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September 25, 2007

Newhall to Rell: Clean Up Our Back Yard

Sen. Looney, Rep. Villano and Sen. Crisco at today's press conference. Photo/Sharon Bass

By Sharon Bass

Standing under the late-morning sun in front of the old middle school where the soil is tainted, Hamden’s state delegates made their anger toward Gov. Rell’s threatened veto of the state bond package perfectly clear. And called on her to drop the notion.

“This is one of the greatest injustices to a group of people,” said state Sen. Joe Crisco (D-17 ) during a press conference, which drew about 20 Newhall area neighbors. “How can we deprive these people of peace of mind?” He was referring to the money allocated in the bonding bill for the Newhall remediation project -- seven years in the making. The bill passed Sept. 20 by a party-line vote. The next day, Rell said she would veto it because of the cost to taxpayers, and has called a special session for tomorrow to discuss just school construction bonding.

“People who live in those homes are daily at risk,” said state Rep. Peter Villano (D-Hamden).

In the bonding bill, $5 million was earmarked for severely damaged homes due to the shifting landfill below. Another $7.5 million from the Superfund account was to kick-start the residential soil remediation. In all, Crisco said seven Hamden projects are affected, including the Highwood Square housing/retail project that broke ground last week at the old Johnson Perfume factory on Dixwell Avenue.

“The governor can’t play her games by reneging to the people,” said Villano. “Fulfill your responsibilities to the people of Connecticut.”

Sen. Martin Looney (D-New Haven, Hamden) said people in Newhall want a response to the “nightmare they’re living. We call on the governor to reconsider her veto.”

“We would like to stress to the governor that it is imperative -- imperative,” said Newhall activist Elizabeth Hayes. “We would just urge you please to sign the bill so we can get started on this project now.”

Folks stood behind the politicians holding up signs that read, “Gov. Rell Clean Up The MESS,” and other such sentiments.

“This is the seven-year itch,” said Crisco. “Citizens have been extraordinary in [expressing their concerns].”

Villano was asked when the Department of Environmental Protection’s final cleanup plan will be unveiled. “We were told it will be in October, but we’ll believe it when we see it,” he said.

“Why is it taking so long? That’s all I want to know,” said one of the sign holders, adding that the project is relatively small compared to other environmental cleanups that are done in a much shorter time.

Crisco said it’s not just the size of a project “but the complexities. Unfortunately, it’s just part of the democratic and judicial process.”

But the people said it’s due to the color of their skin. The majority of Newhall residents are black.

“I am so aggravated because Gov. Rell have not come down to Newhall to see what’s happening to the black people,” said Doris Wynn of Winchester Avenue. “Don’t she care? I’m 76 years old and I’m very tired and I wish that somebody would have a little bit of sympathy for us. I feel trapped.”

Wynn said the foundation of her home is damaged “big time and my basement is sinking. Sometimes I feel like a nothing. I worked all my life. I have never been in any type of trouble. I hope I don’t die before they do something.”

“I live in fear,” said Donald Eaton of Newhall Street and a member of the Newhall Advisory Committee. There are cracks in every room and the foundation of his home, which he purchased in 1981, he said.

“It’s time to march to Hartford,” said Eaton.

Looney said “there will be nothing substantive” accomplished at Wednesday’s special session. “This is really a grandstand play by the governor,” he said. Republicans voted against the bonding bill because they heard that Rell was going to veto it, he said.

The governor has until this Friday to make the veto. If she does, Looney, the Senate majority leader, said a decision would be made whether to override the veto or try to negotiate with Rell. A two-thirds vote is needed for an override, which would probably not be hard to achieve. There are 24 Democrats and 12 Republicans in the Senate, and 107 Dems to 43 Repubs in the House.

“Gov. Rell is trying to control both ends of the bond process,” said Looney -- the authorization and the funding, which is decided by the Bond Commission and Rell. He said this is the first time a governor has threatened to veto a bond act.

Meanwhile, as Hartford plays politics real people in town say they’ve been suffering for seven long years.

“It’s a stunt,” said Lucy Phillips of Shelton Avenue. “It’s been like seven years and we’ve been very patient. The state should do its part. People are getting tired of this. They’re getting tired of attending meetings. That’s why you don’t see a lot of people here today.”

A man asked Looney et al, “What’s more important? A few dollars or people’s lives? The thing of it is, everything is standing still.”

September 22, 2007

Newhall Dead For Now

State Rep. Sharkey. File photo

By Sharon Bass

With the threatened stroke of a pen -- after seven years of soil testing and public relations and millions of tax dollars -- the Newhall remediation project may officially come to a halt and it’s anyone’s guess for how long.

Gov. Jodi Rell yesterday threatened to veto the Legislature’s $3.2 billion bonding package, which included $5 million for Newhall homes that are structurally damaged.

“[The Newhall remediation project] is at a complete standstill. There’s no money available,” said State Rep. Brendan Sharkey (D-Hamden). “Everybody knows, everybody knows, this is a project that’s going to cost 10s of millions of dollars.” (Click here for related story.)

