Open Burning Prohibited as Fires Persist in Dry Windham County

Open burning was barred across the state Tuesday as fires continued to burn in Windham County. Windham County has been experiencing drought since July, and it’s been the site of several fires in recent weeks. The forest fire danger level for Connecticut was “very high” on Tuesday, the second-highest alert after “extreme.”  The alert meant no open burning was allowed Tuesday, and the restriction continues as long as the fire danger level remains high, very high or extreme. The alert is updated every morning at 7 a.m. “With all the recent tree damage and debris, to many it appears to

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Mystic Knotwork Recognized for Tradition and Innovation

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Matt Beaudoin started tying rope bracelets when he was 7 years old to earn his allowance.  Now, his Mystic Knotworks is a staple of the Mystic riverfront, and the small business administration named Beaudoin Connecticut Small Business Person of the Year, presenting the award to Matt and his wife Jill at their Cottrell Street workshop on Tuesday. Connecticut Small Business Development Center business advisor Matt Nemeth nominated Beaudoin for the award back in December because of the cultural importance of knotwork in southeastern Connecticut, and also for the workshop’s unique work practices. Beaudoin took over what was then “Beaudoin’s Rope

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Advocates, Opponents, Debate Plans to Open the First Methadone Clinic in Middlesex County

Between 2015 and 2019, 73 people from Middletown died of a drug overdose, more deaths per capita than in New Haven or Bridgeport. At least 17 Middletown residents have died so far in 2020. By comparison, New Haven has five clinics that dispense methadone – one of three drugs commonly used in medication-assisted treatment of opioid use disorders — Bridgeport has three. There are no dispensaries anywhere in Middlesex County and since 1989, zoning regulations have prohibited methadone clinics from operating in Middletown. The Root Center for Advanced Recovery, which offers methadone and other medication-assisted treatment for drug addiction at

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Citing Changing Times, Available Land, Essex Selectmen Vote to Combine Planning and Zoning Commissions

ESSEX — The Board of Selectmen took a step towards combining the town’s planning and zoning commissions on Wednesday. First Selectman Norm Needleman said that with little available and sub-dividable land left in Essex, there isn’t enough planning work left to justify a two separate commissions. According to Needleman, about half of towns in Connecticut have combined their planning and zoning commissions The Board of Selectmen voted 3-0 to approve sending the proposal to a town meeting, to be held in-person and by Zoom on Oct. 7. According to Needleman, the younger generations generally don’t have the same desire to

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70-Acre Fire Breaks out in Windham, Drought Deepens Across Connecticut and Rhode Island

Volunteer firefighters and state crews are working to contain a 70-acre brush fire that began Wednesday in the Natchaug State Forest in Windham County as drought conditions persist and begin to stretch into southern Connecticut. Northern Connecticut, including Windham County, has experienced drought since June. A typically swampy area of the forest is now dry brush, and there has been low humidity in the air and high winds for the past several days – a recipe for fire to spread — explained Will Healy, a spokesman for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. The conditions also contributed to smaller

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East Lyme Board of Selectmen Approve $985,000 in Bonding for Public Safety Building

EAST LYME — The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to approve an additional $985,000 in bonding to fund renovations of the public safety building in their regular meeting Wednesday night. The additional funding would bring the total amount of money borrowed for the project to $5.98 million, with the remainder of the $7.2 million cost paid for by FEMA disaster relief funds for Tropical Storm Irene and Hurricane Sandy received in August. The Board of Finance will decide whether to approve the additional bonding in a special meeting on Thursday night. If approved, the spending would then go to a

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Formica, Marx, Debate Energy Prices, Millstone Deal, in Southeast Connecticut Race

After a steep rate hike on July 1 by Eversource Energy was met with outrage from customers across Connecticut, the company – New England’s largest energy provider – responded by blaming the Connecticut legislature for forcing it into a long-term contract subsidizing Millstone Nuclear Power Plant in Waterford. A bipartisan group of state and elected officials, including southeastern Connecticut lawmakers, passed legislation in 2017 that paved the way for Millstone owner Dominion Energy to bid for a long-term preferential contract usually reserved for new renewable sources like wind and solar power. Dominion said at the time that it would close

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As Legislature Moves to Address Storm Outages, Energy Providers Warn of Added Cost

