secured a ballot line in the district with past campaigns by Bennett, and particularly with the 2012 contest after Daily’s retirement where Melissa Schlag of Haddam won nearly ten percent of the vote as the Green Party candidate in the contest with Linares and Democratic nominee Jim Crawford of Westbrook. Schlag was elected last year as the Democratic first selectwoman of Haddam, and is supporting Bjornberg in this year’s election.

Bennett is not believed to be waging an active campaign for the Nov. 4 vote, but he has been included in at least one of the Linares-Bjornberg debates. Bennett has been invited to participate in a Sept. 23 debate at Valley Regional High School in Deep River that is sponsored by the Essex Library. The debate begins at 7 p.m. in the school auditorium, with written questions from the audience that will be screened by the debate moderator, Essex Librarian Richard Conroy.

The first campaign face off between the one-term Republican incumbent and Bjornberg, of Lyme, will be held Tuesday Sept. 16 at the Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School in Old Lyme. The session, sponsored by the New London Day, begins at 8 p.m.
Old Lyme is part of the 20th Senate District, but Lyme, its northern neighbor, is in the 33rd District. The district also includes the towns of Chester, Clinton, Colchester, Deep River, East Haddam, East Hampton, Essex, Haddam, Portland, Westbrook, and parts of Old Saybrook.

The candidates will also appear at a debate sponsored by the Westbrook Council of Beaches in early October, and at a forum, not a debate, sponsored by the Chester-Deep River-Essex chapter of the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce on the morning of Oct. 3 at the Chester Meeting House.

Bjornberg this week urged Linares to agree to hold one additional public debate in one of the five northern towns of the district, Colchester, East Haddam, East Hampton, Haddam, or Portland. Bjornberg said she would keep her schedule open for a northern town debate.

Essex Officials Cut Ribbon on Town Hall Civic Campus Project

Cutting the ribbon: (l to r) First Selectman Norman Needleman, Ryce Libby, Maizy Libby, Selectman Stacy Libby, Selectman Bruce Glowar (photo by Jerome Wilson)

Cutting the ribbon: (l to r) First Selectman Norman Needleman, Ryce Libby, Maizy Libby, Selectman Stacy Libby, Selectman Bruce Glowar (photo by Jerome Wilson)

ESSEX— A crowd of more than 70 residents was on hand late Wednesday afternoon as the board of selectmen held a dedication ceremony and ribbon cutting for the Town Hall Civic Campus project.

The project, which includes a an expanded and improved parking area for town hall, new tennis courts, and a new handicapped accessible children’s playscape, was funded through a combination of state grand funds with some town funding. Completion of the tennis courts earlier this year marked the final phase for a project hat began last fall with work on the town hall parking lot. Most of the heaviest construction work was done by Xenelis Construction Inc. of Middlefield, with some work completed by town public works employees and sub-contractors.

The town was awarded a $471,500 Small  Town Economic Assistance Program, (STEAP) grant for the project in the fall of 2012. Town Finance Director Kelly Sterner said this week the total cost of the project was about $620,000, with the largest components covered by the grant funding, Town funds were used for improvements to the front entrance to town hall on West Avenue, and new crosswalks and sidewalks on Grove Street  at the other side of the building. A $10,000 donation from the Bauman Family Foundation paid for lighting for the tennis courts.

Sterner was one of several town employees praised for their efforts on the project by First Selectman Norman Needleman at the ceremony Wednesday. Needleman, who described the project as a “perfect example of state and local partnership,” said Sterner had helped prepare the grant application while also guiding the different sources of funding for the project. He also praised Parks and Recreation Director Rick Audett for his efforts during construction of the tennis courts and playscape at the Grove Street Park that abuts the town hall property.

Essex First Selectman  Norman Needleman makes opening remarks prior to ribbon cutting (photo by Jerome Wilson)

Essex First Selectman Norman Needleman makes opening remarks prior to ribbon cutting (photo by Jerome Wilson)

Also participating at the ceremony Wednesday were two incumbent legislators from different political parties who are seeking new terms in the Nov. 4 election, 36th District Democratic State Rep. Phil Miller of Essex, and 33rd District Republican State Senator Art Linares of Westbrook.

