State Invites Comment on Draft Four-Year $3.9 Billion Transportation Program

The Connecticut Department of Transportation continues work on plans to remove the two traffic signals on Route 9 in Middletown, one of 223 projects included in the draft 2021 State Transportation Improvement Program, or STIP. The draft is the topic of two virtual public information meetings to be held on Sept. 23, at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. The public is also invited to review and comment on the draft program of projects, as well as Public Involvement Procedures, until Oct. 9.  Middletown project The Middletown project began under the Malloy administration as a way to improve safety conditions and

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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 Event

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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Prevailing Wage Rule May Limit Sidewalk Extension to Hartford Avenue

OLD LYME — There is a chance that prevailing wage requirements could significantly raise the cost of the Sound View sidewalks project if the state interprets the application as a renovation rather than as new construction. Public works projects must comply with state prevailing wage laws if they are classified as new construction and cost at least $1 million or as renovations and cost at least $100,000 “This is new construction, in my opinion. I think this is a situation where the regulations haven’t caught up with the evolution of projects. I think we’re not necessarily in a gray area,

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State Leaders Debate Spending to Bridge Urban-Suburban Achievement Gap

Both New London High School and Valley Regional High School spent about $16,500 per pupil in 2017-18, according to the state Department of Education. The schools are about the same size – with 568 and 583 students respectively – and are less than 30 minutes apart by car. And yet, every year students at the two schools have vastly different scores on standardized tests. In 2017-18, just 36.7 percent of students at New London High School met or exceeded the state standard in math. In the same year at Valley Regional, 59.1 percent of students met or exceeded the same

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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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Latina Leaders in Connecticut Meet to Encourage Women of Color to Run for Local Office

Latina leaders in Connecticut are encouraging women of color to run for local office in order to represent the needs of their communities.  In a Zoom conversation hosted by Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz on Thursday afternoon, eight elected city councilwomen, representatives and alderwomen shared their experiences and their suggestions for getting into politics.  Many of these women faced similar obstacles in running for office — lack of funding, difficulty networking, and being branded as overly emotional or being told to “wait their turn.”  “The first thing that I would say to women that decide to run in, don’t read the

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New Regulations Require Children Three and Up to Wear Masks in Daycare

The Connecticut Office of Early Childhood has released new regulations requiring that children ages three and up wear masks in daycare and childcare centers beginning Monday, September 21. The regulations are based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics, which say that children ages two and older can and should wear masks in order to create a safe school or childcare environment.  Beth Bye, commissioner for the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood, said that the recommendations came on the heels of a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics, which shows that young

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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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Mixed-Income Housing Development Approved for Site of Former Campbell Grain Building in Pawcatuck

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STONINGTON — The Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously approved a five-story, 82-unit mixed-income housing project for the long-blighted site of the former Campbell Grain building in Pawcatuck, during a virtual meeting Tuesday night.  Winn Development, a division of Winn Companies of Boston, proposed the project under the state 8-30g statute for the 1.89-acre site at 15 Coggswell Street and 27 West Broad Street in Pawcatuck. In 2019, 5.93 percent of the housing stock in Stonington was classified as affordable under state statute. The proposed project will lease 30 percent of the units at market rates and 70 percent will be restricted

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Westbrook Debates Mural Design by Tony Falcone

Westbrook is trying to liven up its downtown business district with an outdoor mural, a project that has drawn both support and criticism from residents.  The project is a three-and-a-half-year-old effort between the Town Center Revitalization Committee and the Economic Development Committee. They recently created an online survey, available on the town website, that allows residents to vote on their favorite of two potential paintings. The winner will be featured on the wall of the Turtle Cafe on Westbrook Place in Westbrook’s downtown.  Both murals include a rendering of David Bushnell’s submarine, the Turtle, known for being the first submarine

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As State and Federal Efforts Wane, Phragmites Control is Left to Private Efforts

