Historic District Plans Preservation of Hand-painted Signs in Old Saybrook

OLD SAYBROOK — The Old Saybrook Historic District Commission is raising funds to preserve and restore three historic advertisements hand-painted on the side of the Sheffield building at the corner of Main and Sheffield Street.  The red brick-and-mortar building, a historic landmark constructed by Amos Sheffield in 1853, is the oldest brick commercial building in town. From 1907-1945, it was the Stokes Brothers’ Grocery Store. The store was a place where locals would pick up their mail, sit around on pickle barrels and hear the latest news. They could have fresh vegetables, groceries, hardware and paint delivered in a Ford

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Connecticut Beefs Up Contact Tracing as Public Moves Indoors

Connecticut is bolstering contact tracing efforts at the state and local levels in an effort to limit the recent outbreak of COVID-19 cases, particularly across the southeastern portion of the state. The state Department of Health has contracted with the San Diego-based firm AMN Healthcare to provide the state with a local workforce trained in contact tracing methods. Contact tracing is a process of identifying and reaching out to close contacts of someone diagnosed with a communicable disease. The tracers inform contacts about quarantine requirements, review a list of symptoms and connect individuals with any services they might need.  According

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Job Gains, But Mixed Economic Picture as Connecticut Heads into Cooler Months

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Employment data released yesterday by the Department of Labor show that while Connecticut continues to regain jobs lost during the pandemic, the overall economic picture remains mixed according to a variety of industry officials. The 17,000 non-farming jobs gained in September is less than in previous months. The state saw the resurgence of a total of 21,900 non-farming jobs in August and 32,300 jobs in July.  Additionally, while the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics places Connecticut’s employment rate at 7.8 percent, down from 8.1 percent in August, the Office of Research at the Connecticut Department of Labor said this is

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Mixed Response to Announced $50 Million in Funding for Small Businesses

Today’s announcement of Gov. Ned Lamont’s small business relief program received mixed responses from business associations, some welcoming the funding, while others argued that it is not enough to help the many small stores and restaurants that have lost revenue from the COVID pandemic. Lamont announced $50 million in CARES Act funding to be given out in the form of $5,000 grants to 10,000 small businesses across the state. To qualify for the funding, a business must have 20 or fewer employees or a 2019 revenue of $1.5 million or less.  The program falls short of the $70 million in

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Hartford Healthcare Reaches Tentative Agreement with Nurses at Backus

NORWICH — Nurses at Backus Hospital have reached a tentative agreement with management over a new four-year contract that will increase wages to a level comparable to other hospitals in the area. The agreement was reached after more than twenty negotiating sessions that culminated in a two-day nurses’ strike on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week.  According to the contract, nurses at Backus will be paid wages comparable to their counterparts at Windham Hospital, also owned by Hartford Healthcare, by the third year of the contract. Wages for a starting nurse at Backus will immediately increase from the current $29.59

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Southeast Connecticut Towns Report 9 of 11 COVID Hotspots

Gov. Ned Lamont announced on Tuesday that he will allow municipalities with high numbers of COVID cases to choose whether to rollback reopening from phase three to phase two — a notable change from his earlier insistence that coronavirus policies and restrictions should be kept to a statewide level.  The governor signed an executive order authorizing the change after announcing a 2.4 percent positivity rate for the state, the highest since June.  “Six months ago, when I said ‘Let’s work on a statewide basis,’ I didn’t want some communities saying ‘My bars can be open’ and others not,” Lamont said

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Grammy Award Winners to Produce Beethoven Concerts in Old Lyme

It’s the second time that acclaimed classical violinist James Ehnes will be performing in Old Lyme, and he’s glad to be back.  He has played with orchestras and in venues around the world, including Carnegie Hall, Wigmore Hall in London and the Philharmonie in Berlin, but Ehnes said that smaller venues often stand out more in his mind. “Sometimes the most incredible experiences, these magical evenings, happen in places that are much more intimate,” said Ehnes, who will be playing in two concerts for Musical Masterworks, which has hosted classical music and chamber music concerts at the First Congregational Church

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$2.6 Million in Federal COVID Funds Earmarked for 65 Libraries Across Connecticut