Lawsuit Involving Essex Veterans Memorial Hall is Withdrawn

ESSEX— A lawsuit against the Essex Veterans Memorial Hall Inc. that was filed last December has been withdrawn after a Middlesex Superior Court judge held settlement conferences with the parties. The lawsuit filed by local lawyer Michael Peck included the town because the town remains a fall back owner of the Essex Veterans Memorial Hall property located in the Centerbrook section.

Peck, a veteran and Chester resident, filed the lawsuit on behalf of Michael Bergeron, a town resident who is a Gulf War veteran. Peck claimed in the suit that Begeron had been improperly banned from the property, including a club area where alcoholic beverages are sold, and from local veterans activities. The lawsuit also claimed Essex Veterans Memorial Hall Inc. had lost, and never regained, its status as a non-profit tax exempt organization, and that a majority of the EVM club members are no longer U.S. military veterans.

The town-owned property was donated to returning World War II veterans in 1946 for use as a meeting hall for local veterans organizations. The building has served as a meeting hall for the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post and occasionally other veterans organizations for more than 60 years. The separate club has been in operation during this time for sale of alcoholic beverages to members and their guests.

Peck said this week he withdrew the lawsuit at the end of July after three settlement conferences directed by Middlesex Superior Court Judge Edward Domnarski, who is an Essex resident. Also participating in the sessions was Richard Palladino, an Old Saybrook lawyer retained by EVM Inc. in response to the lawsuit. Peck said town attorney David Royston declined to participate in the sessions.

Peck said the settlement did not result in reinstatement of Bergeron as a club member, but did clarify the legal status of the property and various procedures that are required of EVM Inc.. as a tax exempt not-profit veterans organization. He said EVM Inc. has regained its 501C18 status as a tax exempt organization, and has also  pledged to strive to ensure that at least 75 percent of club members are veterans.

After a review by the state Liquor Control Commission, the EVM club retains its liquor license. The club is planning its annual Pig Roast, which is open to the public, for Saturday Sept. 13.

Essex Capital Projects Submitted to Selectmen, Bonding Could Exceed $6 Million

 

ESSEX— The board of selectmen Wednesday received a long-awaited report on municipal capital building projects. The selectmen deferred discussion to a Sept. 17 meeting on a list of projects that could require more than $6 million in bonding if all of the projects were included in a bonding authorization resolution.

The 22-page report was prepared by a Capital Projects Building Committee that was established the fall of 2013 to carry forward the efforts of a capital projects study committee that was formed in 2012. The committee was chaired by Selectman Bruce Glowac, with members that included Finance Director Kelly Sterner and Leigh Rankin, a former U.S. Coast Guard officer who also serves on the Region 4 Board of Education. The committee worked with the engineering firm CME Associates Inc. of Woodstock to develop preliminary cost estimates for each project.

Glowac said the report lists projects in priority order, and includes projects the committee believes should be addressed by the town looking forward for the next ten years. The top priorities are replacement of the Walnut Street and Ivory Street bridges in the Ivoryton section, along with five improvements at Essex Elementary School, the most important being replacement of most of the school roof.

Cost estimates for the bridge projects are $2.1 million for the Walnut Street bridge, and $450,000 for the Ivory Street bridge. The elementary school projects total $2.52 million, including  $1.4 million for the roof replacement, $600,000 for air conditioning at the school, $225,000 for paving work around the front entrance, and $185,000 for improvements to the school media center, including removal of asbestos located under the floor tiles. The town has already expended $110,000 to convert the school to newly available natural gas heating.

The report estimates the Walnut Street bridge replacement and the school roof replacement would be eligible for $2,055,000 in grant funding reimbursement that would reduce the actual expense for town taxpayers.

The report lists six improvements at town hall with a total estimated cost of $1,165,000. Projects include roof replacement-$200,000, 47 new energy efficient windows-$115,000, reconfiguring land use offices-$500,000, air quality improvements-$200,000, bathroom improvements $120,000, and a new fire alarm system that would include a fire suppression system for the town records vault-$30,000.

The report lists three improvements for the town public works garage with a total estimated cost of $470,000. The projects include replacing the roof of the garage that is  more than 30 years old-$109,000, a new heating system for the facility-$97,000, and a new two bay garage with a covered storage area for road salt and sand-$264,000.

