NAUGATUCK — Mayor N. Warren "Pete" Hess has his eye on a property that stretches along the Naugatuck River at the end of Elm Street.
"In my view, that's where the future of Naugatuck is going to go," Hess said Tuesday. "It's going to head south."
With plans to redevelop downtown Parcels A, B, and C in the works, Hess said the former Chemtura Corp. property near the sewer treatment plant is the logical next target for brownfield remediation. He said its location near Route 8 and the rail line make it the perfect spot for a new industrial park and possible commercial development.
Hess led Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., on a tour of the borough's development projects Tuesday, showing him the future location of a new train platform and describing plans to turn the General DataComm site into a mixed-use development with retail and condominiums.
Murphy agreed that moving the rail line and increasing train service to Naugatuck would be key to economic development. He said the development could bring young people, who may commute to jobs in bigger cities, to downtown Naugatuck.
With Connecticut highways regularly clogged, Murphy said taking people off the roads and onto rails is a win for everyone.
"This is the definition of transit-oriented development," Murphy said. "That site is a no-brainer for investment."
As a small entourage trudged through the now mostly vacant lot that once hosted around 35 to 40 Uniroyal Inc. buildings, Hess noted that the Naugatuck Valley was founded on the industry that started here.
Small piles of bricks and rubble dot the 86-acre parcel, but most of it is flat, empty space with weeds growing through cracks in the dry earth. Chemtura still operates from two buildings on the lot and several smaller sheds and storage areas remain.
"That's where our tax base just eroded," said Naugatuck Economic Development Corp. CEO Ronald J. Pugliese, looking at the once-thriving industrial area.
Although the industrial buildings that were a backdrop in the 2005 film "The War of the Worlds" are gone, the contamination they left in the ground beneath is not.
Chemtura has a comprehensive plan to clean up the site, according to Arthur Bogen, environmental planner for the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments. However, he said, the borough needs to find out how far along the plan is, how much it will cost to complete and how long that will take, and negotiate who will pay for it.
"That's where you come in," Hess said, turning to Murphy.
Murphy said manufacturing is creeping back in Connecticut, but the state lacks developable land. Although the potential of the site is almost limitless, Murphy said, cleaning it up won't be cheap.
He said he plans to push the federal government to expand industrial cleanup programs and increase the Environmental Protection Agency's brownfield remediation account.
The industrial revolution in the Northeast powered the growth of the nation, Murphy said. Now, Connecticut is paying the price in the environmental impact of that rapid growth. He said the rest of the country needs to help clean up the contaminated sites.
The Chemtura property is appraised at $1,498,950, according to assessment records. The two buildings and a cell tower on the site are worth an additional $1,096,420, according to the appraisal records.