Sen. Murphy joins fight to restore funds to Candlewood Lake

By:  Susan Tuz
News Times

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy on Tuesday joined five area towns in their fight to restore funds to Candlewood Lake.

Murphy sent a strongly worded letter to Zin Smati, president and CEO of FirstLight Power Resources, demanding a full review of the company's decision last month to reduce funding to the lake by 80 percent for the 2015-16 fiscal year. The Connecticut Democrat called for a review of FirstLight's plan to establish a grant program for all 23 municipalities and nonprofit organizations in the Housatonic River region instead of maintaining its current lake funding.

"I appreciate FLPR's effort to more broadly and equitably distribute the funds," Murphy wrote. "However, considering the relative pittance of funding involved -- under $100,000 -- compared to the revenue GDF Suez generates from this asset, I am somewhat baffled by FLPR's insistence on further divvying up some of an already miniscule pool of funds."

GDF Suez is the parent company of FirstLight.

Murphy concluded the letter by calling on Smati to "revisit FLPR's decision ... and restore the funds -- or barring that, at least delay this action pending a full review."

Candlewood Lake Authority Executive Director Larry Marsicano learned of FirstLight's decision in mid-February, after funding requests for CLA's 2015-16 budget had already been sent to the five lake towns.

The towns are now rallying to help the CLA's cause.

The leaders of the five towns collectively contacted FirstLight on Monday about its plan to reduce funding to the lake from $50,000 to $10,000 for the next fiscal year.

A FirstLight spokesman said last week the company decided to reallocate funds going to the Candlewood authority and similar agencies on Lake Zoar and Lake Lillinonah to a newly established Housatonic River Project Fund. This fund would make grants to nonprofits and to 23 municipalities in the Housatonic River region that work to enhance water quality.

FirstLight spokesman Len Greene said Tuesday he was not aware the five towns reached out to his company on Monday.

"I've discussed FirstLight's decision with a federal legislator and, collectively, the CEOs of the five lake towns have told FirstLight we don't like the timing of their decision," New Milford Mayor Pat Murphy said. "We're hoping FirstLight will alter the timeline on their decision to cut CLA funding and initiating the grant program."

Murphy said all five town leaders are committed to the lake's welfare. She suggested to Candlewood Lake Authority Chairwoman Phylllis Schaer that she discuss the situation with the Town Council.

"We don't want to have FirstLight cut out of the discussion, however," Murphy said.

That said, the New Milford Town Council on Monday night cut an additional $5,000 from the CLA contribution in the town's 2015-16 budget. The reduction brought the town's contribution to $59,600, some $15,000 less than CLA had requested.

New Fairfield and Danbury plan to allot less than the $74,900 the CLA initially requested -- before Marsicano was informed of FirstLight's funding decision -- for the $534,000 proposed budget. Only Brookfield and Sherman have included the $74,900 in their 2015-16 budget proposals.

"Since 2011, we have had funding issues with some of the towns not being supportive of our basic operating budget," Schaer said. "The past few years of decreased municipal funding on our basic operational budget has been offset by an increase in our fundraising efforts and drawing on our designated reserve funds to compensate."

The Candlewood Lake Authority is facing a shortfall for the current fiscal year. As of March 11, $91,000 remained, leaving the association short by $29,950 to pay the bills through June 30.

"The lake's five towns have been asked to increase their contribution for this year by $5,190 each," Schaer said.