Much of the Connecticut River is fringed with phragmites. Its light green reeds grow thick and tall, shutting out native plants, mucking up the water for native birds and fish and shielding the waterfront from view. Ten years ago, controlling this invasive plant was a major focus for both the state and federal governments. The Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service often had grants available to fund shoreline restoration projects. With consistent herbicide application and diligent mowing by a team of seven full-time employees, and many more seasonal workers at the state Department of Energy

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Old Lyme Zoning Commission Postpones Vote on Synthetic Turf Field

OLD LYME — The Old Lyme Zoning Commission voted to postpone a vote on the proposed Lyme-Old Lyme turf field at Monday night’s meeting. “I wonder why this didn’t go to our engineer, I don’t feel confident to evaluate drainage,” said Jane Cable, a member of the Old Lyme Zoning Commission. “This is just all drainage.” Every commission member present agreed that they needed more information and voted to postpone the vote to the October meeting. The $2 to $3 million project, which has been in discussion for years, passed the Inland Wetlands Commission in Old Lyme this past May.

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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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Despite the Changes, Lyme-Old Lyme Students Say They Are Glad to be Back

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It was quiet. Not your typical hustle and bustle of chattering students showing off new outfits, sharing summertime stories and class schedules. Instead, everyone – teachers and students alike – seemed nervous.   “It’s a really hard thing to put a name to, because it was the first time I ever felt that. Even though there were kids and people in the building and it should’ve been filled with that spirit and that energy of the first day of school, everybody was very hesitant and tentative and not sure what to expect,” said Marc Vendetti, a sixth grade English teacher at

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Connecticut Announces Sharply Lower Rate Hikes for Health Insurance Plans

Connecticut’s approved rates for health insurance premiums in 2021 are vastly lower than what companies have requested, according to the final rulings released on Friday by the Connecticut Insurance Department.  The approved average rate increase was 0.01 percent for individual plans and 4.1 percent for group plans. Last year, the average increase for individual and group plans were 3.95 percent and 9.19 percent, respectively.  The department said in a press release that it expects the proposed changes to save 214,600 Connecticut residents $96 million.  In a public hearing on September 2, the insurance companies defended their proposed increases, arguing that,

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East Lyme Police Report Rise in Reported Opioid-Related Overdoses

East Lyme has seen an unusually high number of overdoses in the last two months, East Lyme Police Chief Michael Finkelstein reported at a meeting of the town’s Police Commission on Thursday night.  Out of a total of 15 reported overdoses in East Lyme in 2020, seven occurred between July 1 and September 10, compared to three during the same period in 2019. Additionally, two of the three deaths attributed to overdoses this year occurred between July and September.  Finkelstein told CT Examiner that the majority of these overdoses were caused by heroin or fentanyl, a synthetic opioid similar to

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Deep River Seeks $119,000 STEAP Grant for Information and Communications Technology

DEEP RIVER — Instead of new sidewalks, this year Deep River is hoping to receive a $119,000 Small Town Economic Assistance (STEAP) grant from the state to assist the town in making meetings more accessible to the public. “With this proposed request we will have a couple of cameras and microphones so that people on zoom will be able to hear and see those at the meeting and those in the town hall will be able to hear and see those on zoom,” said Angus McDonald, first selectman of Deep River. Six months ago, when the COVID-19 pandemic policies moved

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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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State Officials Release Guidance on Truancy for Students Enrolled in Distance Learning

Statewide, 1 in 4 students failed to participate in remote education between March and June when schools were closed to limit the spread of COVID-19. In other words, 25 percent of students were chronically absent compared to a typical school year, according to data provided by the state Department of Education, when about 10 percent of students are chronically absent. So, with about 1 in 4 students choosing to study remotely this fall, state and local administrators have expressed concern that a high rate of absenteeism will continue into the new school year. But when students are not actually attending

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Board Of Selectmen Debate Sewers, a Resolution on Racism, and Sidewalks (UPDATED)

