With Federal Funding Uncertain, Aid to Small Business Falls Short in Connecticut

Since the start of the pandemic, Connecticut has used $50 million in federal relief funds to give $5,000 grants to 10,000 small businesses – no one thinks that’s enough. “I applaud the DECD for that $5,000 small business grant program, but $5,000 is not going to help you survive,” State Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme said. “$5,000 may just pick up one month’s rent.”  Gov. Ned Lamont announced Wednesday that another $25 million in small business grants would be made available from those federal funds. Republicans called for $50 million just for restaurants. Appropriations co-chair Sen.Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, said she

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St. Vincent de Paul Place Seeks Donations to Meet Demand; Charter Oak Matches total $400,000

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NORWICH — At St. Vincent de Paul Place in Norwich, 916 families found help at the food pantry this November. Last year, the pantry served 701 families in November, typically the busiest month, according to Tim Hathaway, marketing coordinator for St. Vincent de Paul Place.  The nonprofit, which is a ministry of the Catholic Diocese of Norwich, also distributed an average of 390 meals a day in November through their Community Meals program, which offers breakfast and lunch six days a week. And people made about 172 visits to the food pantry each day in November, up almost 40 percent

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Griswolds Add Solar Array for Tesla Trucks to Deliver Plants Across New England

OLD LYME — Matt and Martin Griswold, two brothers growing outdoor perennials, herbs and vegetables to sell wholesale across southern New England, are installing solar panels capable of generating 100 kilowatts of electricity that they will use to power Tesla electric trucks to carry their shipments. Soon the sun that helps grow the flowers and vegetables on Judge’s Farm will also power the trucks carrying them to buyers from Westchester County to Cape Cod. The farm currently uses a fleet of five diesel-powered trucks to carry shipments, Matt Griswold said, but they run through a lot of expensive fuel, frequently

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Scientists Explain Bunker Found Washed up on the Connecticut Shoreline

Masses of the ubiquitous menhaden, or bunker, have been washing up all along Connecticut’s shore – and from New Jersey to Cape Cod – over the past month, but biologists say the dead fish aren’t a cause for alarm. The number of bunker washing up on the shore is a small percentage of the bunker still swimming in the Long Island Sound, explained Bill Lucey, of Save the Sound. Lucey said that the first week of November, he heard reports of solid schools of bunker from Watch Hill, Rhode Island to Bridgeport. When an earthquake struck southeastern Massachusetts on Nov.

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UI and Eversource Report Long-term Improvements in Service Reliability

Connecticut’s for-profit energy providers improved their day-to-day reliability in 2019, according to an annual report on the reliability of the state’s electric system compiled by its utility regulator, PURA. With the exception of major storms, United Illuminating and Eversource reported shorter and less frequent average outages compared to the previous four years, according to a report approved on Wednesday morning.  PURA is required by state statute to submit the annual reliability report to the General Assembly. The report includes two metrics: one for frequency and one for duration of service interruptions. The System Average Interruption Frequency Index (SAIFI) measures how

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Redevelopment in Groton Picks up Speed

GROTON — For years, plans to redevelop five vacant school buildings in Groton have inched ahead, but with the first project — a 280-unit apartment complex — set to break ground as soon as next year, town officials say they hope that new developments will attract many of the thousands of people who work in Groton, but live elsewhere. The Town of Groton owns five vacant school properties it would like to sell to developers. To date, developers have proposed converting two schools into apartments, one into office space and to demolish another to make way for a new mixed-use

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PURA Moves to Reduce Cost Swings for Consumer Electric Bills

After a steep summer rate increase led to outrage from Eversource customers, regulators approved new rules on Wednesday that are meant to limit major fluctuations in electric bills. The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority unanimously approved a new system for setting the “distribution” rates that electric distribution companies Eversource and United Illuminating use to recover their costs from ratepayers – using real costs from the prior year rather than estimates to set rates for the new year, and lowering the interest rate the companies can charge if they recovered less than their costs in the previous year, known as “carrying costs.”

