Many important stories have been covered by the New Britain Progressive in 2017. It may be difficult to name only a few articles as the top stories of the year, but there are a few the New Britain Progressive would like to share as our Top Ten. Other Top Ten stories can be found at “Top Ten Stories of 2017.”
Two possibly interrelated issues concerning New Britain’s water system that began in 2016 came to a head in 2017. The proposal to allow Tilcon to strip-mine in New Britain’s protected drinking watershed land was brought back to the front burner in 2016 by Republican Mayor Erin Stewart at a similar time to when she also sought to sell the 1 million-plus gallon per day Patton Brook Well to the Town of Southington, whose support was important for winning approval of the Tilcon mining plan. But Stewart’s plans to sell the Patton Brook Well began to unwind in 2016 when the New Britain Progressive broke the news that New Britain was in a drought-condition water supply alert (“New Britain in a ‘water supply alert’“). The New Britain Progressive also reported, in 2017, on the interwoven business and other relationships among those involved in the watershed mining plan (“The Web of Watershed Mining“).
Public opposition to the plan to sell the Patton Brook Well gained even more momentum in 2017 as severe drought conditions and the need to purchase water from the regional Metropolitan District Commission exposed as false Stewart’s pronouncements that the well was not needed by New Britain. By April, 2017, in the face of increasing pressure, Stewart gave up on the Patton Brook Well sale plans (“Amid Growing Questions and a Democratic Resolution, Stewart and Council Republicans Abandon Patton Brook Sale“). By the end of 2017, water was flowing from the Patton Brook Well into New Britain’s primary drinking water reservoir, again, exposing as false Stewart’s previous claim that bringing Patton Brook Well water to New Britain would be impractical and would take $1 million to do (“City Taps Patton Brook Well For Water After Calling Off Bargain Basement Sale, Hiking Rates To Pay For MDC Water“). Meanwhile, with many Democrats having run in the 2017 election in opposition to Stewart’s plan to allow mining of drinking watershed land, that plan may no longer have the support to continue in the new, Democratic majority City Council.
2017 marking, possibly, the end of the line for Stewart’s water plans, makes this the #4 story on the New Britain Progressive’s Top 10 of 2017.
Amid Growing Questions and a Democratic Resolution, Stewart and Council Republicans Abandon Patton Brook Sale
April 21, 2017
In the wake of mounting questions about why Republican Mayor Erin Stewart sold the Patton Brook Well while the city knew it was facing significant drought conditions, and a City Council resolution, originally offered by the three Democratic Council members, to revoke the sale, the Republican mayor and the Council’s Republicans are abandoning her plan to sell the Patton Brook Well.
On October 11, 2016, the New Britain Progressive broke the story that the city of New Britain was in a water supply alert condition at the time that Stewart and the Republican-dominated Council approved the sale of the high-yield Patton Brook drinking water well. Stewart admitted that the water supply alert condition existed just one day after the Progressive broke the story, but two months after the Council had approved the sale.
Since then, further evidence has come to light that the city under Stewart was well aware of the significant drought conditions months before the Patton Brook sale was approved. This has prompted further questions about why the Republican mayor would sell the valuable water asset, for what has been observed to be an extraordinarily low price, at a time when the city, under her administration, knew about the drought.
The Republican dominated City Council, at Stewart’s urging, approved the sale to Southington, against vigorous public opposition, last August. But any deal to sell public watershed land is not final until the state’s Department of Public Health signs off on it, which they have not yet done, making a revocation of the deal still possible.
The loss of the Patton Brook Well, and its 1.2 million gallons-per-day of water producing capacity has been a central focus of discussion as New Britain has faced an historic drought, causing the city, for the first time in recent memory, to purchase water from the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC), the water authority serving greater Hartford. The reason why Stewart did not disclose the severe drought, while she sought to sell the well, sources say, has raised increasing questions in the eight months since the well sale was approved by the Council, including just how far back the city knew about the drought the city faced, and how much city residents will have to pay to purchase water from the MDC.
These questions reached a head when, at the last Council meeting, Ald. Manny Sanchez (D-3) submitted official petitions, requiring that city officials report to the Council, at the next Council meeting, on April 26th, as one petition required,
“a monthly breakdown on how much the City of New Britain has paid for water, the quantity of water drawn, all additional labor costs and any other related costs associated with pumping water from The Metropolitan District. The report should also include all expenses associated with the connection and drawing of water from The Metropolitan District Nepaug Reservoir.”
The other petition required,
“a summary of our water levels dating back to December of 2015, the initial date of our recent water supply alert, to present. Also, please provide for that same time period the following:
- Trigger Levels for Drought Response Stages from December 2015 to present on a monthly basis during that period.