The Old Lyme Board of Selectmen held a public hearing last night to vote on whether to grant an easement for sewers to be installed by Old Lyme and three chartered beach communities. The system would establish a shared trunk sewer, pump station and force main between Old Lyme and the communities of Old Lyme Shores Beach, Old Colony Beach and Miami Beach. The pipes would run along Hartung Place, cross Hartford Avenue and Swan Avenue to reach the shared pump station at the corner of Pond Road and Portland Road. The shared force main would run up Portland Avenue

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COVID Forces Temporary Closure of Valley Regional High School

ESSEX/DEEP RIVER/CHESTER — Two positive cases of COVID-19 among students at Region 4’s Valley Regional High School forced the school to shutter and resume fully-remote learning for Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.  “We closed VRHS for two days this week, yesterday and today, to allow for contact tracing and the deep cleaning of the building,” explained Brian White, superintendent of Region 4 Schools, in a statement to CT Examiner. “This decision was made in concert with local health authorities and the State of Connecticut DPH.” In an effort to reduce the spread of COVID, the district is following a

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As Connecticut Evaluates Rate Hikes for 2021, Health Insurers Push Back on Reports of Large Profits

As the Connecticut Insurance Department deliberates over whether to allow insurance premiums to increase for 2021, health insurers pushed back against reports of large profits during the pandemic as premature. On Aug. 5, the New York Times reported that many of the large insurance companies that serve Connecticut, including Aetna, Anthem and United Health Care, reported second-quarter earnings that were double what they earned in the previous year.  Insurers, however, are predicting that these earnings will be offset by a coming increase in elective surgeries and treatments postponed due to the pandemic. Most said they experienced a decrease in claims

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Democratic and Republican Legislators Question State Guidance Limiting High School Football

After the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference announced on Friday that full-contact high school football will not resume this fall, Democratic and Republican state representatives sent letters to Gov. Ned Lamont and the state commissioner of public health urging them to reconsider the decision. “We write to urge you to convene a meeting with the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, the Department of Public Health, and your office to continue the conversation, work collaboratively and see if we can find a way for our young people to play football this fall,” read a letter sent by 24 Democratic representatives. In contrast to

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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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Request to Demolish Victorian-era Cottage in Haddam Denied Unanimously

HADDAM — The Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously Thursday to deny a request for a special permit to demolish a historic residential structure at 140 Dublin Hill Road known as the Leverett Spencer House.  The commission reviewed the application under the Section 15A Historic Preservation by Special Permit, which requires a special permit/site plan review for the demolition of any building listed in the survey, “Haddam Survey of Historical and Architectural Resources,” conducted by the Greater Middletown Trust. The building, which is listed on the survey, is an example of workers’ housing in Higganum during the second half of

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With One Month to Go, State Officials Seek to Boost Census Numbers for Connecticut

With one month to go before the reporting deadline for the U.S. Census, eight percent of Connecticut households still remain uncounted, currently the ninth-best completion rate in the country and the second-best response rate in New England after Maine.  In August, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that it would stop collecting responses for the census on September 30, a month earlier than previously stated.  According to Elizabeth Porter, chair of the Complete Contact Committee in Groton, the abrupt change in the deadline for collecting responses has created some challenges. “That, to me, was just unfair,” she said. “If you set

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As Reopening Stalls in Connecticut, GOP Leaders Call for a Greater Legislative Role

Connecticut has remained since June 17 in “phase two” of reopening — a significant delay in the scheduled rollback announced, by Gov. Ned Lamont in early May, of statewide mandates to control the spread of COVID-19. Lamont’s announced plan for reopening called for each phase of the reopening to last about one month, meaning that “phase three” should have begun in mid to late July, and a full reopening — “phase four” — started in mid to late August. “As of now, the Governor remains steadfast in maintaining the current level of the reopening process,” said Max Reiss, communications director

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