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New London pier operator looks to open road salt facility in Montville

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Montville — Gateway, the company that took over port operations in New London where a road salt distributor was driven out by a major pier project, is looking to establish a road salt facility in Uncasville.

The Montville Planning and Zoning Commission recently heard the preliminary plan for redevelopment of two former industrial sites on Depot and Dock Roads. The project could make access to road salt significantly easier for area towns and contractors after DRVN Enterprises was forced to leave State Pier, which is being transformed to become a hub for offshore wind farm-related activity, in New London at the end of February 2021.

Attorney Harry Heller, who represents Gateway Montville LLC of New Haven, at Town Hall on Tuesday night presented the plan to redevelop the site for a facility for shipping, storage and transportation of road salt and other construction materials by means of tractor-trailers, rail and barge. Gateway also operates port terminals in New Haven, where the company distributes road salt.

“So basically, we're just moving State Pier down here, is that correct?" Commission Vice Chair Wills Pike asked. "I mean it's just common knowledge. We're moving the salt pile from State Pier down here — same covering, same kind of setup?"

Heller responded, "Yes, but that's only one aspect of the project." He told the commission, “The presence of both deep water and rail line in this location makes this a very valuable site for handling and maneuvering of goods for Southeastern Connecticut.”

Pike then addressed the possibilities of the proposed site noting that, with rail lines being present, it is a “prime opportunity for lumber and steel and things like that.”

Heller responded, “absolutely,” and said, “that’s the kind of thing we’re talking about because you have both rail and barge capability there.”

The two sites were formerly home to the AES Thames Cogeneration Facility, which shut down in 2011, and WestRock Papermill and Packaging plant, which closed in 2020.

The proposed facility will use the pier already in place to receive shipments, and the former coal storage area will be expanded to an approximately 2.3-acre concrete pad that will hold up to 120,000 tons of road salt for sale to municipalities in southeastern Connecticut, according to documents submitted to the town.

The first phase of the two-phase project will include the concrete storage pad and machinery for use in moving the road salt, such as conveyers, as well as a temporary ramp providing access to the pier, scales and a portable building. Water runoff collection and treatment improvements will be made to protect the Thames River from the excess salt.

Phase 2 of the project will raise the grade of a portion of the property at 125 Depot Road to 11 feet above mean sea level using fill. Other parts of the plan include putting in low-speed railroad tracks used to load and offload freight cars, construction of a new access driveway at 125 Depot Road, installation of a security fence and stormwater management improvements, some of which are required due to potential preexisting contamination in the soil.

A traffic impact analysis was conducted by F.A. Hesketh & Associates Inc. of East Granby, which projected a typical increase of 10 trips per hour to and from the site to 25 per hour seasonally, with occasional pre-storm spikes of up to 65 trips per hour. The report concluded that the roads have the capacity to handle the increase in traffic.

Heller noted that Depot Road will be the main point of entrance and exit at the new facility, and the company will not be using Dock Road.

Commission Member John Poole expressed concerns that the increased traffic would upset nearby residents who have not had to deal with extra traffic since the two former facilities closed.

Heller responded that the amount of increased traffic was significantly less than what existed previously, and the heaviest traffic volume would only be prior to a storm.

The commission unanimously passed a motion to table the proposal until July 28, when it is required to make a decision on the project.

Attempts to reach Heller after Tuesday’s meeting were not successful.

In a statement provided via email, Gateway President Jim Dillman said, "Gateway has recently leased this facility and commenced development. Our plans are to augment the offshore wind industry, as well as the handling of aggregates. As per the proposal to the town, there are plans for the storage and handling of 120,000 tons of salt."

A partially redacted lease agreement submitted with application materials shows that Gateway leased the property from Uncasville LLC of St. Louis, Mo., in August 2021.

Editor's Note: This version corrects to 120,00 tons the amount of road salt the proposed facility could hold.

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