The Connecticut General Assembly will consider a wide-ranging bill in special session this month aimed at addressing apparent shortcomings in the response by Eversource and United Illuminating to Tropical Storm Isaias. That bill will include provisions that task the Public Utility Regulatory Authority with reviewing and establishing minimum staffing levels for the energy providers. In written testimony in response, Eversource and United Illuminating warned that more staff will mean significantly higher rates for customers. The bipartisan bill, “An Act Concerning Emergency Response by Electric Distribution Companies and Revising the Regulation of Other Public Utilities,” was introduced by State Sen. Paul

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East Lyme Board of Finance Approves $1.2 Million Compromise for Public Safety Complex

EAST LYME — Citing other priorities the money could be used for, the East Lyme Board of Finance did not approve using the full $1.5 million in FEMA reimbursement from Hurricanes Irene and Sandy to help renovate the former Honeywell Office building into a police and public safety complex. Instead, the board approved appropriating $1.2 million of FEMA funds for the public safety building by a 5-1 vote Wednesday night. The vote came as a compromise as board members pared down the referral from the Board of Selectmen to use about $1.5 million in disaster recovery funds to fill part

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A Spike in Car Thefts in Connecticut after Long Downward Trend

From January 1 through the end of August, the Hartford Police Department recovered 741 vehicles stolen in other towns and taken to Hartford, more than the yearly totals for 2018 or  2019.  In one weekend between Friday, Aug. 28 and Sunday, Aug. 30, 82 cars were reported stolen across Connecticut – 62 with the key fob left inside – according to a report released by the Hartford Police Department earlier this week.  In East Lyme, Police Chief Michael Finkelstein said it’s rare to see windows smashed out of vehicles. The town has had more instances where people are entering unlocked

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Connecticut’s Rainy Day Fund Tops $3 Billion

HARTFORD — A deposit into the state’s rainy day fund last week brought the balance to just over $3 billion, or 15.1 percent of net general fund appropriations, a record high according to Comptroller Kevin Lembo, that could be quickly depleted based on early revenue projections for fiscal year 2021. In his monthly financial update on Tuesday, Lembo said that his office agreed with the Office of Policy and Management forecast of a $2.07 billion general fund deficit for the 2021 fiscal year. The deficit projection is on the high end of possible ranges, according to Lembo, but it was

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Groton Town Council Debates Townwide Sewers and Water

GROTON — The Groton Town Council Committee of the Whole discussed the regulatory barriers and costs of extending sewer service throughout the town during its Tuesday night meeting. Councilor Joe Zeppieri, who raised the possibility of extending municipal sewer to the entire town of Groton, said that in the course of campaigning, residents in the northern neighborhoods of Groton complained to him that they paid a sewer tax, but didn’t have any sewer. Zeppieri also said that during a recent move he noticed that houses with municipal sewer and water connections were worth more than houses on septic and wells.

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Essex Zoning Officials Consider Professional Offices, Main Street Zoning and Wetlands Referrals

ESSEX — One proposed rule change the Essex Zoning Commission is considering would give more leeway to properties split between two Essex Village zones. The commission is considering five rule changes, and started public hearings on three of them at its Monday meeting on August 17, including a regulation to adjust the two main zones in Essex Village. The other two changes were referred to the Planning Commission for comment before opening a public hearing. Properties along Main Street in Essex Village are primarily zoned either as Essex Village or Village Residence. The Essex Village zone covers property immediately abutting

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State Attorney General Files Defense of Disclosure Provisions in New Police Accountability Law

On Tuesday, the Connecticut Attorney General’s office responded to a lawsuit filed last week by the Connecticut State Police Union seeking to have part of the wide-ranging police accountability bill recently passed by the Connecticut General Assembly declared unconstitutional. Assistant Attorney General Michael Skold filed the reply in the U.S. District Court of Connecticut on Tuesday on behalf of the defendant, Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner James Rovella. The police accountability bill, which includes more than 40 changes to policing procedure, would expand which police disciplinary records can be made public under the Connecticut Freedom of Information

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Eversource Compensation and the Competition

Eversource has been pushed into the spotlight after a sharp rate hike on July 1 drew outrage from customers, and Tropical Storm Isaias left hundreds of thousands without power soon after, some for over a week. Eversource’s well-paid executives have drawn scrutiny from customers and politicians in recent weeks, with Middletown Mayor Ben Florsheim noting that the $39.37 million compensation for the utility’s top five executives amounted to more than the town’s combined budget for police, fire, public works and emergency management. Even in the world of high-paid electric executives, Eversource executives make a lot of money.  Serving 3.2 million

