NB Politicus

City Taps Patton Brook Well For Water After Calling Off Bargain Basement Sale, Hiking Rates To Pay For MDC Water

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.

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Patton Brook Well culvert near Shuttle Meadow Reservoir  (Photo taken Sunday, November 5, 2017)

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.

 

 

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Water flows from Patton Brook Well into New Britain’s Shuttle Meadow Reservoir on Sunday, November 5th, 2017

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.

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Water from Patton Brook culvert may be flowing into Shuttle Meadow reservoir. Photo taken on Sunday, November 6, 2017

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Legislature Takes On Water Issues; Rep. Lopes Bill Requires Fair Market Value For City To Sell Wells, Watershed Land

Posted in environment, environmental protection, water resources by nbpoliticus on February 13, 2017

By John McNamara

State Rep. Rick Lopes (D-24) has filed a bill requiring municipalities or water companies to “complete  a fair market appraisal of any property encompassing a watershed, well or reservoir before such property may be sold, and to make such appraisal public at least 90 days prior to such sale.”

Lopes’ proposal is due for a public hearing on Wednesday, February 15th, at the Legislature’s Planning and Development Committee.

Rep. Rick Lopes

Rep. Rick Lopes

The legislation (6481) stems directly from Mayor Stewart’s second attempt to sell the Patton Brook well in Southington to the Town of Southington for $1 million last year. The New Britain Common Council authorized the sale  in a controversial move that brought strong public opposition at a public hearing last July.  The sale remains under review by the state Department of Public Health. The city administration,  through the Board of Water Commissioners, also quietly approved the sale of watershed land in Burlington last last year, land that is also a part of New Britain’s coveted and extensive watershed  in the region.

The effort to sell city watershed, along with a Stewart administration-back proposal by Tilcon, Inc. to lease watershed land on the New Britain-Plainville line for mining operations, has met with growing resistance from the Bradley Mountain Alliance . A citizen coalition has coalesced around protecting the watershed and its members regularly attend City Hall, the Board of Water Commissioners and state regulatory agency meetings.  Year-long drought conditions that have forced the city to purchase water from the Metropolitan District Commission has further increased citizen opposition to the sale of Patton Brook.

According to a commentary raising objections to a Patton Brook sale last July: “The real value of Patton Brook Well – whether it is to be leased or sold – should be calculated on its capacity to produce potable water for residents and businesses.  At no time have New Britain officials, including Stewart and Water Services Director and Southington resident Gil Bligh,  provided a professional or independent appraisal of the Patton Brook Well’s actual value in setting a sale price of $1.2 million two years ago and $1 million this year.  Basing a sale or lease on a real property assessment of the pumping station and the small amount of acreage alone is absurd and irresponsible.”

Rep. Lopes, who represents the 24th assembly district inclusive of New Britain neighborhoods close to watershed land, opposed the attempted sale of Patton Brook in 2014 and 2016 saying in a letter to the editor “water and access to water will always remain a valuable asset. The city of New Britain had the foresight to purchase property with access to water all over the state and these water rights remain among our most valuable assets. Giving up wells and reservoirs are short-term fixes that will only cost the city in the long run.”

Lawmakers are also taking up a series of bills supported by the Save Our Water , a non-partisan citizens’ group that initially mobilized to oppose MDC and Bloomfield decisions to give Niagara Bottling Company of California access and favorable rates to MDC reservoirs. Its membership is growing and includes New Britain as concern over protecting the water supply and natural resources is growing throughout the state.

Save Our Water’s legislative agenda includes law changes on drought protection (HB-6349), permits for large water bottlers (HB6341), water rates for water bottlers (HB6319),  uniform clean water project charge rates (HB6342) and regulation of bottle water (HB5619).   Save Our Water opposes Senate Bill 753 — an act concerning the viability of expanding the bottled water industry in Connecticut. Instead Save Our Water favors its own legislative package “to ensure the prudent management of our state’s valuable water resources, establishing priorities for water usage during droughts and requiring that water rates for large-scale water bottlers are not lower than rates for residential customers.”

 

 

City Hall Watch: Stewart Wants More Money For Tilcon Watershed Study; Costs To Exceed $350K

Posted in city government, environmental protection, New Britain, Uncategorized, water resources by nbpoliticus on December 12, 2016

By John McNamara

The Stewart administration is seeking an additional $17,500 for an  environmental study of Tilcon Inc.’s  long-term plan to lease city watershed for trap rock mining.