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Pharmacies Dial Back Free COVID Tests

Pharmacies including Walgreens and CVS locations, that until recently offered free COVID tests, are now charging for the service. Walgreens spokesman Phil Caruso said the company is offering COVID-19 testing at no cost to eligible patients with most insurance and government assistance plans. He said when the company started taking insurance information varied by location, and that the company is providing the cost information in the event a health plan may not cover a test. “Patients should not have any out-of-pocket costs, but we recommend they check with their health plan before scheduling a test,” Caruso said. CVS currently advertises

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State Weighs Spending $196 Million of Remaining Federal Funds

Connecticut has one month to decide on how to spend more than $196 million remaining from $1.382 billion in COVID relief money the state received from the federal government in April. The office of Gov. Ned Lamont has not yet said how it plans to allocate its remaining share of the Coronavirus Relief Fund – part of the CARES Act meant to shore up budgets for state and tribal governments as they faced fiscal uncertainty and rising costs in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Budgeting placeholders and contingencies could also change the amount of funding that is actually

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Nickerson Announces Intention to Leave Office at End of Term

EAST LYME — First Selectman Mark Nickerson announced that he will not run for another term next November and will leave the office after finishing his seventh year. Nickerson, who has served six years as First Selectman of East Lyme after being appointed to the position to replace Paul Formica after he was first elected to the State Senate in 2014, announced his decision in a letter included in the Friday Nov. 27 edition of the monthly East Lyme Parks and Recreation publication EVENTS Magazine. “I have cherished this time as our town’s leader. Being the First Selectman of such

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As Winter Approaches, Connecticut Works Toward Safer Solutions for Homelessness

Connecticut is again looking to increase space available for people without shelter this winter to stay in motels amid fears that church basements and other traditional warming centers aren’t equipped to prevent the spread of COVID-19. When the virus began to spread quickly throughout Connecticut in March, the state contracted with hotels to move people out of crowded, congregate living spaces out of concern for COVID outbreaks among people without housing. In a similar effort, the state is using federal money to contract with hotels to keep warming shelter capacity at pre-pandemic levels this winter. In Middletown, the state has

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Eversource Announces Voluntary Moratorium on Service Disconnections

Eversource Energy announced in a news release on Friday that the energy provider would suspend utility disconnections for nonpayment. The decision comes after a statewide moratorium on utility disconnections expired Oct. 1, and the Public Utilities Regulatory chose not to extend it, despite pleas from both Eversource and United Illuminating. Marissa Gillett, chair of the state’s utilitary regulator PURA, had pressed the companies to “voluntarily extend the moratorium.” Eversource spokesman Mitch Gross said the company made the decision to suspend disconnections because it was the right thing to do for both its customers and employees with COVID-19 cases rising in

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East Lyme Triples Wetlands Review Area, Raises Questions

EAST LYME — By a vote of 5 to 2 on Monday night, the town’s Inland Wetland Agency tripled its mandatory review area from 100 to 300 feet for projects around inland wetlands and watercourses, giving the agency the broadest blanket oversight in the region. The review area is the distance from an inland wetland or watercourse where the agency reviews all projects that could affect the waters, including moving dirt, cutting trees, modifying the ground, or building on it. The decision came after five months of deliberations, beginning with a July proposal to expand the review area to 500

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Local Cider for the Holiday

MIDDLETOWN — The beauty of the tasting room at Spoke + Spy Ciderworks in Middletown is that customers can try a variety of ciders to see what they like, said owner Ron Sansone. “I think a lot of people have preconceived notions of what dry is, and it’s maybe the experience they’ve had with wine, but it’s different with apple,” Sansone said. “I do think the dry wines are generally favored by older people or people with more developed palates, and the sweeter ones are more younger people just getting into cider.” All the ciders are made with local fruit

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A Closer Look at Voter Turnout

A higher percentage of Connecticut voters cast ballots in last week’s election than in 2016, but long lines at the polls were likely due more to COVID precautions, as fewer ballots were cast in-person. More than 1.85 million voters cast ballots in the November general election out of more than 2.33 million eligible voters, according to the unofficial results available Wednesday from the Connecticut Secretary of the State’s office.  That equals a statewide voter turnout rate of 79.65 percent, up 2.7 percent from 2016, when more than 1.67 million cast ballots out of more than 2.17 million eligible voters –

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Solar Farm Approved for 75-acre Parcel in Waterford