Since the Governor’s Office allocated $2.6 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to public libraries last week, local librarians have been brainstorming creative ways to use the funds.  The funding, which will be distributed to 65 library districts across the state, is designated for the purchase of PPE, furniture, cleaning services and internet expansion.  Susan Rooney, the librarian at Deep River Public Library, said she had a lot of ideas about how to use the funding, including an outdoor tent with a heater and furnishing for people to sit and study, air purifiers and wifi hotspots on either side of

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Nurses Picket Backus Hospital as Negotiations Hit an Impasse

NORWICH — Nurses at Backus Hospital in Norwich began a two-day strike at 7 a.m. today as contract negotiations between the union and the hospital reached an impasse.  A few hundred nurses picketed in the pouring rain, holding signs that read “Nurses Strike for Unfair Labor Practice” and “Honk if You Love Nurses.”  The hospital and nurses had 22 negotiating sessions, the most recent beginning at 10 a.m. on Sunday and lasting more than 10 hours.  According to Sherri Dayton, president of the Backus Federation of Nurses, the Sunday negotiating session ended with the hospital’s lawyer telling the union negotiating

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Ambitious Plan for Middletown Redevelopment Goes to Voters in November

MIDDLETOWN — City officials are seeking a referendum in the November election to approve a $55 million bond that will go toward developing properties and improving public infrastructure in Middletown’s downtown and riverfront areas.  The bond includes $15 million for road paving and sidewalk maintenance, $20 million for public parking, $5 million for riverfront development, $12,212,717 for the redevelopment of City Hall and $1.5 million for the construction of a recreation center. The borrowing, which would be spent over 10 years, also includes $1 million to pay for the cost of bonding.  “The opportunity to put shovels in the ground

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Cohen and LaPorta Sketch Out Priorities for Senate

Freshman incumbent Democrat Christine Cohen is running for re-election against Republican Joe LaPorta for the 12th District’s State Senate seat, representing Madison, Guilford, Branford, North Branford, Durham and Killingworth. Cohen, who chairs the Environment Committee, and founded and co-chairs the Coastal Caucus, “a bipartisan group of lawmakers who focus on the issues affecting coastal towns, cities and waterways,” has taken a prominent role in issues affecting the environment. Cohen also co-chairs the legislature’s Bioscience Caucus, where she works to promote the state’s biotechnology industry.  With her husband, Cohen also owns Cohen’s Bagel Company in Madison. They live in Guilford. “We

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Mortgage Balances Rise, Borrowers Defer Payments, and Officials Target Abusive Collections

Although complaints of abusive collections remain relatively flat across Connecticut, state and federal officials see a growing debt problem that is ripe for abuse. According to Quarterly Reports from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the amount of debt that the public has accrued nationwide has gone up since the start of the pandemic.  Total household debt balances increased by $155 billion in the first quarter of 2020, an increase that was mainly driven by mortgage balances, which grew to $9.71 trillion. Household debt dropped in the second quarter by $35 billion, but mortgage balances increased by and additional

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Nurses at Backus Hospital Schedule a Two-Day Strike as COVID Cases Jump for Norwich Region

NORWICH — Nurses at Backus Hospital in Norwich are prepared to strike next week if the union and the hospital cannot come to an agreement over a new contract.  The Backus Federation of Nurses, part of the local AFT, gave notice on October 2 that the strike is scheduled to last from 7 a.m. on October 13 until 7 a.m. on October 15.  Sherri Dayton, president of the Backus Federation of Nurses, said that the negotiations had been “a nightmare.”  “Tonight’s negotiation will be negotiation number twenty,” said Dayton, who has been a nurse in Backus’ emergency department for 16

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Regal Cinemas Announces Shuttering of Theaters

Regal Cinemas announced today in a press release that it will be temporarily closing all 536 of its U.S. theaters, beginning this Thursday, October 8. There are currently four Regal Cinemas locations in Connecticut — in Waterford, Stonington, Waterbury and Branford.  Cineworld, Regal’s parent company, attributes the closing to the fact that certain key areas — particularly New York — have not allowed movie theaters to reopen.  The statement said that the reluctance of certain areas to reopen theaters have caused film studios to postpone releasing new films. Last Friday, producers of the James Bond film “No Time to Die”

