September 23, 2009

Box factory cleanup backed but lagging

Note: If you're interested in this story, please check the blog later today for a more detailed -- and accurate -- account of the project's timeline and the city's plans.

The first federal stimulus cash to come to Bristol – to help clean up the former H.J. Mills box factory site – has yet to create a single job.
And officials are no hurry to get a shovel ready to finish work on it.
The bulk of the cleanup project won’t take place until at least springtime – partly to ensure the city has enough money in its coffers to pay its share of the tab – and a planned parking lot on the property may not happen for years.
The $613,000 project to clean up the polluted School Street parcel – where a municipal parking may someday be built – isn’t completely on hold, however.
The Board of Finance backed the project Tuesday on a 7-2 vote – with only Roald Erling and Mark Peterson opposing it – despite some misgivings.
The city’s grants administrator, Robyn Bugbee, said the city can hire an engineering firm to come up with the detailed plans needed, seek ways to get the public more involved and line up the required state and federal approvals.
By the time all of that is done, the finance board could take another look in March and decide whether Bristol can afford the $268,000 in municipal funds required to match the $345,000 the federal Environmental Protection Agency is handing over from the stimulus package.
While it’s likely the city will move ahead with the cleanup in the spring, it’s less clear the parking lot will be constructed soon. The lot would have between 50 and 75 spaces.
That could wait “a year or two” if the economy remains poor, Finance Chairman Rich Miecznikowski said.
The finance chief said the city will have “a better idea what kind of costs we have” by springtime and can decide then what it needs to do to cope.
Erling, vice chairman of the nine-member finance board, said that given the need to make sure pollution doesn’t leach into the stream that cuts through the property, he figures costs will rise after engineers take a hard look at the project.
U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman joined an array of local, state and federal officials at the site last May to announce the brownfields funding that would help with the cleanup.
“There couldn’t be a better economic stimulus project than these brownfields grants,” said Lieberman.
But one of the aims of the stimulus program – to get shovels in the ground and put people to work – hasn’t happened on the School Street site so far.
On the other hand, Lieberman said cleanups are a good “long-term investment in economic growth,” which may still prove true.
The site has been blighted for more than two decades. Following a major fire a decade ago that destroyed the factory building, the property has been a weed-filled eyesore owned by the city.
After announcing the funding last spring, Lieberman said he loves to see the results of government investment.
“I can’t wait to come back to Bristol,” to see the finished project, Lieberman said during his visit.
He may have to wait awhile.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
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