The selectmen are expected to review the report with the board of finance later this month, and hold one or more public information sessions during the fall before final decisions are made on a bonding authorization resolution that would be presented to town voters for approval in a referendum.

Two New Deep River Sewer Project Bids Within Available Funding

DEEP RIVER— Two new bids for the town’s sewer expansion project fall within the $4 million in available funding, but without any of the alternates that were initially part of the project.

Four bids were opened earlier this moth after the project was put out to bid a second time when a first round of bids opened in June all exceeded in the $4 million in funding that was authorized by voters at a May 2013 town meeting. The project is intended to extend municipal sewer service to about 120 properties in the area of the Kirtland Street and River Lane neighborhoods on the east side of Main Street. It was to be funded by $4 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including a $1.2 million grant and a $2.8 million 40-year loan.

The two lowest base bids in the second round of bidding were  $3,609,985 from B&W Paving and Landscaping of Mystic, and  $3,876,373 from Baltazar Construction Inc. of Ludlow, Mass. But inclusion of four project alternates would raise the total bids to $5,444,060 for B&W Paving and Landscaping and $5,456,152 for Baltazar Construction.

First Selectman Richard Smith said Thursday project engineers with the Meriden firm Cardinal Engineering are now reviewing the two lowest bids. He said deferring the project alternates would still allow the town to extend sewer service to at least 90 properties, along with construction of two new pumping stations that are required for the project.

Smith said the town has also asked U.S. D.A. to increase the grant and loan funding for the project, with an response from the federal agency expected within the next 10 days. Any increase in funding for the total project cost would require approval from voters at a town meeting. Smith said he is hopeful a contract can be awarded with one of the low bidders by mid-September to allow for a start of construction this year.,

Region 4 Schools Open Thursday for 2014-2015 Academic Year

REGION 4— Region 4 schools open Thursday for the 2014-2015 academic year with two new administrators and 16 new teachers, along with a new system that provides a faster assessment of student performance in the classroom.
Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy said administrators and staff are excited about opening day. “The schools are ready and waiting to open the doors tomorrow,” Levy said Wednesday. Levy said student enrollment is down from the totals in the 2013-2014 school year, with no late surge in student registrations over the summer,

The new student assessment system to be implemented at all five districts schools is from a national firm, Northwest Educational Association. It will provide teachers with a quicker assessment of student performance, allowing for a more timely information to guide instructional plans. A school breakfast program that began last spring at two elementary schools will be expanded to all five schools. A new system will also enable parents to pay for school breakfast and lunches on line.
The new administrators are Christian Strickland, the new principal at Deep River Elementary School, and Sarah Smalley, new director pupil services. Strickland, a Middletown resident, worked previously as an assistant principal at an elementary school in Berlin. Smalley, an Old Lyme resident, is the former director of pupil services for Region 17 (Haddam-Killingworth) schools. Smalley worked previously in Region 4 as a special education teacher at Valley Regional High School. She is an elected member of the Region 18( Lyme-Old Lyme) Board of Education.

The highest number of new teachers is at the high school, where several long-time educators retired in June. They include Mary O’Reilly-Spanish, Rachael Cassella-Spanish, Jill Esernia-English, Evan Soderholm- social studies, Augusta Ferretti-mathematics, John Kopcha- technology education, and Michael Naylor as a long-term substitute for physical education.

The elementary schools for Deep River and Essex each have three new teachers. At Deep River Elementary School, there is third grade teacher Allyson Pitney, along with remedial reading and language arts teachers Andrea Ricci and Nicole Flynn. At Essex Elementary Schools, there is sixth grade teacher Erica Fleischman, kindergarten teacher Cynthis Breitenbach, and library/media specialist Renee Mitchill.

Along with Smalley, there are three new teachers funded through the supervision district, technology integration specialist Kirsten Reynolds, and two special education teachers, Emily Dreher at Essex Elementary School, and Elise Johnson at Chester Elementary School Bethany Peters is a new para-educator at Chester Elementary School, and Mary Jane Maltezos is the new secretary to the principal at John Winthrop Middle School.

Deep River Planning and Zoning Approves Used Car Dealership at 444 Main Street

DEEP RIVER— After two years of disputes, the planning and zoning commission Thursday gave a quick and unanimous special permit approval for a used motor vehicle dealership in a portion of a former industrial building at 444 Main St. The approval for local resident George Bartlett Jr. ends a two-year controversy that beginning in 2012 led to two lawsuits and conflict between the commission and the zoning board of appeals.