- Actions taken by the Water Department in response to each of the drought levels being triggered.”
Stewart has maintained, through the eight months since the Council approved her proposal to sell the well, that the city does not need the Patton Brook Well, and that it would be impractical for the city to use it. But the original version of the Council resolution to halt the sale contained a paragraph stating that:
“subsequent to the informational process and the adoption of Resolution No. 33536-2 it has been learned through emails from December of 2014 between the City of New Britain Water Department and the Board of Water Commissioners of the Town of Southington, that the City of New Britain intended to use Patton Brook Well to supplement the City of New Britain reservoirs”.
That version of the proposed resolution was drafted to be proposed by the Democratic Council leader, Ald. Carlo Carlozzi, Jr. (D-5), Ald. Shirley Black (D-3) and Sanchez. But the version of the resolution actually appearing in the agenda of the April 26th Council meeting removes the reference that “the City of New Britain intended to use Patton Brook Well to supplement the City of New Britain reservoirs.”
The version of the resolution on the Council agenda also states that Stewart sent a letter to the state Department of Public Health on April 10th withdrawing her sale proposal, and it replaces Sanchez and Black as cosponsors of the resolution with Ald. Jamie Giantonio (R-1), the Republican leader of the Council.
Sources say that the about-face of Stewart and the Council Republicans, after eight months in which they had insisted that the deal was in the best interests of the city, is because, they, Stewart and Council Republicans, are in damage control mode. The sources say that, in the wake of increasingly damaging information and the growing costs of purchasing water from the Metropolitan District Commission, Stewart and the Republicans are now attempting to spin the withdrawal from the Patton Brook Sale as if they were taking positive action rather than responding to a growing scandal.
The Web of Watershed Mining
July 16, 2017
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.
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 three 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.
City Taps Patton Brook Well For Water After Calling Off Bargain Basement Sale, Hiking Rates To Pay For MDC Water
November 6, 2017
By John McNamara
More than a year after the Stewart administration and Common Council sought to sell off the Patton Brook Well at an undervalued price of $1 million the unused well is replenishing the Shuttle Meadow reservoir.
Mayor Stewart and her Council majority authorized the sale in August 2016, seeking to give up the nearby water source that is part of New Britain’s coveted watershed land in the region. The Town of Southington, where the watershed parcel and pump station are located, was the prospective buyer. Previously New Britain shared Patton Brook with Southington at reasonable rates for decades but used its other sources for city residents.
In the her second attempt to jettison Patton Brook altogether, Mayor Stewart and her Common Council allies insisted that repairing the well for New Britain’s use would be too costly and that Patton Brook did not figure prominently in the city’s water reserve plan. The flow of water from Patton Brook through a culvert into the Shuttle Meadow Reservoir with little in the way of repairs and expense contradicts the Mayor’s assertions that the well could not be turned back on for New Britain without a major capital expense.
In winning an 11-4 Council vote for the sale of Patton Brook Well in the summer of 2016, Mayor Stewart accused opponents of “political posturing” and spreading “outright lies and unfortunate misinformation.” Said Stewart: “We are not selling the New Britain Water Co. and have absolutely no intentions of doing so. We are transferring ownership of a physical well that isn’t connected to the city’s water pipes and hasn’t been used by the city in decades. The Patton Brook well sits on a 0.61 acre parcel of land in Southington and is valued at around $61,000.”
Amid strong public opposition and an ongoing drought that forced the water department to hike rates to pay for $400,000 in Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) reserves this year, Stewart finally relented last April as officials were awaiting state approval of the sale.
Opponents of the well sale say the city administration became aware of a developing drought as early as December 2015, but took no appropriate action to conserve supplies nor warn residents as efforts to sell Patton Brook proceeded.
In a related development the Connecticut General Assembly enacted legislation introduced by State Rep. Rick Lopes (D-24) requiring that municipalities or water departments to obtain an independent appraisal of public watershed before it can be sold.
In early October acting Water Director Ray Esponda told the New Britain Herald that water from Patton Brook can flow into the Shuttle Meadow Reservoir, but that it would take $1 million in repairs to allow the well’s water to reach other reservoirs in the city’s regional reservoir system.
Last month the city Water Department also contradicted Mayor Stewart’s $61,000 value, confirming that the well has a current capacity of at least one million gallons a day. Translated into consumer water rates the city would quickly obtain a return on a $1 million investment whether it leased the well’s water or needed it for use by city residents. Alternatively, funding from the Army Corps of Engineers could be pursued to add capacity to New Britain’s regional watershed and supply.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published at NBPoliticus.
The New Britain Progressive has compiled articles and opinion pieces on these New Britain water issues in our news and opinion Water Supply and Watershed Archive.