Waterbury Sees Promise In Changes To Decades-Old Law
Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont is expected to sign into law changes to a decades-old statute that could bring new business to the state’s manufacturing past.
Waterbury is known for its giant cross on the hill. (That’s Holy Land USA).
But in the river valley just below the iconic cross are acres of blighted old factory buildings, relics of the brass city’s hayday. They run along the Mad River. The buildings are covered in graffiti. Windows are shattered.
This is the former Anamet manufacturing complex that closed in 2000. State Senator Joan Hartley said it’s a prime focus for revitalization.
“It wasn't too long ago when we were trying to find the cancer center. And we were looking to do it in the core of the city. And we were looking for a location. And they looked and looked and looked and they came back and they said, ‘Oh, no, there's nothing,’” Hartley told WSHU’s Capitol Avenue.
“I was like, What are you…” she continued. “‘There's nothing? There's everything. But they don’t want to touch it.”
These are brownfields, former industrial sites that are thought to be contaminated with toxic chemicals and dangerous metals. There are at least 265 such abandoned industrial sites in the city waiting for a buyer.
Hartley said this is not just a Waterbury problem. Stamford has the state’s highest number of sites with nearly 400.
“There isn't a town that abuts us here in Waterbury that does not have transfer site locations,” she said. “And in fact, in the whole state of Connecticut, out of 169 towns, there's only 11 that do not have transfer act locations.”
Governor Ned Lamont used this former factory complex in Waterbury as the backdrop to push for the amendments to Connecticut’s Transfer Act.
“I see reform of the transfer act is reform of this facility, and amazing city,” Lamont said.
Waterbury state Representative Ron Napoli stands outside of the factory complex. The shadow of a massive industrial chimney covers him.
“So years ago, there were all kinds of chemicals that were used here at these facilities, and especially here in Waterbury, we’re an old mill town,” Napoli said. “So we have a lot of abandoned sites that have chemicals there. This was the brass city of the world. So a lot of metals were made here and things like that. And it's been sitting vacant for quite some time. So hopefully, it'll be remediated and this entire neighborhood will be uplifted.”
Those metals and manufacturing chemicals now pollute the landscape. Today under state supervision, the owner would need to spend a lot of money and years cleaning up the property before making a sale.
With the amendments, that process might be fast tracked.
“The transfer act will help get this site remediated as quickly as possible,” Napoli said. “So it can be used for a hub for economic development.”
The state would certify private engineers and environmental firms to investigate the footprint of contamination on the property. Hartley said that would mean a problem at one corner wouldn’t hold back the development of the rest of the property.
“For example, a strip mall to and in the strip mall, you have a whole panoply of different businesses, but you might have a printer in there, or you might have a Jiffy Lube in there,” she said
“With some of the low risk projects, you know, they might be done a little bit sooner,” Napoli said
Napoli said this could help the state recover some of the 50,000 jobs lost during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Transfer Act has about 4,200 projects in the pipeline itself. So the faster we can get this done and get people back to work is really important for this state,” he said.” There was a study done that said that this will create close to 7,000 direct jobs and 20,000 indirect jobs. So we think that this is a win for the economy, and of course, for the environment.”
Lamont said the amendments establish a clear set of standards for what needs to be remediated and help flip shuttered properties. Hartley hopes that the amendments will attract new industry to her city.
“We're the industrial northeast. We in Waterbury, we’re the brass center of the world,” she said. “So that speaks to what our legacy is. It's an industrial legacy.”
Even with the amendment, officials say Connecticut wouldn’t have the resources and regulations for years to expedite the review of properties.
Listen to the full episode of WSHU’s Capitol Avenue podcast to learn more about how Connecticut tries to attract new business to its former manufacturing towns.