Bartlett’s new application for a used vehicle dealership in a section of the former industrial building was presented at a brief public hearing where there were no objections to the proposed use. Essex lawyer John Bennet, representing Bartlett, said the applicant had secured two required variances from the zoning board of appeals, along with a permit from the inland-wetlands commission. Bennet said any repairs performed at the site would be for motor vehicles that are in the inventory of the dealership, with no general shop for other vehicle repairs.

Zoning Enforcement Officer Cathy Jefferson said all issues related to the application had been resolved. There will be a paved display area at the front of the property for eight used vehicles. After Jefferson’s comments, the commission approved the special permit on a unanimous vote without discussion.

That was not the case in June 2012, when Bartlett first proposed the used vehicle dealership in the vacant industrial building he had purchased earlier that year. Bartlett was required to apply for variances from the zoning board of appeals because the parcel was about six-feet short of the 150-feet of road frontage that zoning regulations required for uses in the turnpike industrial zone.

The ZBA approved a dimensional variance for the road frontage requirement, but there was dispute with the planning and zoning commission over whether it had also approved a variance for the motor vehicle dealership use. Bartlett filed a lawsuit against the ZBA after the board in September 2012 amended it’s minutes to clarify that it had approved only one variance at the June 19, 2012 meeting.

The case was still pending in Middlesex Superior Court during the spring when the commission amended regulations for the turnpike industrial zone to remove the 150-foot road frontage requirement for all uses. But Bennet continued to object to the decision last May, maintaining that other provisions of the amended regulations would make it “virtually impossible” for Bartlett to pursue his plan for a used vehicle dealership.

Bartlett filed a new lawsuit in May challenging the amended regulations, while also putting the new application for the used vehicle dealership before the commission. The approval of a special permit for the used vehicle dealership is expected to lead to a withdrawal of any pending lawsuits involving the 444 Main St. property.

33 Plains Road Cease and Desist Order Rescinded with “Path to Zoning Compliance”

ESSEX— A town cease and desist order issued earlier this year to resident  John Finkeldey for alleged zoning violations with a structure at his 33 Plains Road property has been rescinded after Finkeldey agreed to file applications with the zoning commission to resolve the zoning issues.
The action by Zoning Enforcement Officer Joseph Budrow came Tuesday, the day the zoning board of appeals was scheduled to reopen a public hearing on the order that began in June. After months of discussion with Finkeldey that followed a complaint, Budrow last winter issued an order charging that Finkeldey had built a structure on the property without permits from the town, and that the structure was improperly being used as a residential dwelling in the town’s limited industrial zone.
During a two-part hearing before the ZBA where he was represented by local attorney Terrance Lomme, Finkeldey maintained the structure had been in place for more than three years without enforcement action from the town, a lapse that would make it a legal, non-conforming structure. The issue of residential use in the limited industrial zone remained unresolved when the last public hearing recessed on July 15. Lomme also serves as the elected judge of probate for the nine town region.
Michael Wells, lawyer for the ZBA, distributed a report from Budrow that was received Tuesday advising the board the cease and desist order had been rescinded. Budrow reported that a recent meeting between he and zoning commission attorney Peter Sipples with Finkeldey and Lomme had established a “path to zoning compliance” that would end the alleged zoning violations. Budrow advised that the zoning commission had concurred with the decision to rescind the cease and desist order.
Under the agreement, Finkeldey would be required to apply with the commission for a zone change from limited industrial to residential for a section of his property, and to apply for a resubdivision that would separate the disputed structure from the rest of the parcel. If the zone change and resubdivision was approved by the commission, the zoning issues on the property would be resolved. Budrow could not be reached later this week for further comment on the resolution of the case.

Grant Application for Planned New Chester Library to be Ready for Aug. 29 Deadline

CHESTER— A grant application for up to $1 million in state funding for a planned new library at North Quarter Park will be ready for submission by an August. 29 deadline.  The town will learn by mid-November whether it has been awarded the funding.