The Connecticut Siting Council — the state agency tasked with balancing the costs and benefits of locating new infrastructure in Connecticut — voted 3 -1 to approve a scaled back version of a proposal to build a 75-acre solar farm in Waterford previously rejected by the council in 2018. The council will still need to approve a detailed development and management plan before construction can begin. The state regulator found that the project by developer Greenskies Renewable Energy to install 45,976 panels capable of generating 15.3 megawatts of electricity would not cause a “substantial adverse environmental effect.” That conclusion was

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DEEP Launches Low Cost Innovative Program to Monitor Stream Flow

Trail cameras, like those used by hunters, are the latest tool for state water management staff to monitor disruption of Connecticut’s networks of streams. The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has installed about 30 trail cameras across Connecticut to identify stream connectivity issues – areas where the flow of water is so low that a section of stream becomes impassable for fish. Stream connectivity is key for migratory fish like the native brook trout, which spawn each fall in shallow riffle pools, and move to deeper waters as they grow, said Chris Bellucci an analyst for the department’s

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Higher Winter Energy Costs, But Smallest Bump Since 2017Sund

Like most years, Eversource and United Illuminating customers will see larger bills in January as the Public Utilities Regulatory approved new rates for the first six months of 2021. PURA approved a “winter” rate of 8.391 cents per kilowatt hour for Eversource – up from the current rate of 7.375 cents – and approved a rate of 9.369 cents for United Illuminating – up from the current rate of 8.667 cents. The new rates will take effect on Jan. 1, 2021, and extend through June 30.  The proposed winter price will cause a noticeable increase for customers between December and

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Formica Named Deputy Minority Leader, Lays Out Next Term

State Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, has been named Deputy Minority Leader of the Senate when lawmakers return to session in January. Formica will join new Minority Leader State Sen. Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, as the new leadership of the Senate Republicans, who lost two seats to Democrats in the election on Tuesday and will go into the next session outnumbered 24-12 in the upper chamber. “It’s an absolute, incredible honor,” Formica said of his new role. “I’m very excited about the position, and I look forward to the challenge. We have a great caucus with very good senators who work

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Invasive Lantern Fly Makes Appearance in Fairfield County

Dead grape vines, slick mold, and large-winged, swarming insects have become common sights in southeastern Pennsylvania where the spotted lanternfly has taken over forests, backyards and vineyards.  And with groups of the invasive pest spotted recently in two towns in Fairfield County, the pest could make a significant appearance in Connecticut soon, and researchers haven’t had luck finding a way to stop it once they’ve taken root. Native to China, India and Vietnam, the first sighting of a spotted lanternfly was in Berks County, Pennsylvania, in 2014. Since then, it has spread and infested most of southeastern Pennsylvania and parts

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Green Party Drops McCormick After Inflammatory Facebook Comments

The Green Party of Connecticut announced on Friday that it had dropped its support for Tom McCormick, the party’s candidate for the 1st Congressional District seat held by Democratic U.S. Rep. John Larson after McCormick posted inflammatory comments on social media. In a statement, the Green Party of Connecticut said it dropped support for McCormick because, in response to a post on the Manchester, CT Crime & Safety Watch Facebook group about a theft of tires from a car, he said, “The thieve (sic) needs a necktie.”  Activists from two Hartford-area groups advocating for racial justice – POWER UP –

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A Round Up of Endorsements

CT Examiner has assembled a round up of major endorsements How they endorsed The National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund gives out letter grades to candidates based on their voting records, public statements and their responses to a questionnaire. “Aq” means a candidate received an “A” grade based only on their answers in the questionnaire. The Connecticut Business and Industry Association grades lawmakers by their votes on 10 bills the association considered priorities in the 2019 legislative session, so there are only grades for incumbent candidates. If a candidate takes more votes that CBIA considers pro-business – such as voting

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Melón, Haines Offer Sharp Contrast for Fall Election

Educator and real estate agent Judd Melón, an East Haddam Democrat, is challenging one-term incumbent State Rep. Irene Haines, an East Haddam Republican, for the chance to represent Connecticut’s 34th House district, that includes East Haddam and East Hampton. Melón taught Spanish literature and language in college and public high school for 10 years, and is a licensed real estate agent, but he said that he put teaching on hold to challenge Haines because he disagreed with several votes she’s taken, including votes against the minimum wage increase, expanding paid family and medical leave, and police accountability bills in 2019