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As Legislators Debate Economic Benefits, and Burden for Homeowners, New Environmental Cleanup Rules Receive Unanimous Vote

HARTFORD — During special session, a number of state senators debated legislation that would modify the Transfer Act, a law dating to 1985 that regulates the way that polluted properties are handled in Connecticut.  The legislation shifts state law from a “transfer-based” system — one that requires hazardous waste spills to be cleaned up when a property changes hands — to a “released-based system,” requiring that property owners clean up pollution as soon as they are aware of the problem. The new legislation passed the House on Wednesday by a vote of 143-0 with an amendment which would prevent peripheral

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Officials Urge Caution, but No Delays to Reopening, as COVID Cases Jump across Southeast Connecticut

COVID positivity rates in southeast Connecticut have grown significantly this week, according to data from state and local health departments.  According to Ledge Light Health Department, which encompasses East Lyme, Groton, Ledyard, Lyme, New London, North Stonington, Old Lyme, Stonington, and Waterford, the region has confirmed 154 new COVID cases this week, the largest increase since April. Last week, the region confirmed 60 new cases.  In New London County, the number of COVID cases has increased from 1,882 to 2,126 over the course of the week, a 13 percent jump. The number of deaths increased by two, from 87 to

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Legislature Approves Early Processing of Absentee Ballots

HARTFORD — On Thursday, the Connecticut General Assembly passed a bill that would make it possible for absentee ballots to be processed on the Friday before election day. The bill passed the House on Wednesday 139-5 and the Senate on Thursday 35-1.   In July, the legislature passed a measure allowing any voter to use COVID-19 as a reason for voting by absentee ballot, a change that could substantially increase the number of absentee ballots that municipalities receive.  State Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, the chair of the Government Administration and Election Committee, said the purpose of the bill was to ensure

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Legislature Overwhelmingly Passes Environmental Justice Measure

HARTFORD — Lawmakers in the special session passed a bill that would revise the state’s environmental justice regulations, and require facilities that impact the environment to improve communication with the public and provide services or funding that would mitigate any environmental effects on the surrounding community.   The bill passed the House on Wednesday 139-5 and the Senate on Thursday 35-1.  State Rep. Geraldo Reyes, D-Waterbury, who co-authored the bill, told Connecticut Examiner that the changes came out of an experience he had in his home district of Waterbury, when an F&G Transfer Plant decided to expand its activities. Although large

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Bennett’s Books Stocks Community Fridge for Families in Need

In the back of Bennett’s Books in Deep River is a small pink fridge stocked with milk, eggs, cheese, juice, and frozen burritos and spring rolls, free for anyone who might need them.   Colin Bennett, the owner of the store, got the idea for the fridge after hearing about Freedge, a worldwide network of community refrigerators. The refrigerators are stocked with food donations and are left outside for individuals to take food when they need to.  Bennett aired his idea on social media platforms and started to receive donations from “random people.” He received the donated fridge in March, but

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Tourism Grant Program Accepting Proposals Through October 31

The Eastern Regional Tourism District is offering grants of up to $25,000 to help regions expand their marketing budget and draw in more tourists.  If a campaign is chosen, the district will contribute double the funds raised by the campaign for up to $5,000. They will then match up to $15,000 of additional funds raised, with a cap of $25,000.  The district has so far awarded two grants of $25,000 each to the campaigns Think Mystic and Wide Open.  Chris Regan, manager at Olde Mistick Village and chairman of the marketing committee, said that the district wanted to support programs

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Survey Suggests Lack of Confidence in Connecticut’s Business Climate

The sharp economic downturn as a result of coronavirus has exposed a lack of confidence among business owners in state policies, according to a recent survey from the Connecticut Business and Industry Association.   The survey of 962 business owners in a variety of sectors found that 61 percent said that the business climate in Connecticut is “declining,” and 59 percent are predicting the state economy to contract in the next year.  57 percent of the companies surveyed had cut hours, laid off employees or furloughed workers during the pandemic.  While part of this decline is the direct result of the pandemic,

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Audit Recommends State Police Reduce Overtime, Focus on Recruitment