First Selectman Edmund Meehan said two volunteer committees working on the project, the North Quarter Park planning committee and the library building committee, have concurred on a plan to construct a two-story, 5,600 square-foot library building on the front section of the 22-acre park on the east side of Main Street. He said the board of selectmen should be ready to approve the plan, and sign-off on the grant application, at a special meeting on Aug. 26. The town’s application will be filed with the State Library Board by the Aug. 29 deadline.

Meehan said the successful completion of the grant application, which required decisions on a location and conceptual preliminary plans for the library building, required a focused effort by the two committees over the past three months. “The pieces of these two projects have really come together,” he said.

The North Quarter Park planning committee worked with landscape architects Richter & Cegan Inc. of Avon to prepare a master plan for the entire park that included a proposed library location. The master plan for the park was presented to residents at a July 9 public information meeting. The building committee worked with LLB Architects of Pawtucket, R.I. to prepare the preliminary building plans.

Meehan said approval of the grant funding would cover a significant portion, but not all, of the costs involved in building a new library that would replace the existing 108 year-old library building on West Main St. (Route 148). He said an up front appropriation of town funds would be needed to pay for completion of bid documents for the project by next spring, while additional town funding would also be needed for the total construction costs. He said a possible bonding authorization for the library project could go to the town voters for referendum approval in 2015.

Possible Development Proposal for Deep River Industrial Land Off Route 154

DEEP RIVER— There could be a development proposal for a 59-acre parcel on the east side of Route 154 that was rezoned industrial in 2006. If the plan proceeds, it could bring a new manufacturing building of up to 100,000 square feet to Deep River with the possibility of additional industrial buildings to follow.

First Selectman Richard Smith reported at Tuesday’s meeting of the board of selectmen that he has been in contact with owners of a manufacturing company in a nearby town that are considering acquiring the parcel to relocate and expand in Deep River. He said the name of the interested party would be announced in the coming weeks if the potential sale of the parcel proceeds.

The 59 acre parcel, located on the east side of Route 154 near the intersection with Kelsey Hill Road, was rezoned by the planning and zoning commission from residential to industrial in 2006 at the urging of the late local developer Walter Mislick. Mislick, who died soon after the rezoning, envisioned an access road that would service a new industrial park with up to five buildings.

Mislick, who began his business career as owner of an egg processing company, had developed an industrial park on the opposite side of Route 154 during the 1990’s. The land, which abuts the Canfield Woods Nature Preserve to the east and the Georgetown Apartments property to the north, is now being offered for sale by Mislick’s heirs for a current price of $1.5 million. The parcel has some frontage on Route 154, and would have access to water and sewer service if developed.
Smith said the interested party currently operates a 50,000 square-foot manufacturing facility with nearly 100 employees in a nearby town, but is unable to expand at the current location. He said development of the property, which includes some wetlands areas, would be costly, requiring a 1,000-foot access road and a crossing of the state-owned Valley Railroad tracks.

If the sale proceeds, Smith said he would recommend the town offer a tax abatement to help facilitate the development. State law allows a municipality to abate up to 50 percent of all local property taxes for a new industrial development or expansion for a period of up to seven years. Deep River has authorized similar tax abatements for industrial development or expansions previously, but for shorter time periods.

“I see it as a win even with an abatement if you’re not getting anything to begin with,” Smith said. The board urged Smith to continue his contacts with the unidentified interested party and the Mislick family. “It would be great to get some activity back there”, said Selectman Angus McDonald.

Mild 2.7 Earthquake Early Thursday was Centered in Deep River

DEEP RIVER— A mild earthquake early Thursday that registered at 2.7 on the Richter Scale was centered in Deep River. The earthquake, which was confirmed by the U.S. Geological Survey, occurred around 3:09 a.m. and caused no reports of damage.

State police and dispatchers at the Troop F Barracks in Westbrook reported receiving numerous calls immediately after the quake from residents reporting an explosion and or shaking of the ground around their homes. The quake was also felt in Chester, and as far away as Middletown, Durham, and East Hampton on the east side of the Connecticut River. The quake occurred between two to three miles underground. A similar mild earthquake that was centered around Chester occurred in March 2008 with no damage reported

Foley Carries Area Towns in Republican Gubernatorial Primary Win

AREAWIDE— Party-endorsed candidate Tom Foley of Greenwich carried Chester, Deep River, and Essex Tuesday on his way to a statewide Republican gubernatorial primary win over his challenger, State Sen. John McKinney of Fairfield. As was the case statewide, voter turnout was extremely low in the three area towns. The vote in Chester was Foley-41, McKinney-36. In Deep River, Foley 64, McKinney-53, and in Essex Foley 216, McKinney-121.

