The Web of Watershed Mining

Records show that key players in the proposal by Republican Mayor Erin Stewart to allow the Tilcon company to strip-mine New Britain drinking watershed land are tied together, behind the scenes, in a network of business and other relationships, public and other.

Tilcon, the company that is seeking a long-term deal, in which it would be permitted to commercially mine rock from New Britain’s presently protected drinking watershed land, is a part of a large, multi-national corporate business. Tilcon’s website says that “Tilcon Connecticut is a subsidiary of Oldcastle, Inc. (www.Oldcastle.com). Oldcastle Inc., is the North American arm of CRH, plc (www.crh.com), a publicly owned corporation based in Dublin, Ireland. Oldcastle operations include more than 2,000 locations in 50 states and 6 Canadian provinces.”

Tilcon’s watershed mining plans, supported by Erin Stewart, would involve removing a large section of a hill at an upstream part the watershed of New Britain’s primary drinking water reservoir, the Shuttle Meadow Reservoir. The proposal was earlier pressed for by Stewart’s father, Timothy Stewart, when he was mayor. Despite the elder Stewart’s strong support for the plans, the proposal was defeated.

But, on February 13, 2016, Erin Stewart began a public move to resurrect the plans of the elder Stewart to allow Tilcon to strip mine city drinking watershed land. According to Protect Our Watersheds CT, the younger Stewart had “…letters delivered into the mailboxes of residents near the Tilcon quarry about a ‘great new reservoir plan’…”. Erin Stewart has consistently defended the mining plan with the claim it would leave behind a new reservoir for the city, a claim that critics have called dubious.

Less than a month later, on March 7, 2016, the city was registered as having hired the lobbying firm of Gaffney, Bennett & Associates, with Jay F. Malcynsky, Gaffney Bennett’s Co-Founder/Managing Partner, listed as lobbyist for the city.

But records at the Office of State Ethics show that Gaffney Bennett had also already been employed by Tilcon, with Malcynsky serving as Tilcon’s lobbyist. The records show that Tilcon paid Gaffney Bennet $220,886.74 during the 2014-2016 lobbyist reporting period, the latest period for which such information appears available.

The funds paid by Tilcon to Gaffney Bennett were listed as being for legislative lobbying, meaning lobbying of the Connecticut state legislature. The proposal, sought by Tilcon to dig a large mine on land that is currently on lawfully protected watershed land, would require a new law to be approved by the state legislature to allow an exception in this case.

Gaffney Bennett is not the only firm it has been observed are serving the interest of both Tilcon and the city of New Britain. The city has hired Lenard Engineering, Inc. (LEI) to provide what it purports to be an independent evaluation of the water quality and environmental impact of the mining plans.

But, as local attorney and advocate, Paul E. Zagorsky, wrote in a letter to the editor published in the New Britain Herald,

The lead study consultant for LEI who has done work for the city since the 1990s, in communications with Tilcon’s president stated he’s looking forward to “working with you on this project,” and to “getting this fast-paced project underway.” That the kickoff meeting to “discuss the quarry project” (LEI’s words) was hosted by Tilcon’s president and four senior Tilcon personnel, with the study sub-contractors, Mayor Erin Stewart, Gil Bligh of the Water Department, and Tilcon lobbyists and public relations people in attendance is a concern.

Meanwhile, Gaffney Bennett, and Malcynsky, in particular, while working simultaneously as paid representatives of both Tilcon and the city of New Britain, under Erin Stewart, also have a relationship with Timothy Stewart.

Timothy Stewart resumed great stature in the affairs of the city when his daughter was elected to his former position as mayor. With that new influence behind him, the elder Stewart, shortly after his daughter’s election as mayor, was selected, himself, as the President of the Greater New Britain Chamber of Commerce.

Between his own position in the Chamber of Commerce and his daughter’s as mayor, Timothy Stewart is reputed to exercise great influence in the affairs of the community. On the Chamber’s website, Stewart touts that, “We have a strong working relationship with the Mayor’s Office.” The Chamber website expands upon that, saying that, “In conjunction with a strong working relationship with the Mayor’s office, the Greater New Britain Chamber of Commerce is able to accomplish various goals regarding the business community and our current and future Chamber members.”

One of those Chamber members is Gaffney Bennett, whose offices are in New Britain. Malcynsky, himself, sits as a member of the Board of Directors of the Chamber. Another company on the Chamber of Commerce’s website list that appears to refer to the Chamber’s members is Tilcon Connecticut, Inc.

But even this array of powerful interests behind the mining proposal has not, as of yet, prevailed.

Since she proposed it, Stewart’s plans to allow the Tilcon to strip-mine New Britain drinking watershed lands have become the focus of heated public debate. The plans are also a complex deal that touch upon threes communities, New Britain, Plainville and Southington, that all are neighbors of the Tilcon quarry and its proposed expansion. While many New Britain residents live the immediate vicinity of the mine, it is actually located in Plainville.

Also, the proximity of the proposed strip mining to Southington and Crescent Lake in Southington have made gaining the Town of Southington’s support for the plan a significant part of the lobbying campaign in favor of it.

Not long after Erin Stewart brought back the proposed Tilcon watershed mining plan, she also proposed that New Britain sell its Patton Brook Well to the Town of Southington. Stewart and the Republican dominated City Council approved that sale, for what has been observed to be a considerably lower price than its true value. While pressing for the sale, Stewart failed to disclose to the people of the city the fact, known to city officials, that New Britain was suffering from a significant water shortage.

However, after having heavily advocated for the sale, Stewart and Council Republicans withdrew the plan in the face of significant public opposition.

But while Stewart retreated on the Patton Brook Well sale, her drinking watershed strip-mining proposal seems very much alive. This has lead many to speculate that, should Erin Stewart be re-elected this fall, she and the web of business and other interests pressing for the deal will bring their campaign for its approval into high gear once again.

Editor’s note: In addition to Malcynsky’s presence on the Board of Directors showing that Gaffney Bennett is a member of the Chamber of Commerce, it is also listed on the in the Chamber’s website listing of “businesses”. Since the Chamber’s website also refers to its “New Members” as “Newest Businesses”, it appears the Chamber website uses the word “businesses” to refer to Chamber members.