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State Budget Forecast Improves From September Estimates

Connecticut’s budget forecast has continued to improve as revenues from sales, income and real estate taxes exceed earlier projections. The Office of Policy and Management, Gov. Ned Lamont’s budget agency, projected a $1.26 billion deficit for fiscal year 2021 in its monthly forecast released Tuesday. It’s much worse than the $166.2 million surplus the state budgeted back in December, but it’s 76 percent less than the $2.02 billion deficit the office was projecting as recently as Sept. 20. The improved budget picture is a combination of better than projected revenues —  $18.5 billion compared to $18.05 billion last month –

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Marino’s Re-opens, Offers a Taste of Middletown’s North End

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MIDDLETOWN — The first week Francesca Vitale re-opened Marino’s Pizzeria, all the old customers came back, clamoring for the hamburg pizza her mother made famous. “On the first day, we did like 100 pizzas,” Vitale said. Vitale’s grandfather, Sebastiano Marino immigrated from Sicily in 1898 and opened a bakery on Ferry Street in Middletown’s North End in 1920. Vitale’s mother, Constance Marino-Vitale, opened Marino’s Restaurant in 1941. Both were staples of the Italian-American community in Middletown until the restaurant closed in 1992. When Vitale and her friend Carla Marino opened back up Marino’s in a new location on William Street,

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Hall, Goupil, May Vie for Connecticut House Seat

Three candidates are competing to replace three-term Republican incumbent Jesse MacLachlan, who represents the 35th District — the towns of Clinton Westbrook and Killingworth — in the state legislature. MacLachlan announced that he would not seek re-election in August. In 2018, MacLachlan defeated Clinton Democrat Jason Adler with 52.5 percent of the vote. The Democratic nominee, Christine Goupil, was elected First Selectman of Clinton in 2017, on a platform that included replacing the position with a town manager. By the end of her first term in 2019, the town approved the plan and hired Karl Kilduff to manage the town.

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State Mandate, Dwindling Funds, Has Towns Scrambling to Purchase Police Body Cameras

Funding to reimburse municipal police departments for the purchase of body cameras languished for years unspent until in March the legislature moved $3 million of $3.6 million remaining to fund camera purchases by the State Police. Now a provision in the Police Accountability Bill passed in special session this summer has towns scrambling to secure any of the remaining money. The bill requires municipal police departments to outfit officers with body cameras no later than July 2022. The new police accountability law has renewed interest in the grant program, with municipal departments hoping to claim a share of the approximately

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Sharp Contrast as Weir Faces Osten in Senate Race

Four-time Democratic incumbent Cathy Osten, faces Hebron business owner Steve Weir, the Republican candidate, in the race for the 19th State Senate District, representing Sprague, Hebron, Columbia, Franklin, Ledyard, Lisbon, Marlborough, Montville and Norwich. Osten, an Army veteran and long-time corrections officer and supervisor,has been co-chair of the Appropriations Committee — a key state budget committee — since  2017. She also serves as vice-chair of the Labor and Public Employees committee. She said that she is running to make a difference and represent her constituents. In 2019, Osten lost a bid for a 7th term as Sprague’s first selectman. Steve

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Mohegan Gaming Set to Operate First Tribal Casino in Las Vegas History

There is path a clear for the Mohegan Tribe’s gaming operation to enter the largest gaming market in the United States. Nevada regulators on Wednesday gave initial approval for Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment to operate the 60,000 square-foot casino at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, the former site of the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, a few blocks from the Las Vegas Strip. If the Nevada Gaming Commission approves a recommendation by the Nevada Gaming Control Board made — after a virtual meeting with Mohegan Gaming representatives on Wednesday — it will become the first tribal organization to operate a casino

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Hot Dry Weather Fostered West Nile, Reduced EEE Populations in Southeast Connecticut

A hot dry summer across Connecticut has increased the prevalence of mosquitoes carrying West Nile Virus, but far fewer mosquitos have been identified as carrying the Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus than last year. Through Oct. 5, the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station has trapped 143 mosquitos that have tested positive for the West Nile Virus, compared to 82 it found through the end of its testing on Nov. 7 last year.  Last year, 122 mosquitos the station trapped tested positive for Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE). So far this year, they’ve found two – one trapped at Stonington High School on Aug.

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