But tri-town Republicans showed a preference for challengers in the close three-way contest for the GOP Lt. Governor nomination, with Groton Councilwoman Heather Bond Somers carrying the towns over the convention-endorsed candidate, State Rep. Penny Bacchiochi of Stafford and David Walker of Bridgeport, who was running as a team with McKinney.

In Chester, Walker led with a vote of Walker- 34, Bacchiochi-26, and Somers-17. In Deep River, Somers led, with a vote of Somers-59, Bacchiochi-32, and Walker-24. Somers also carried Essex, with a vote of Somers-145, Bacchiochi-98, and Walker-88.
Party-endorsed candidate Sharon McClaughlin carried all three towns in her statewide win over challenger Angel Cadena for the Republican nomination for state comptroller. In Chester, the vote was McClaughlin-53, Cadena-18, in Deep River, McClaughlin-75, Cadena-28, and in Essex McClaughlin 237, Cadena-65.

Voter turnout was extremely low, particularly in Chester, where only 77 of 458 registered Republicans turned out Tuesday. In Deep River, the turnout was 117 of 600 registered Republicans. In Essex, turnout was 337 of 1,317 registered Republicans.

Sticker System for Essex Trash Compactor Site Effective Oct. 1

ESSEX— A new sticker system for residential users that is intended to eliminate cash transactions at the town solid waste transfer station will be effective on Wednesday Oct. 1

First Selectman Norman Needleman announced the new effective date for changes at the transfer station at a meeting of the board of selectmen last week. The selectmen had approved the new site rules and fees last winter, but the effective date for the changes has been pushed back as town personnel prepare to implement the new system.

As of Oct. 1, the current pay-per-bag system for residents using the site for disposal of household trash will end, along with all other cash transactions at the facility located off Route 154 near the Route 9 exit four interchange. Resident users will be required to purchase a use sticker for their vehicle at a cost of  $125 per year, with a reduced change of $75 per year for senior citizens. Occasional users will be allowed to purchase a book of stickers at a price of  $25 for ten trips to the compactor site.

All payments must be made by check or credit card, ending the need for site personnel to handle cash paid for use of the site. The plan also includes higher fees for disposal of bulky waste and demolition materials, but there will be no charge for disposal of recyclables, including bottles, cans, plastics, newspapers and magazines.

In other business last week, selectmen approved a transfer of funds remaining in a legal services account for the now defunct sanitary waste commission to the legal budget for the water pollution control authority. Voters at a town meeting in June approved a revised ordinance dissolving the sanitary waste commission, ending an arrangement dating to the early 1990s where the town maintained an appointed joint sanitary waste commission/water pollution control authority.
Under the previous ordinance, the sanitary waste commission helped supervise the solid waste transfer station and town recycling efforts, while the WPCA directed the town’s water pollution control and sewer avoidance efforts.

With the funds transfer, which also requires approval from the board of finance at an Aug. 21 meeting, $4,000 remaining in the sanitary waste commission legal account will be added to the $5,000 that is in the legal budget for the WPCA for a total legal account of $9,000 for the WPCA in the current fiscal year that began July 1.

State Police Apprehend Suspect in Saturday Essex Bank Robbery

ESSEX— State troopers quickly apprehended a suspect Saturday morning minutes after he allegedly robbed the Bank of America branch at the Bokum Center Shopping Plaza. Joshua Green, 33, of Niantic, was arrested on Route 153 (Plains Road) soon after the robbery was reported around 10 a.m. Saturday.

Green was northbound approaching the Route 9 exit 3 interchange when the Subaru station wagon he was driving was stopped by two troopers. He was arrested and charged with third degree robbery, first degree larceny, and operating a motor vehicle without a license. Police report a “large amount of stolen currency,” was recovered from the vehicle. Green was held over the weekend at the Troop F barracks in Westbrook for arrangement Monday at Middletown Superior Court.

Essex Capital Projects Could Total Over $6 Million

ESSEX— The board of selectmen is expected to receive a report in August detailing capital projects that could total over $6 million. The report is expected to set the stage for community debate on a bonding authorization resolution that could go to town voters before the end of the year.

