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Letter to the Editor: Not On Our River Supporters Finally Reveal New Town Garage Location – A Contaminated Chemical Dump in the Worst Traffic Area in Canton

October 29, 2016 Government, Opinion, Referendum 2 Comments

To the Editor:

Throwing an 11th hour diversion into the mix of our town garage referendum is nothing new, but this one is almost hard to believe. In fact, this only helps to demonstrate the lack of other suitable locations and that re-building the garage at the existing location is the best solution for our taxpayers.  Former First Selectman Dick Barlow’s suggestion that the garage should be built on the contaminated Mitchell Volkswagen site by the Shoppes on Route 44 is particularly short-sighted and disturbing.  His own prior knowledge of the many issues with that site should have logically prevented identifying it as an alternative, as was the case during his time in office.  Our exceedingly patient DPW staff would find out that things could in fact go from bad to worse.  A review of the facts shows why this is likely the worst location ever suggested from an economic, environmental, access and safety standpoint.   

Poor economics:  The Town is owed $870,000 in back taxes on this property, which is the subject of pending litigation with the owner, Cadle Company, and the tenant, Mitchell. Mr. Barlow stated that the Town should just take the property, use a State of CT Brownfields grant to clean it up and then build a new DPW garage there. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  First, the Town can’t simply “take” property. The Town must go through litigation in the form of a tax foreclosure. This litigation can be contested by the owner or the tenant.  If successful, the Town would receive ownership of the contaminated property, but would also forego the right to collect $870,000 in back taxes.

Poor environmental impact and more time delays:  And what would the Town be receiving for forgiving an $870,000 debt? A 1.7 acre contaminated site previously occupied by the Swift Chemical Company, which sits in an Aquifer Protection Zone.  Mr. Barlow suggests that the Town apply for a grant under the State’s Abandoned Brownfield Cleanup Program.  This is a competitive grant program, and the fact that the Town would be seeking to clean up a site to build a highway garage (as opposed to economic development, which is the primary purpose for the grant program) in an Aquifer Protection Zone would likely weigh heavily against the Town’s grant application.  Given the State of CT finances, this seems like unrealistic, wishful thinking.  Even if the Town obtained the grant, the clean up could take years. Contrary to Not On Our River assertions, there is no way all this would not delay bonding and construction for a new town garage.  The DPW staff, our trucks and equipment would continue to languish in the existing dilapidated facility while the town waits for litigation, a long-shot grant approval, testing and site remediation, and attempts to get permits from DEEP to build a garage and salt shed on an aquifer.  If just one of these steps along the way fails, we are back to square one.

Traffic Nightmare:  Anyone who drives Route 44 during rush hour traffic and goes to the Shoppes around the holidays knows it ranges from a crawl to a complete standstill. It seems like a bad joke to suggest we should explode this problem and compromise safety with our town vehicles regularly turning in and out of this location.  Taxpayers want town crew working, not sitting in traffic with the rest of us.

The Town is currently taking steps to collect the overdue taxes through a pending court action against Mitchell.  The Town has already been successful in this action before the State Supreme Court, and now the Town is waiting for a trial date in early 2017. If the Town prevails at trial, the tenant will be ordered to pay the Town over $800,000. The Town should work with state officials to get the property cleaned up – not for a municipal non-taxpaying tenant, but so that the property can become a taxable entity.  As stated in the Plan of Conservation and Development, Canton should “get the Swift Chemical superfund site back on the tax rolls as a developed/developable property”.

Let’s see this contaminated site idea for what it is: an 11th hour diversion that would be the worst option for rebuilding our DPW garage.  Don’t be fooled by it.  Voting YES for the garage on Nov. 8 will finally put an end to all this nonsense with a cost-effective, comprehensive solution.

Brian First, Canton resident and Chair of Canton GOES (Garage On Existing Site)


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