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Police Union Suit Pits Collective Bargaining Rights Against Accountability Bill

The union representing Connecticut State Police officers filed a lawsuit in federal court on Tuesday asking that two provisions in a wide-ranging police accountability bill passed last month to be declared unconstitutional because they violate agreements in the union contract approved by the legislature last year. “When the contract expressly states, and the employer agrees to it, and the legislature approves it, no one should be claiming they didn’t know about it,” said Connecticut State Union Executive Director Andrew Matthews said. “They approved it, and they should never strip it away from you. They can come to the table and

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Jesse MacLachlan Explains Decision to Opt Out of Race for State House Seat

State Rep. Jesse MacLachlan, R-Westbrook, announced Tuesday that he would not seek re-election this year for the 35th District seat he’s held for three terms. MacLachlan started his own business, Avalon Infrastructure, late last year, and it became clear that he needed to choose between public service and his business, “as someone who goes all in with what I do,” he said. “Unfortunately, the nature of a part time legislature forces many of us to choose between our service or our careers,” MacLachlan said. “At 30 years old, I feel that it’s the right time for me to focus on

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East Lyme Inland Wetland Agency Delays Decision on Buffer Expansion to 500 Feet

EAST LYME — The East Lyme Inland Wetland Agency held off a decision on a proposed expansion to its review area after accepting several scientific articles and other exhibits into the record at a hearing on Monday night. The agency continued a public hearing on its proposal to extend its upland review area from 100 feet around inland wetlands and watercourses, to 500 feet. Two members of the public spoke in opposition to the change, but most of the new information Monday was brought by members of the agency. During a lengthy first hearing in July, where some critics questioned

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As Eversource and United Illuminating Struggle, Smaller Utilities Across Connecticut Shine in Storm Response

Municipal electric utilities with small and compact customer bases — like Norwich Public Utilities and Town of Wallingford Electric Division — have made quick progress restoring power to customers after Tropical Storm Isaias even as hundreds of thousands of customers of Eversource and United Illuminating remain without power on Thursday night. By the end of Wednesday night, Norwich Public Utilities had restored power to 5,500 of the 6,500 affected customers. The utility expects that 99 percent of its customers will have power by the end of Thursday, just two days after about a third of Norwich’s 20,000 customers lost power.

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DEEP Moves to Streamline Permitting Process for Businesses under the Clean Air Act

In a 12 to 0 vote on Tuesday, the Legislative Regulation Review Committee approved a set of permanent regulations that will replace temporary permits used by Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to limit emissions from facilities regulated under the federal Clean Air Act. The state has required facilities with emissions regulated under the Clean Air Act to renew permits every five years. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had told DEEP it would not renew the state general permit. Chief of the DEEP Bureau of Air Management Tracy Babbidge explained that EPA preferred that Connecticut implement a “permit by

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UPDATED: Senate Votes to Approve Expanded Absentee Voting, 35 – 1

The Connecticut Senate voted 35-1 to give its approval to the bill that would expand absentee voting during the 2020 November election after a lengthy debate Tuesday. Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, raised two amendments that the Senate voted down. One would have removed the special ballot boxes the Secretary of the State’s office bought for absentee ballot collections.  The other would have prevented the Secretary of the State from mailing out “unsolicited” absentee ballot applications, which some Republicans have criticized Secretary of the State Denise Merrill for doing ahead of the August primary election. Sampson voted in favor of the

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UPDATED: Connecticut Legislature Approves Compromise Measure on Distance Medicine

UPDATE: The Connecticut Senate unanimously gave its approval to the telehealth bill by a vote of 35-0 on Tuesday afternoon. No senators raised any amendments on the bill before voting to approve it.  Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, did not vote on the bill. There was no debate in the Connecticut House of Representatives about the need to set temporary telehealth rules as members voted unanimously Thursday to send the bill to the Senate for its approval. Before passing the bill, legislators also approved by voice vote an amendment that would give the Commissioner of Public Health emergency powers until March 15 to

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Hamden Approves Purchase of Drone with Federal Coronavirus Funding in Close Vote

