November 21, 2014

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.

Letter: Essex Conservation Commission Please Rethink Beaver Plans

To the Editor:

Below is a copy of a letter I sent to the Essex Conservation Commission on November 15, 2014:

Dear Conservation Commission,

As a former member of the commission I have tried to stay informed about your ongoing work and in as much just read the minutes from the November 6th meeting  and I find it disturbing that after several years, the commission seems again to be choosing an inappropriate measure in dealing with the beavers.

Viney Hill Brook Park was purchased by the Town as a nature preserve, and all that inhabits the preserve should be just that – preserved.  There is ample research and many appropriate alternatives to killing.  Beavers are indigenous to Connecticut and deserve the same protection any other animal living at Viney Hill Brook Park is afforded.

Further, your potential actions are in direct conflict with the rules and regulations you publish  –from the Conservation Commission brochure about Viney Hill Brook Park:

Please observe and follow the posted guidelines:

PASSIVE RECREATION

The passive recreation area of the park, managed by the Essex Conservation Commission, is open to the public for walking and hiking. It is not a playground, hunting area, bike path or campground. The area is a place where people can enjoy native plants and animals without altering or…

The State of Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has published a fact sheet on their  website providing details, among other things, of the benefits of beaver communities and options to help alleviate problems caused by beavers.

I urge you to rethink your plans and use a better measure to work and live with the beavers of Viney Hill Brook Park.

Respectfully,

Susan Malan
Essex, CT

 

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.

Something Strange Happened Lately in the Skies of France

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

Something strange happened lately in the skies of France:  drones were spotted over several nuclear plants, including one dangerously close to Paris in Nogent sur Seine. A few days later more drones flew over nuclear complexes.  A wave of anxiety gripped the public opinion.  Who was manipulating those machines?  Was the country under threat?

Greenpeace was immediately suspected of being the one to operate the unmanned contraptions.   As a pro-environmental watchdog this international association has a history of peaceful action against nuclear power.  In 2012 a paraglider had landed on a nuclear installation, to prove that the installation was not well protected.  In July 2013, 29 activists broke into Tricastin nuclear plant, in southern France.   Yannick Rousselet, head of the anti-nuclear Greenpeace campaign, appearing on television, vehemently denied any involvement this time.

If Greenpeace had nothing to do with it.  the question remained, who did?  A few days later , three individuals suspected of operating the drones, were arrested.  So, for now, the fear is defused. But it was a wake up call of a potential danger.

The most advanced drone technologies are found in Israel and the US..  To obtain the most accurate information I interviewed a French engineer who used to work with a German company manufacturing drones .  He told me that ten years ago all of them were built for military use, mostly for reconnaissance and surveillance.  They included the HALE (High Altitude Long Endurance); the MALE (Medium Altitude Long Endurance); tactical drones; portable drones for use in ground combat.  Israeli  Watchkeeper with sensors and camera can fire missiles and bombs from sometimes thousands of miles away.   To-day drones have become a necessity in wars taking place in huge territories such as Mali.

France is at the cutting-edge of research but lacks funds to develop its ideas.   As an example, Dassault designed the NEURON and produced one model whereas the American PREDATOR, built in 2010, has already flown one million hours.

European countries are catching up with drone technology. On November 5, François Hollande and David Cameron attended the signing of an agreement between Dassault Aviation and BAE Systems (British Aerospace and Marconi electronics Systems) for a new generation of drones.  Germany and Italy will be part of the project in the future.

To-day civilian drones exist in all sizes and degrees of complexity. Drones, called “insects” are so small that they can be held in the palm of the hand.  The  Chinese DJI Fantom , flies like an helicopter with quadrotors,  carries a remote camera and is very popular with the general public. Drones  have become invaluable at times of natural disasters, to test the strength of bridges, in mapping, archaeology and multiple other uses.

But they may be dangerous like causing the crash of commercial airplanes by getting into the reactors.  When a drone fell less than six feet from Angela Merkel, during her political campaign in September 2013 people realized that a drone was anything but a toy.

Letter: Let the Beavers Stay

To the Editor:
Today I read a letter to the Editor pleading for the case of some recent immigrants to our village who are threatened with eviction, deportation, or maybe even decapitation. One shudders to think such treatment would ever be dealt to any who choose Essex as their home. Yet that’s what some newly arrived beavers face as the forces of normalcy and order are marshaled against them. I must say I am on the side of the writer and of the beavers. There are many well-intentioned folks who say we must preserve nature the way it is. Well, beavers are a vital and interesting part of that nature. I’m sure the Parks & Recreation Department can spare a few trees at Viney Hill. Who knows, the village may have just acquired a new “official mascot”. I say, let them stay!
Sincerely
Steve Haines,
Essex

Local Historic Properties Open for Area Families After Thanksgiving

Bring your Thanksgiving visitors to the Pratt House in Essex, built in 1701, on Friday, Nov. 28 and Saturday, Nov. 29.

Bring your Thanksgiving visitors to the Pratt House in Essex, built in 1701, on Friday, Nov. 28 and Saturday, Nov. 29.

After you have celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends, step outside and celebrate the rich history of the towns of Chester, Deep River and Essex. The historic houses and museums owned by the historical societies in the three towns will be open to the public for free, providing a welcome alternative to dealing with crowds at the malls.

The historic Pratt House, located at 19 West Avenue in Essex, will be open to visitors Friday, Nov. 28, and Saturday, Nov. 29, from 12 to 3 p.m. The house, which was built in 1701, continues to interpret 18th-century farm life and the nine generations of Pratt smithies, many of whom lived there. Its barn, traditional herb garden, and lovely meadow complete the pastoral setting of a New England farmhouse. Take a tour of the house with one of Essex Historical Society’s knowledgeable docents and be transported to a bygone era.  For more information, visit www.essexhistory.org.

At the Chester Museum at The Mill is the 1880s high-wheeled Columbia “ordinary” from the CT Historical Society.

At the Chester Museum at The Mill is the 1880s high-wheeled Columbia “ordinary” from the CT Historical Society.

The Chester Museum at The Mill, at 9 West Main Street in Chester, will also be open on Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.  Skip Hubbard, president of Chester Historical Society, says, “It’s become a tradition. Although our museum season is over, we have been pleased to welcome 40-60 area family members and visitors for the two days following Thanksgiving every year since we opened. People of all ages find the museum a great way to renew or learn local history.  Now is also the last time to see our popular transportation exhibit, ‘Over the River and Through the Woods,’ which features train, trolley, steamboat and ferry travel.  The 1880s high-wheeled Ordinary bicycle is alone worth a visit!” For more information, visit www.chesterhistoricalsociety.org.

See “The Gems of the Society” at Deep River’s Stone House.

See “The Gems of the Society” at Deep River’s Stone House.

The Deep River Historical Society showcases their “Gems of the Society” in the Stone House, built by Deacon Ezra Southworth in 1840. The home is furnished in the late Victorian period with oil paintings done by regional artists, and also features collections of Deep River businesses and products including Niland cut glass and ivory products of Pratt, Read & Co. A World War I exhibit, “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary,” showcases the men of Deep River who served in the Great War. The Stone House, at 245 Main Street in Deep River, will be open on Friday, Nov. 28, from 1 to 4 p.m.

For more information, visit www.deepriverhistoricalsociety.org.

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.