The extra cost is up for consideration at the December 14th Common Council meeting and follows the June 2016 Common Council approval of a $337,000 no-bid contract to Glastonbury-based Lenard Engineering, a contractor the city has frequently used on water supply issues.

The request for more money from a favored contractor of the Stewart administration stems from the original scope of the study commissioned by the city.  That engineering survey was quickly deemed inadequate by both the regional Water Planning Council (WPC) and the state Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) when members of those councils learned about the agreement with Lenard and opponents of Tilcon’s expansion project raised objections.

Environmental officials, though allowing the city to engage Lenard Engineering last summer, have questioned the “independence” of the firm and chastised the city for the original scope of work which failed to address environmental concerns.

The Tilcon expansion, unsuccessfully sought nine years ago during the first Stewart Administration, will need state approval in order for Tilcon to extract the valuable igneous rock known as trap rock on 131 acres of protected watershed that is in close proximity to the city’s Shuttle Meadow reservoir.

from Protect Our Watersheds CT

from Protect Our Watersheds CT

The new scope of work, according to the council resolution, entails “an enhanced, four-season ecological study.”  The original scope of work, rejected by the CEQ, was set for 15 weeks and left out critical factors in assessing the impacts of expanded Tilcon mining on forest land and the fragile ecology that sustains wetlands in the city-owned regional water system. Apparently the $337,000 isn’t enough for Lenard Engineering to do what it is supposed to do for a true  environmental assessment.

Mayor Stewart, who continues to face strong public opposition about the pending sale of the 1.5 million gallon a day Patton Brook Well as drought conditions force the city to buy water from the Metropolitan District Commission, cites the revenue  ($15 million) the city would obtain from a multi million dollar lease and the long-term benefits of Ireland-based Tilcon creating a small reservoir over the next generation. That reservoir would provide no more than 160,000 gallons a day by the year 2050.

Since Tilcon revived its expansion project this year Stewart has been its biggest cheerleader at first pushing for completion of the study without measuring the ecological impact.  She originally sought to have the study wrapped up this fall.

Her administration has also engaged Gaffney Bennett Associates, a high powered New Britain-based lobbying firm, on behalf of the city on the issue at the same time Gaffney Bennett works for Tilcon Inc. to grease the governmental skids for project approval. Those relationships raise blatant conflicts of interest that have been ignored by both state and city governments.

Attorney Paul Zagorsky, an opponent of the Tilcon expansion and part of a multi-town coalition of citizens (Protect Our Watersheds CT and the Bradley Mountain Alliance), called  out the Stewart administration for its conflicts and  lack of transparency in an August 7th New Britain Herald letter to the editor:

“In her July 28th letter to the WPC the mayor states she was ‘dismayed to learn that the CEQ passed a motion yesterday rescinding their approval of Lenard Engineering.’ While Gilbert Bligh, head of the city’s Water Department was at that CEQ meeting, he did not speak, no one from the city did. I am dismayed the city has withheld and/or provided misleading information to the public and the state, that the Lenard study is a Tilcon quarry feasibility study and not an environmental study, that Lenard is a long time contractor for the city and not ‘independent,’ and that the city is working with Tilcon’s lobbyists on this.”

The absence of  transparency and obvious conflicts of interest around the Stewart administration and water issues should prompt the Common Council to demand more accountability. That includes asking  how much has been expended so far by Lenard Engineering and why $17,500 more is necessary.

The state law adopted this year requires an “independent” study about Tilcon’s expansion and what New Britain’s long-term water needs are. The spirit and letter of that law and the laws protecting the watershed need to be followed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Selling Of Patton Brook Well: Will New Britain Get A Fair Price To Help Southington Address Its Water Crisis?

Mayor Stewart’s Lowered $1 Million Price Drastically Undervalues Patton Brook Well 

By John McNamara

A Monday, July 11th public hearing at New Britain City Hall will take up a proposed sale of the city’s Patton Brook Well in Southington as that town’s water commission faces growing challenges to address its need for water in the sprawling suburban community of 42,000.

The sale of the well — part of New Britain’s extensive and coveted regional water assets — would be an unprecedented and controversial move,  breaking with longstanding policy of leasing water rights to Southington and others in the region, but retaining city ownership for the long-term.

