Osten pushing for Norwich Hospital property cleanup funds

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Groton — State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, sought assurances Thursday that the state Department of Economic and Community Development supports Preston’s request for an additional $7 million in state funding to finish an environmental cleanup of the former Norwich Hospital property.

Raising her hand during a breakfast meeting of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut at the Groton Inn & Suites, Osten asked a DECD official if the funding would be on the agenda of the State Bond Commission’s next session.

Glendowlyn Thames, the DECD’s deputy commissioner, who had spoken to chamber members, said she was unfamiliar with the funding request, and noted that the state’s bond budget has not yet been passed.

Osten said the state should approve the requested brownfields grant “to clean up its own mess” and allow Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment to move forward with its plan to develop the nearly 400-acre property off Route 12. She called MGE’s $400 million to $600 million development plan for what's now known as Preston Riverwalk “a complete game-changer” for the region.

Preston officials last year requested the additional cleanup funds after the discovery of previously undocumented coal ash contamination. The total cost of the additional cleanup has been pegged at $9 million, which includes a $2 million loan previously approved by the state.

In 2015, the state allocated $10 million for demolition and remediation work on the site.

Preston acquired the former hospital property from the state in 2009 and later agreed to sell it to MGE after completing the cleanup. MGE, which so far has offered only conceptual plans showing a theme park, sports and entertainment venues, hotels, housing and a marina, would market the property to third-party developers.

Osten also suggested during the chamber meeting that southeastern Connecticut’s gaming tribes — the Mohegans and the Mashantucket Pequots — should be represented on the Governor’s Workforce Council, which Gov. Ned Lamont created in October by executive order. The 24-member panel’s charge is to foster partnerships among government, the business community, higher education and nonprofits to develop the state’s workforce.

Osten said the tribes, each of which is among the top 10 employers in the state, should have been invited to join the council.

The senator also called for the DECD to “get on board” with her efforts to modernize gaming in the state through the Jobs and Revenue Act, proposed legislation that would authorize the tribes to provide sports wagering and invest in a Bridgeport casino and authorize the Connecticut Lottery Corp. to offer online ticket sales and online keno.

Peter Denious, president and chief executive officer of AdvanceCT (formerly the Connecticut Economic Resource Center), a nonprofit that works with the DECD to recruit businesses and promote the state’s economic competitiveness, also addressed chamber members.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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