Sharkey and state Rep. Peter Villano (D-Hamden) had successfully lobbied for an earmark in the $3.2 billion budget package for the Newhall funding, which they had to do since that project doesn’t fall under any existing state programs, said Sharkey.

Along with her reasons for the threatened veto, Rell announced Friday a special session on Sept. 26 for bonding just school projects. Sharkey said the Democratic leadership is not exactly OK with that.

“We’re not going to do that, we’re not going to take up a bond bill that only has school construction in it,” he said. “There’s no reason to pick a part of what the governor wants to do. She can call us in, but we’re going to continue to work on the full package, which includes Newhall.”

Sharkey, who’s on the Finance Committee’s bonding committee, said this is the first time in his memory that a governor would have nixed a bonding package, and chalked it up to Rell playing politics.

“Every governor regardless of their party has worked out agreements with every legislature on these bonding bills,” he said. “Everybody gains with a bond package. But that’s not enough for this governor. She wants to control the entire agenda for bonding and that’s truly political. Programs like Newhall would have to be sacrificed. And the amount of work that has been put into this package is unbelievable.”

A message left at the governor’s office late yesterday afternoon was not returned.

“The governor has had a history, which I don’t think the public is aware of, of reaching agreements in private and then reneging on them. We didn’t have a bonding package last year,” said Sharkey. By vetoing the bonding bill “she will be inflicting this kind of damage [no funding for Newhall] to every community in the state for purely political reasons.”

Even if Rell doesn't veto the bonding package voted in by the General Assembly Thursday night, the $5 million for Newhall is still not guaranteed. Sharkey said up to 25 percent of bonded projects typically don’t get funded.

“What this bill does, it just says these are the specific projects we want to authorize. But it’s the Bond Commission that ultimately decides whether to take out a loan to pay for these things -- and that’s a process that the governor also controls,” Sharkey said.

Newhall activist Elizabeth Hayes was not available for comment.

September 21, 2007

9/17/07, Mid-morning, Ridge Road

Hamden resident Jennifer Kirchoff sent in these photos she snapped while driving by this week's accident on Ridge Road. Click here for police report.

September 20, 2007

Farricielli Nixes New Deal

Ye old stump dump almost got a new home. Photo/Sharon Bass

By Sharon Bass

Joseph Farricielli, owner of the three-parcel mess at 2895 State St., seems to still be calling the shots. After more than three decades of blatantly ignoring state and town officials to make his property legal and to pay off nearly $4 million in environmental fines, the Branford man shot down an agreement Monday -- 24 hours before the Legislative Council was to take it up in special session -- that would have made his land and the community safer.

The deal was for Gateway Terminal in New Haven to deliver 400,000 cubic yards of soil to help cover the potentially dangerous tire pond, labeled Parcel B. (It will take over a million cubic yards to do the trick.) According to Chief Administrative Officer Scott Jackson, that pond, filled with millions of tires, could ignite and burn for years if not capped, sending toxins into the air.

But Farricielli refused to sign at the last minute, killing the deal and cancelling the Council meeting.

“My understanding is there were some sections of the agreement that Mr. Farricielli didn’t want to approve,” said Jackson. One was a provision that would reserve space at Parcel B for the stump dump that’s adjacent to the new middle school. (Parcel A is an illegal landfill the state Department of Environmental Protection has partially capped; Parcel C is a business park that is not properly zoned and not allowed to operate.)

“I know he had concerns about those sections and that’s all I can say,” Jackson said.

It wouldn’t have cost a local or state tax dollar for Gateway to dump more soil in the tire pond, which is partially filled, he said. The company would have been paid by the state or city from where the soil was collected.

The tire pond is just one piece of the ever-frustrating puzzle. For years, there have been attempts to get someone to take the title to the State Street property -- much of which is in North Haven as well as Hamden -- and legitimize it. But deals fell through. The latest was this past spring, when Gateway considered taking title but backed out because of the huge liabilities, said Jackson.

Then the Hamden Economic Development Corporation was going to step in, town Economic Development Director Dale Kroop told the HDN last June. He was unable to be reached yesterday for comment.

“I’m sure [Gateway] did a cost-benefit analysis on the property and found the liabilities were too great,” said Jackson. “The general potential for environmental catastrophes.” Like the tire pond erupting in flames. And there are tenants who are not supposed to be on Parcel C, posing yet more liability.

“It’s fair to say the tenants who are there are not engaged in permitted activities,” said Jackson.

Town Planner Leslie Creane had successfully removed most of the tenants on zoning violations, but reportedly Farricielli brings others in despite knowing it’s illegal to do so.

Bring on the gangbusters

The property is not an attractive sell because of the tire pond and landfill, which Jackson said could not be developed on for years due to environmental and legal reasons.

“Will it ever be resolved? Absolutely, because there are so many players and so many cards to be played,” he said. “We’ve made significant progress over the months in conceptualizing what that property will look like in five or 10 years.”

But, he added, “Nobody’s beating down the door to buy it because of the liabilities. A last option is we go in [like] gangbusters with every enforcement vehicle at our disposal.”

