CHESTER – A $500,000 Small Town Economic Assistance Program grant designed to extend the town’s water line to the Industrial Park may instead be used for the town’s sewer.
Selectman Martin Heft said when he was First Selectman he had applied to the State of Connecticut for the grant to extend the existing waterline from the corner of West Main Street and Bokum Road up to the Industrial Park allowing businesses to expand, have fire service and portable water.
“It was one of the last grants that I wrote as First Selectman,” Heft said, adding that the town learned the grant was approved in June 2006.
Estimating the project would cost about $3 million, Heft said the $500,000 would be combined with money from local businesses.
Heft told Marsh he could assist in bringing appropriate parties to the table for discussion, however, Heft said Marsh never scheduled a meeting for such a discussion.
A letter was mailed by Marsh this past November to local businesses informing them that during the past 12 years, the town unsuccessfully applied for several grants for the water line including funding from the USDA Rural Development Program and $2.5 million in federal funds.
“Avenues for additional state or federal funding to complete the project have been exhausted. For the project to continue, approximately $2 million in funding from private sources (those who would benefit from the waterline) will be required. I am not optimistic about the possibility of putting together a coalition of business willing to invest $200K-$400K each,” Marsh wrote.
In the letter, Marsh reminds businesses that the town is under a Consent Order issued by the DEP requiring the town to develop a solution to the failed septic system in town center.
Heft claims that the letter had “misinformation on other grants and the amount of money it would cost each business”.
Heft wrote in a letter to Marsh that a Federal grant was applied for in March 2005 and did not qualify on July 25, 2005.
Prior to the STEAP approval on June 1, 2006, U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman’s office told the town it needed to re-apply in fall 2006 for new funding opportunities, Heft wrote, adding that this was not pursued by the town.
Looking at the list of businesses informed about the proposal, Heft wrote to Marsh that letters were not sent to TLB Architecture and Roto Frank of America, Inc.
TLB Architecture is located at 92 West Main Street and Roto Frank of America is located at 14 Inspiration Lane.
“The Economic Development Commission met on 12/14/2006 and you reported on the STEAP grant. In your report it is stated that “the businesses were not interested in such a proposal” The fact is that no written responses have been received from the property owners (12/26/2006 notes) and only one had a conversation with you (Gomes as mentioned at the 12/6/2006 BOS Meeting). I spoke with Jeffrey Brewer of GBR on 12/21/06 who stated that he did not receive a letter and knew nothing of the redirection of funds. (12/29/2006 e-mail notes that GBR’s letter was not directed to Brewer),” Heft wrote.
During a December 2006 Board of Selectmen meeting, Marsh and Selectman Bruce H. Watrous voted in favor of sending a letter to the state asking the grant be reallocated to the sewer project.
In a January 5 letter written to Robert Genuario, Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, Marsh wrote that the sewer project is important to the town’s environmental and economic vitality.
If voters approve of spending town money for the sewer project, Marsh stated the system could be built and connected to the Deep River treatment plant within twelve to eighteen months.
“The planned sewer line may affect the scope of the water line project. Once the sewer is complete we will revisit the water service in Chester and assess how best to meet the water/sewer needs of both the business and residential communities,” Marsh wrote.
While Heft said he understands the need for the town to move on the sewer project, he said that the town has the resources to do both projects at the same.
Both the sewer project and the water project will require users to pay for a portion of the project, Heft said.
On January 8, Heft sent a letter to those owning property in the proposed waterline extension area requesting that a meeting be held with the Board of Selectmen, property owners, the Connecticut Water Company, N.L. Jacobson and Associates, an Economic Development Commission representative, a Planning and Zoning Commission representative, and any interested parties.
“The Selectman’s vote to re-direct the funds without due diligence of informing and communicating properly with the parties is unfair to all those involved,” Heft wrote.
Marsh was unavailable for comment at press time.