Hearing Notice near Patton Brook Well (photo: www.myrecordjournal.com)

Hearing Notice near Patton Brook Well photo: http://www.myrecordjournal.com

In 2014 Erin Stewart unsuccessfully pushed selling Patton Brook Well to Southington for a $1.2 million price saying that the well didn’t figure in the city’s water reserve plan. Southington’s Board of Water Commissioners would then pursue repair of the Patton Brook pumping station for the town’s exclusive use. Previously, New Britain had leased the well to Southington for $107,000 a year — an arrangement that lasted for more than 30 years.

The 2014 Common Council narrowly rejected that 2014 sale siding with city residents who wanted to preserve the well as part of New Britain’s regional water resources.

The Stewart administration, with the 2016 Council more favorable to her policies, is back. The asking price now, however, is inexplicably lower — $200,000 less than Southington’s $1.2 million offer in 2014.

How the Stewart Administration arrived at or agreed to the lower $1 million price should be a question on the minds of residents and the Common Council.  By all accounts the Patton Brook Well is a prodigious water supply and a source within Southington’s borders that the town’s water commission badly needs to bring on-line.

Southington’s Water Department, for example, has imposed voluntary restrictions  “in order to conserve water supply during the unusual warm weather conditions and lack of rain fall.” according to the town’s website.  Southington’s system is comprised of three reservoirs and seven wells which in their present condition cannot keep up with either residential or commercial development in town. According to New Britain resident William Ostapchuk’s research on Southington and New Britain’s water resources, three of the town’s wells have long been dormant because of pollution. “Wells 4,5 and 6 are not used because the drinking water provided by each was exposed to contamination by toxic pollutants from two sites, a landfill and Solvents Recovery of New England.” Ostapchuk found. “Both became Superfund cleanup sites.”  Southington’s contamination problems led to the original leasing of the Patton Brook Well from New Britain decades ago.

The Town of Southington, in a December 2014 proposal from the water commission chairman  to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, stated that the town “is struggling to provide current and future water supply, and will not be able to provide water to its 42,000 residents and businesses unless the community can address contamination in its present water supply, and establish sustainable, expanded water supplies for the future.” The December 2014 request to the Army Corps of Engineers sought an additional $7 million in funds to augment the $9.42 million already authorized by Congress for water improvements in Southington.  The additional project costs include $1.5 million for Patton Brook predicated  on Southington’s purchase from New Britain.

The real value of Patton Brook Well – whether it is to be leased or sold – should be calculated on its capacity to produce potable water for residents and businesses. At no time have New Britain officials, including Stewart and Water Services Director and Southington resident Gil Bligh,  provided a professional or independent appraisal of the Patton Brook Well’s actual value in setting a sale price of $1.2 million two years ago and $1 million this year.  Basing a sale or lease on a real property assessment of the pumping station and the small amount of acreage alone is absurd and irresponsible.

Patton Brook, according to official estimates, is capable of holding and providing 1.2 million gallons a day from its deep well.  That kind of volume suggests that the proposed sale price of $1 million shorts New Britain out of a fair and reasonable deal by a big margin.  Current water rates in Connecticut towns served  by other regional water authorities provide a  financial yardstick to determine whether the proposed $1 million deal between New Britain and Southington accurately reflects the well’s value.   Patton Brook can pump 1.2 million gallons per day or 438 million gallons a year so long as water levels remain stable. Using Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) rates in towns served by MDC ($2.53 per 100 cubic feet or 748 gallons) Patton Brook would generate $1.48 million in user fees on an annual basis.  Applying the residential rate of Connecticut Water that serves 56 communities in the state ($5.91 per 100 cubic feet or 748 gallons), user fees would total $3.4 million for water going into homes and businesses from Patton Brook.

There is no question that New Britain’s water supply is a resource that needs to be shared on a regional basis. And Patton Brook, either leased or sold, is the best vehicle to address Southington’s deteriorating and inadequate water system.  But the situation also requires that New Britain officials, who serve a financially distressed and over taxed city of 72,000, obtain a fair price to address its own short- and long-term water needs. The $1 million sale price is neither fair nor reasonable given what Erin Stewart is proposing to irrevocably give up at a lower price that does not represent Patton Brook’s actual worth.