Selectman Bruce Glowac said this week the five-member advisory capital projects committee is working to complete a final report for submission to the board of selectmen at its Aug 19 meeting, Glowac, a Republican and former first selectman, has chaired the capital projects committee since he assumed the minority party seat on the board of selectmen last November.

Glowac said the report would include specific cost estimates for each project. “We hope to have some pretty firm numbers to go forward with the various projects,” he said. But Glowac stressed the list of projects is subject to change as it is reviewed by the board of selectmen and board of finance in September. “We have not settled on any amounts yet,” he said.

Glowac said the top priority projects are replacement of most of the roof at Essex Elementary School, and replacement of town bridges on Ivory Street and Walnut Street in the Ivoryton section. Glowac said projects related to the elementary school and the two bridge projects would be eligible for state and federal grants that would reduce the final expense for the town.

Essex Elementary School: New Roof: a High Priority Capital Project

Essex Elementary School: New Roof: a High Priority Capital Project (photo courtesy of Jerome Wilson).

Glowac said the preliminary list includes other improvements at the elementary school, which was built in 1952 and last renovated and expanded in 2006. The possible improvements include air conditioning for a building that is now used year-round, repaving of the school driveway and some parking areas, and improvements to the school media center.

The library/media center was relocated to a former gymnasium after a renovation in the 1990s, but the floor under the media center contains final pockets of potentially hazardous asbestos material. Glowac said the asbestos must be removed before any other possible improvements to the media center are considered.

The list also includes improvements at town hall, including roof replacement, air conditioning, new energy efficient windows, and an upgraded fire and security alarm system. The town hall, built in 1892 as the former Pratt High School, has had some renovations in recent years. The list could also include improvements at the town public works garage located off Route 154, which was first constructed in the early 1990s. The building also needs roof replacement, along with an upgrade of the heating system.

Glowac said an initial cost estimate for the total list of projects came in at $6.5 million, a figure that could be reduced by $2-$3 million in state and federal grant funds. He added that some projects on the preliminary list could be removed from the final list of proposed projects that would be presented to town residents at a public hearing this fall. Glowac said it is too soon to predict when a bonding authorization resolution to fund capital projects would be presented to town voters for approval in a referendum.

Ivoryton Village Named to National Register of Historic Places

Rose Brother’s Store and village gathering spot, as it was almost a century ago

Rose Brother’s Store and village gathering spot, as it was almost a century ago

ESSEX— The Village of Ivoryton has been placed on the National Parks Service National Register of Historic Places in recognition of the number of historic structures in the village and it’s role as a “well preserved company town” from the Industrial era of New England.

The town’s planning commission played a key role in the village’s nomination and inclusion on the National Register, which includes hundreds of historic sites and structures in all parts of the United States. The commission established a subcommittee more than three years ago that surveyed and documented nearly 100 historic structures in the three villages of Essex, Centerbrook and Ivoryton with assistance from the State Office of Historic Preservation. The effort was aided by the work of the late former Town Historian Donald Malcarne, who wrote several books about the town’s historic in its historic structures.

Gather  today.  The building is practically unchanged from a century ago when it served as the location of the Rose Brother’s Store (photo by Jody Dole)

Gather today. The building is practically unchanged from a century ago when it served as the location of the Rose Brother’s Store (photo by Jody Dole)

With more then 200 identified “contributing” structures, the National  Register highlights an area roughly bounded by Main St., North Main St., Oak St., Blake St., Summit St. and Comstock Avenue. These streets include many structures tied to the village’s two major industries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the ivory import and manufacturers Comstock, Cheney & Co. and Pratt, Read & Co, Many of the houses in the area were home to immigrants from Germany, Poland, Italy and Sweden that worked in the two ivory processing factories.

Between 1860 and the late 1930s, Ivoryton was a self-sufficient industrial center that was home for more than 600 workers. Both the Ivoryton Library and Ivoryton Playhouse buildings date back to this era.

The addition of Ivoryton village to the National Register represents a tribute to its continuing historic character and contributions to the Industrial Era in New England, but the honorary designation carries no regulatory burden and imposes no obligations on private property owners. There are no restrictions on the use, transfer or disposition of private property, though the designation could open the possibility of funding assistance for restoration of identified historic structures,.