Hamden will use part of a federal grant to purchase a drone for its police and fire departments, whose chiefs say that it will help with search and rescue operations. The grant comes from the Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding Program administered by the U.S. Department of Justice. The $33,498 DJI Matrice 300 RTK drone, equipped with zooming cameras and thermal imaging, was the most expensive item in the $82,363 grant package that included $26,000 for an update to the Kronos Workforce Telestaff scheduling program, $17,693.69 for personal protective equipment, $1,296.49 for a portable storage shed, $2,163 for two disinfectant sprayers

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After a Family Tragedy, Cove Landing Marine Keeps Doing What They Have Been Doing

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LYME — The plan was always for Jennifer Ruhling or her brother to take over their father’s boat yard, but that time came sooner than expected. Ruhling said that it was her father’s dream to own a boat yard and he bought Cove Landing Marine on Hamburg Cove in Lyme in 1978. Either Ruhling or her brother at some point was supposed to come back to Lyme, work the yard with their father, and eventually take over. John Leonard, their father, died unexpectedly in a car crash on July 20, 2019, as he was driving to get more wire ties,

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UPDATED: Advocates Push Connecticut Legislators for Price Caps on Insulin and Cost-Savings for the Uninsured

UPDATE: On Thursday evening, the Connecticut General Assembly passed legislation, by a vote of 142 to 4, that will cap the monthly cost of insulin, supplies and emergency insulin for people with insurance. According to State Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, beginning January 1, 2022, the maximum monthly cost for insulin will be $25, for non-insulin medication $25 and for devices and equipment $100. In addition, once each year anyone with diabetes will be eligible for a 30-day emergency supply of insulin at any pharmacy in the state. “This bill is an investment in saving lives, in saving health and in

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After Republicans Voice Concerns about Borrowing, Lamont Moves Ahead on $545 Million Bonding Package

Gov. Ned Lamont brushed off Republican concerns that the state could be approaching a borrowing limit as the Bond Commission approved another $545 million in spending on capital projects on Tuesday. On July 1, Treasurer Shawn Wooden issued a semi-annual report on the state’s bond picture that showed the state’s borrowing was at 84 percent of its limit of 1.6 times the general fund tax revenue, as estimated by the legislature’s Finance Revenue and Bonding Committee each fiscal year. The legislature is still operating under revenue estimates from June 2019, since it vacated the Capitol in March due to the

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Payment Parity, Regulation of Telemedicine, Debated by Lawmakers and Industry Representatives

The Connecticut General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Insurance and Real Estate heard from medical practitioners and a representative of the private insurance industry concerned a proposed bill, to be considered this week during the legislative special session, to set a framework for telemedicine until next June. The draft bill would address concerns voiced to lawmakers by healthcare providers as they have adapted to telehealth services to slow the spread of COVID-19. The bill would authorize healthcare providers to meet with patients using any video or audio platform compliant with the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act passed by Congress

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Small Farms in Lyme and East Haddam are Building Barns and Moving Online

As consumers, pressed by food shortages and fearing the spread of COVID-19, turn to buying local produce, some Connecticut farmers are using the internet to connect remotely with local residents seeking safer ways to shop for groceries. Cold Spring Farm in East Haddam has been offering food deliveries for several months, and recently started offering weekly food subscription packages that include meat and produce from the farm and other products like cheese, milk and honey from local vendors.  Long Table Farm in Lyme started an online version of its farm stand last week, allowing its customers to make contact-free produce

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Audit Shows Limited Oversight of Prescribers of Controlled Substances Across Connecticut

An audit report of the Department of Consumer Protection drug monitoring program released on Thursday found that state officials cannot ensure that prescribers of controlled substances have registered or are using the program as the law requires. According to the report, the Department of Consumer Protection Division of Drug Enforcement, which oversees the prescription monitoring program, also can’t ensure that healthcare providers are looking up a patient’s history of being prescribed controlled substances, a step intended to help providers determine whether a patient is at a higher risk of abuse or misuse of medications. The division has recently started the

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State Faces Borrowing Cap, Bonding Rollbacks and Possible 3/5 Vote by Legislature

With the State Bonding Commission set to meet on Tuesday for the first time since April, a recent report to the governor from the Connecticut Office of the State Treasurer calculates that the state doesn’t have much room left to borrow. By law, the state’s borrowing is capped at 1.6 times the general fund tax revenue estimated by the legislature’s Finance Revenue and Bonding Committee each fiscal year. When debt reaches that limit, the legislature can’t approve more debt. Even at 90 percent of the limit, the governor and legislature are required to look at possible rollbacks of authorized, but

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