Related news stories:

 

 

Selling Watershed: Penny Wise and Pound Foolish

Posted in selling municipal assets, water resources by nbpoliticus on August 13, 2014

CITY HALL WATCH: 

Controversial Sale of Watershed on Common Council Agenda Wednesday, August 13th

The proposed sale of watershed property to the Town of Southington — opposed by residents who testified at a July hearing —  is on the New Britain City Council agenda at  Wednesday August 13th meeting of the Common Council.

Mayor Erin Stewart and Republicans, who last year falsely charged that the O’Brien Administration was planning to sell off New Britain’s watershed,  are pushing strongly for a $1.2 million sale of the Patton Brook Well to Southington.

The move would break with the city’s longstanding policy of retaining valuable watershed assets in exchange for a one-time shot of revenue proposed at $1.2 million and may open the gates to similar sales of public assets as the city remains mired in borrowing and deficits and a property tax increase of 11% this year.

The Board of Water Commissioners reportedly approved the deal but the Stewart appointed board was not unanimous with only three members present and one of those Stewart-appointed members abstaining.  Public testimony at the Council committee hearing was unanimously against the sale.

In July the Democratic Town Committee adopted a unanimous resolution opposing the sale of watershed to Southington.

Stated Rep. Rick Lopes (24) in a recent letter to the editor: “The idea that Southington refuses to renew the lease for the well because they no longer need it does not hold water when it is followed up by their offer to buy and renovate it for millions of dollars. If the town really does not need the well, then why would they buy it from us? Obviously the well is part of their long-term water sustainability plan and they see great financial savings though purchasing the asset instead of leasing it indefinitely. Water and access to water will always remain a valuable asset. The city of New Britain had the foresight to purchase property with access to water all over the state and these water rights remain among our most valuable assets. Giving up wells and reservoirs are short-term fixes that will only cost the city in the long run.”

Public participation begins at 7 p.m. for the regular Common Council meeting in the Council chambers at City Hall.

 Related Story from July 17th Hartford Courant

 

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Who’s Selling The City’s Water Supply Now? This Time It’s For Real

Posted in selling municipal assets, water resources by nbpoliticus on July 1, 2014

One of the more effective hits on former Mayor  O’Brien’s  2013 campaign was unfounded assertions that he was cutting a deal with the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) to sell the city’s water department — the city’s most coveted natural resource.

None other than ex-Congresswoman turned lobbyist Nancy Johnson was trotted out by the Republican campaign to falsely and deliberately spread the rumor that Mayor O’Brien was getting rid of water assets to the tune of $80 million: a big lie that had its origins in former Mayor Tim Stewart’s talks with the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) about the city’s regional water assets.

Now comes a plan from the second Stewart administration to sell off a piece of the city’s water resources in Southington in exchange for a cool $ 1.2 million from that town’s government.  Southington now pays New Britain a $106,000 annual lease for the water rights.

Mayor Stewart, quoted in her weekly newsletter, assures us that our neighboring town wants the Patton Brook Well for its water plan and that continuing the lease is not an option for either town.

According to the Mayor’s office,  Southington offered to buy the Patton Brook parcel for $200,000. Miraculously, Erin Stewart claims she negotiated a sale for $1 million more, adding one-time revenue to the city.  The Stewart administration insists that the city is not selling any more water reserves at this time.


Reservoir near New Britain and Southington line (www.lenard-eng.com) 

But the devil may be in the details here. And it will be up to a public hearing and the Common Council to get these details and more answers that weren’t provided in the Mayor’s braggadocio about her negotiating skills.

Will that $1.2 million sale price obligate New Britain to do infrastructure work on the city’s dime before the sale goes through?  If that is the case the city’s return on a sell off of one of its natural assets may not even be close to  $1 million. And lost forever is the $106,000 annual income from the longstanding lease with Southington.  


There are also questions as to why the sale income would go into city’s general fund instead of the water enterprise department fund as would be customary in transactions involving the water department.  The Board of Water Commissioners reportedly approved the deal but with only three members present and one of those Stewart-appointed members abstaining.


No one questions that the city — its structural deficits acknowledged by the current and past mayor — could use revenue over what property taxes and state aid provide.  But the selling of public land and natural resources for short term gain is a risky proposition that may cost the city more in the long run.

The public needs to  know a lot more about this sales contract before it is approved by the Council and signed by the administration.