Asked if the DEP could precipitate covering the tire pond for resident safety, Jackson said it is possible. A call to the DEP late yesterday afternoon was not returned.

September 19, 2007

‘We Have to Remember Our Holocaust’

Traveling museum curator Angela Jennings.

Sankofa is an Akan word that means, "We must go back and reclaim our past so we can move forward; so we understand why and how we came to be who we are today."

Story and photos by Sharon Bass

I took a break from the town scene yesterday to visit a very different scene -- the Sankofa African-American Museum on Wheels on display for the day at Quinnipiac University.

What a great decision.

About 2,000 artifacts and objects were displayed chronologically, telling the story of Africans in the United States from 1860 to the present. It began with startling and deeply disturbing pictures of slavery and lynchings;

continued with photos and old magazine covers of blacks who courageously fought for freedom and equality in white man's land;

and ended with replicas of the many African American inventions.

After touring the tables set up in the university’s Alumni Hall, I bumped into the woman behind the traveling museum, Angela Jennings. And she told me her story.

“It’s absolutely necessary. We have to remember our holocaust,” said Jennings, who lives in South Carolina and takes her museum on the international road year round. “We lost between 10 and 15 million Africans to the Atlantic Ocean [when being brought to the United States as slaves]. I always say it like that. The Atlantic Ocean is the largest cemetery in the world.” Many Africans jumped ship or were thrown overboard during the journeys. Groups of 12 were chained together in shackles, she said. “They’d rather die than be slaves.”

Jennings told me she gave up a 28-year career in retail management in 1995 for this passion that brings meaning to her life.

“I just got sick of retail. I decided to do this because African American studies is not taught in the public school system,” she said. “My nephew was a straight A student but he knew nothing of his history and culture because he was not informed.”

Over the years she’s collected roughly 10,000 objects of African American history. She and her husband stuff their van full and hit the road. Right before Jennings reached Hamden on Tuesday, she was at Towson University in Maryland. Now she’s en route to the University of South Carolina, then off to Rust College in Mississippi. The Sankofa African-American Museum has also traveled to Europe, Jamaica and Africa. Jennings said she might return to Quinnipiac.

“I love it. I hate it when I’m stationary,” she said. “I’m out on the road at least two to three weeks a month. You see, African Americans have always been told they come from nothing, they’ll be nothing. But when you walk in here, you see the royal history. We made it. We have rised to the occasion. If they ask what we are doing, tell them we are rising.”

Jennings was interrupted by a couple of female students. They asked if they could look at the silver necklaces around her neck. After a few oohs and ahs, they began their tour of the museum on wheels.

Asked how long she will keep traveling, Jennings, who did not want to disclose her age, said “until my body won’t let me. This is my legacy.”

September 11, 2007

Anderson’s Half-Century Gala

By John Carusone

It was a special day last Sunday for Rev. Owen Sanderson, pastor of Christ Lutheran Church. Over 200 guests and parishioners celebrated his 50th anniversary here in Hamden. Friends, politicians and other clergy helped the popular pastor celebrate his milestone.

I was one of the speakers at the event and had a chance to recount some of our most memorable moments. In October 1972, at the request of the Hamden Chamber of Commerce, Sanderson was asked to draw the winning ticket for a Caddy Coupe de Ville. He picked my ticket. That certainly was a memorable day.

Another occasion that is always fresh in my mind had to do with the July 10, 1989, tornado. I had called a staff meeting the next day at 4 a.m., and the first volunteer to show up was Owen Sanderson. He spent the next two weeks assisting residents in need nonstop.

Sanderson was recently voted into the Hamden High Sports Hall of Fame because of his years of helping at football games. One of the most impressive speakers at Sunday’s event was Rev. Bill Lee, also known as the best amateur golfer in the state. Mayor Craig Henrici read a proclamation and former Mayor Barbara DeNicola paid tribute to Sanderson. Former New Haven Police Chief Bill Farrell, a long-time friend of Sanderson’s, also spoke on the reverend’s behalf.

August 9, 2007

Big Boys & Their Old Wheels

Carl Sanca of Hillfield Road braved the heat and humidity last night to show his 1950 cherry red Chevy at Glenwood Drive-in. He co-founded the cruise night in 1994 with George Civitelli. Every Wednesday from April to October, dozens of antique car owners converge at the popular Whitney Avenue eatery around 6:30 p.m., while DJ Johnny B. Good spins tunes from the '50s and '60s. Photos/Sharon Bass

Joe Rapetski and son Mike, 16, of Cheshire stand next to their 1969 Camaro Z/28. Like all the refurbished cars on display, the engine is clean enough to eat a hot-dog and fries off.

Mike Primicerio of Washington Road and his 1940 Standard Deluxe Ford.

Jim Salzano of North Haven stands protectively by his 1939 Pontiac Business Coupe. He said he's just the third owner of the car, which was first bought by an Ansonian.

George Civitelli of Paradise Avenue, co-founder of cruise night, inside his 1956 Chevy BelAir convertible. "I've loved cars since I was 12 years old," he said. "It became an obsession, I guess."


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