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New London — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy made the rounds in southeastern Connecticut on Monday, chatting with patrons at local coffee shops and highlighting his accomplishments, especially those that benefitted local municipalities.
The unannounced campaign tour led him through the Washington Street Coffee House, Bean and Leaf Café and Muddy Waters Cafe, all in New London. He discussed everything from state aid for substance abuse programs to gas prices in eastern Connecticut. Later in the day he visited Norwich Public Utilities and had planned a stop at United Community and Family Services in Norwich.
One of his first stops was at the New London Fire Department on Bank Street.
“I stopped at the firehouse and said hello to the folks there…” Malloy said shortly before accepting a glass of Swamp Water at the Bean and Leaf, a specialty made from lemonade, green tea and matcha.
“I’m very proud of the fact that … nothing I’ve done as governor makes me responsible for a single teacher, a single policeman or a single fireman losing their job because we didn’t cut back our support of local government,” Malloy said.
“If I had shifted my burden to local governments it would have been very destructive to a place like New London that’s really starting to make some amazing progress,” he said.
Malloy was flanked during the New London leg of the tour by Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio.
“I can vouch for every word of that because if we had received a significant reduction in state funding in the last two years while we dealt with our own issues, there’s no way we’d be making the progress we’re making now,” Finizio said.
Finizio said Malloy’s administration has reached across the aisle to Democrats and Republicans alike.
“He knows how to run a municipal government. If we have an issue in New London, we need state support, I can call the governor directly and the state government responds and that’s not a quid pro quo because I support him,” Finizio said.
During his visit at Muddy Waters, Marc Frucht of Groton slipped Malloy a card with a list of gas prices, hoping he could inspire an investigation into price gouging.
“Right now we have the highest gas prices in the state,” Frucht said. “Maybe it’s worth investigating. He said he was going to look at it.”
Malloy also responded to questions about what has been described as a slow recovery of job growth in southeastern Connecticut. Malloy said a big part of the issue has been the job losses at the area’s two casinos but noted growth in other areas.
“You have two big casinos that have done nothing but downsize,” Malloy said. “Electric Boat is hiring and has been hiring. And other employers ... the supply chain from Pratt and Whitney is pretty deep in the Second District. They’re being told to double and triple their output.”
“Even though those casinos will continue to employ a lot of people, they don’t have kind of the stranglehold they once had. Understanding the implications of that is part of what we’re doing. There are good things happening but some of that stuff gets offset in other places,” he said.
During his tour through Norwich, Malloy met privately with about 30 employees and utilities officials at Norwich Public Utilities for about 40 minutes. Entering the meeting, Malloy said he wanted to be filled in on NPU’s activities, especially electricity and natural gas. He said eastern Connecticut should be poised to provide low-cost energy to manufacturing facilities that could boost the region’s economy.
Malloy said his administration has reversed what he said was years of “ignoring electricity and gas issues.”
“The issue of energy access and natural gas access is going to be very, very important in this part of the state and provide new opportunities for manufacturing,” Malloy said.
NPU General Manager John Bilda gave the governor a presentation on a proposal for a new 3-megawatt solar garden at the former Rogers Road Landfill in Norwich, NPU’s $11 million natural gas line expansion, an accompanying effort to modernize existing natural gas infrastructure, construction of a new micro-grid power generation plant at The William W. Backus Hospital and the municipally owned utility’s commitment to alternative fuel vehicles.
NPU owns and operates one compressed natural gas filling station and plans to open a second one on West Town Street.
In November, NPU will ask for voter support for the third city bond to continue the gas line expansion. If approved, the new $9.5 million expansion would include possibly running a natural gas line down Route 12 to the former Norwich Hospital property in Preston. That portion of the project would not be done until Preston has definite development plans for that property that would pay for the new line.
The Norwich gas line expansion also is contingent on new customers hooking into the line to cover the cost. Thus far, Norwich voters have approved $11 million in gas line expansions, and that money is expected to be spent by next spring.