Vision for brownfields needs help

By:  Luke Marshall
My Citizen's News

NAUGATUCK — Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess walked by small piles of bricks and rubble on the 86-acre Chemtura property along Elm Street last week envisioning what the future of Naugatuck could hold.

“In my view, that’s where the future of Naugatuck is going to go. It’s going to head south,” said Hess about the possibility of developing the site for an industrial park or commercial development.

The property, which is a mostly-empty lot aside from two buildings and several smaller sheds and storage areas, once housed approximately 35 buildings. Before being torn down, the dilapidated buildings served as the backdrop for the 2005 movie “War of the Worlds.”

While Hess pictures the land as the ideal site for future development, the land is need of environmental remediation.

The cleanup and redevelopment of brownfields sites was the topic of discussion as Hess led U.S. Sen. Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.), Naugatuck Economic Development Corporation President and CEO Ron Pugliese, and Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments Environmental Planner Arthur Bogen on a tour of two brownfields Nov. 24.

The tour started on parcels A and B — the former General DataComm building and adjacent parking lot downtown. The borough is currently working with developer Benjamin Zitron, who plans to develop residential and commercial buildings on the parcels. Officials also hope to move the train station from Water Street to these parcels.

“This is the definition of transit-oriented development. You don’t get a better example of transit-oriented development than this,” Murphy said. “A big developable piece of land, sitting on top of a train station on top of a highway. You just don’t find that in very many places. When you talk about transit-oriented development that site is a no-brainer for investment.”

The Chemtura property is appraised at $1,498,950, according to assessment records. The two remaining buildings and a cell tower on the site are worth an additional $1,096,420, according to the records.

Bogen said Chemtura has a comprehensive plan to remediate the environmental issues of the land, but did not know how far along the company was with that plan. 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.

Borough officials are looking to the federal government for help when it comes to remediating the sites.

“The economic development potential of these sites is almost limitless,” Murphy said. “But, because of the contaminants, it is not a cheap cleanup. That’s where the federal government comes in. I’ve been pushing for the federal government to expand its industrial cleanup programs. If I am successful we will have more resources to help with projects like this.”

Murphy said the Environmental Protection Agency has money set aside to assist with the cleanup of brownfields, but he believes it needs to do more to help redevelop such sites

“We need to do more because here in Connecticut we can’t bring industry back if we don’t clean up these old factory sites. We just don’t have enough developable land next to transportation assets that is clean,” Murphy said. “We’re an old state. We had a lot of industry here and it put a lot of pollutants into the ground. It’s expensive to clean those up.”