SHELTON, Conn. — U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., toured brownfields along Shelton’s riverfront Friday in an effort to better understand its redevelopment goals and persuade his fellow legislators to put more federal funding behind them.
However, with tight federal budgets predicted, Murphy said he’ll probably have to look for creative tax incentives to entice private developers to do a yeoman’s share of the job.
“I’m trying to make my office the center of the brownfields cleanup conversations,” Murphy told Republican Mayor Mark Lauretti and city economic development officials.
Murphy said he has spent his brownfield research on the Route 8 corridor, as many Naugatuck Valley communities rose from a once-thriving industrial base on the banks of the Housatonic River.
Early Northeastern industrialists built their factories along the waterway, not realizing that materials and chemicals they used would later prove dangerous, Murphy said.
He said his job is to convince lawmakers in Southern and Western states that their economies benefitted from those early gains and they should help fund cleanups in Connecticut and other Eastern states.
Lauretti, who has been mayor since 1991, said Shelton has long planned to reclaim the waterfront for residential, retail and commercial use, and has made some headway. He showed Murphy maps of the riverwalk, farmers market and other desirable additions, saying he would like to get more parcels back on city tax rolls.
“How’s that not a good thing?” he said. “I think Shelton is a shining example of that.”
Lauretti showed Murphy the former Derby Silver Building, a historic landmark that a private developer plans to morph into 65 residential units. The city will vote on that plan Tuesday, said James Ryan, president of the Shelton Economic Development Corp.
The senator also got a look at the former Chromium Process Co., which the city plans to demolish to make way for parking for residents and visitors.
While the city once turned its collective back to the river, Shelton has a prime opportunity to attract residents, businesses and the tax dollars that come with them with help from the federal government, said Ryan.
The city recently received a $200,000 federal EPA grant to help clean up the waterfront property.
But that’s a drop in the bucket. Shelton’s ambitious vision would cost millions in federal aid, and the Environmental Protection Agency has a budget of just $70 million for brownfield remediation for the entire country, Ryan said.
“The EPA is grossly underfunded,” he said. “Grossly underfunded.”