A recent audit report of the Department of Emergency Services and Police Protection recommended that the department decrease State Police overtime hours which cost the department more than $26 million in 2019.  The report found that 80 officers — in 3 barracks and 4 other locations where overtime had increased substantially in the past year — were earning between $50,968 to $190,677 in overtime pay — anywhere from 100 to 244 percent of their base salaries. The audit also found 3,114 instances in which these same officers worked between 15 and 29.5 hours in one day.  The report recommended that

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Lamont Announces Broader Reopening Scheduled for October 8

Gov. Ned Lamont announced on Thursday new guidelines for the third phase of reopening from a state-mandated shutdown to contain the spread of COVID-19. The new rules are scheduled to go into effect on October 8. Under the guidelines, restaurants, hair salons, personal services, barber shops and libraries will be able to increase capacity from 50 to 75 percent indoors.  Outdoor events venues, such as race tracks and soccer stadiums, will be allowed to increase from 25 to 50 percent capacity, and indoor performing arts venues will be able to open at 50 percent capacity, with masks and social distancing. 

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COVID Exposure Sparks Staff Shortage, Forces Colchester School to Close

Colchester Elementary School has moved to remote learning for 14 days after 10 staff members were exposed to or tested positive for Covid-19.  Jeffrey Burt, superintendent of Colchester Schools, explained that a staff member tested positive for the virus on September 15. By the weekend, two more had tested positive.  Burt said he worked with the local health department over the weekend to engage in contact tracing. The department identified seven other staff members as having had contact with the positive cases, and they were asked to quarantine. This, said Burt, left the school with a staffing shortage.  Colchester Elementary

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Partnership with State Government Keeps Mystic Aquarium Afloat

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MYSTIC — Gov. Ned Lamont and Mystic Aquarium President and CEO Dr. Stephen Coan today announced a $31.5 million public-private partnership that will eliminate the aquarium’s debt and allow it to continue functioning through the pandemic.  The package includes $10 million raised in private donations, $14.5 million in debt elimination and a $7 million long-term loan from the state for working capital. At a press conference at the aquarium, Coan said this partnership will enable the aquarium “not only to survive, but to thrive.” Tourism is an $18 billion industry in Connecticut, making up 7 or 8 percent of the

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Lyme Debates Switch to Town Manager Model of Local Government

LYME — The Succession Planning Committee is debating whether to recommend that the town keep its current board of selectmen or shift to a town council and town manager model of government.  According to First Selectman Steven Mattson, the committee was formed in July in response to the upcoming retirement of 19 town employees over the next few years. Those departures may  leave positions that are difficult to fill and possibly require an alternate form of local government.  At a meeting of the committee on September 16, the nine committee members considered four potential models:  The current model A board

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Students Learning English Face Added Challenges with Remote Learning

Teachers and education experts in Connecticut are using a variety of methods to reach out to English language learners and their families, who have experienced extra challenges with remote learning.  Maribel Oliviero, the director of bilingual, ESOL and world programs at the New London Public Schools, said that when the schools were forced to go online in March, English learners, and particularly those in high school, were one of the least engaged populations. The reasons were varied. Some students didn’t have a reliable internet connection, or their families had changed residences and weren’t receiving messages from the schools. Olivero estimates

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Repeal of ‘Transfer Act’ Would Shift Burden For Environmental Clean-ups in Connecticut

Legislators and policy makers are proposing to change the way that hazardous waste cleanup works in Connecticut — a shift that advocates hope will both boost the economy and better protect the environment.   The changes are outlined in two bills that if approved by the legislature will switch over the state of Connecticut from a system that is transfer-based — in which the owner is responsible for cleaning up hazardous materials only when a property changes hands — to a release-based system, in which the cleanup must be done as soon as the owner becomes aware of the problem.  This

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New Guidelines For Connecticut Ease Bartending Restrictions at Restaurants and Events

The Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development has revised reopening guidelines to allow more flexibility for bar service at restaurants and events.  According to revised guidelines announced Thursday, workers at restaurant bars are no longer required to be behind a plastic shield when taking orders, serving food and drinks or collecting bills. They do, however, have to remain behind a shield while at “work stations” — areas where they are mixing drinks. Earlier regulations allowed patrons to sit at bars, but only as long as the entire bar was covered with plexiglass. Scott Dolch, executive director of the Connecticut

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