Hinchey meets with Malloy administration officials

Norwich - A longstanding plan to relocate the Norwich Harbor boat launch, the stalled project to renovate the Ponemah Mill into apartments and the need for a $100 million sewage treatment plant upgrade were top priorities Mayor Deberey Hinchey discussed with top state officials Wednesday.

Hinchey and several city planning and economic development officials met Wednesday afternoon with key officials in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's administration, including Chief of Staff Mark Ojakian and the commissioners of economic and community development and housing.

City Manager Alan Bergren, Planning Director Peter Davis, Norwich Community Development President Robert Mills and Vice President Jason Vincent and Norwich Public Utilities General Manager John Bilda attended the meeting. The others deferred to Hinchey for comments on the meeting.

"The meeting went very well," Hinchey said. "It was the first step in establishing relationships with the folks up there. We met with quite a few of the governor's people and talked about the many projects we've got going in Norwich that we could use some help with."

Hinchey said she wanted to focus on major projects that would have regional impacts during her first meeting with Malloy's staff.

City officials have talked for years about moving the boat launch out of Howard T. Brown Park for safety, convenience and space reasons. The boat launch now has to be closed several prime weekends during the summer for festivals at the park. When it is open, trucks with trailers have little room to maneuver and there are few large parking spaces nearby. And trucks often have to back up to the launch while pedestrians are walking through the park.

Hinchey told Ojakian and Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Catherine Smith that the city would like state assistance to move the boat launch down the Thames River to the former industrial district on Shipping Street - a plan that has been discussed for the past several years under previous mayoral administrations.

"We didn't get into specific dollars and cents," Hinchey said of any funding requests. "We told them about the safety issues at Brown Park, trailer parking and wanting the shipping street area revitalized with brownfields money."

NPU has been working on specific cost estimates for the projected $100 million upgrade of the sewage treatment plant. Officials from several small towns surrounding Norwich have been meeting to discuss tying into the Norwich sewer system to bring economic development opportunities to their towns. NPU estimated last March that the $96 million project would need about $20 million in contribution from outside towns tying into the system.

Hinchey said both the boat launch and sewer plant upgrade projects have clear regional benefits that could interest state officials.

The massive project by New York developer Onekey LLC to convert the former Ponemah Mill into up to 300 apartments would give a huge economic boost to the historic Taftville mill village, Hinchey told state officials. Many families living in Taftville had ties to the former textile mill giant.

The first phase of the project, the $26 million, 116-unit Lofts at Ponemah, received a low-interest state loan in 2012, but while much environmental cleanup and preliminary work has been done, the project has yet to show visible signs of progress.

State Department of Housing Commissioner Evonne Klein attended Wednesday's meeting. But even before that meeting, Klein had scheduled a visit to Norwich to meet with Hinchey and city officials for Jan. 15 to discuss issues in general.

Hinchey said city officials next will put together a master plan with these and other priority projects and eventually, the city will make specific funding requests from the state.

"They are very interested in what's going on in Norwich," Hinchey said. "We are going to continue to build that relationship, and let them know that Norwich is a very important part of what's going on in Connecticut."



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