Madison Thibodeau’s Success Story

madison-thibodeau-23
“I really enjoy being in a tight-knit community at UHart. I have been able to make great relationships with my professors and learn a lot in my classes, but the friends I have made at UHart are irreplaceable. I really get a feeling of belonging at UHart.” – Madison Thibodeau ‘23, College of Engineering, Technology, and Architecture and Barney School of Business

According to the University of Hartford website, Madison Thibodeau ’23 explored engineering and business during her time at the University of Hartford. She majored in Architectural Design + Technology with a concentration in construction management and minored in Business Entrepreneurial Studies. She graduated in May and she is continuing her studies at UHart for an additional year to earn her master’s degree in architecture and pass her architecture registration exams to become a licensed architect. Thibodeau also studied in Thailand this summer through one of UHart’s many study-abroad programs.

Both CETA and Barney provided her with different skill sets. Thibodeau learned a lot about the field she is pursuing from CETA but learned the general business and professional skills at Barney that will prepare her for architecture and beyond. She expanded her connections through her professors and peers in Barney and expanded her perspective on career paths.

“I learned a lot about architecture while in school and had the opportunity to participate in events that reviewed my portfolio and resume for the professional field. Architecture school is project-based, which led me to make many presentations, a skill that I did not have prior to UHart … I was also able to make many connections through school to professionals in the field and connections with my peers who may also practice architecture in the future. Although I am nervous about stepping out into the real world, I am confident in my skills and open to learning opportunities that I believe will help me in my field.”

In CETA, Thibodeau was very involved in the architecture department beyond the classroom. She held a position last semester on the e-board of the American Institute of Architecture Students as graphics chair, making graphics for the club to post around the studio space, posting on social media, and assisting in planning and decorating for various events hosted by the club.

Thibodeau was also on the general board of Women in Architecture and Design, contributing to discussions on current architectural events and women’s advancement initiatives throughout campus and in the architecture department. She also served as a studio representative where she met with professors and the department chair on a monthly basis to share student feedback and facilitate a better studio environment.

In Barney, she studied entrepreneurship, where she learned how to market and advocate for herself, which boosted her confidence in the professional world, and offered a glimpse of what owning a business is like. During her undergraduate studies, Thibodeau worked for a general contractor that focused on residential building and commercial and senior living renovations. She was a project management intern focusing on day-to-day project preparation, various office tasks and maintenance, work orders, inventory, communication with subcontractors, invoices, and job site visits.

Throughout both CETA and Barney, there were several campus faculty who helped her learn and grow. Thibodeau says Associate Professor James Fuller, the architecture program director, department chair, and her advisor, was always there to support her and push her as a student to do better and feel comfortable at school.

Professor Daniel Davis, who was her first studio professor, “taught me more than just architecture. As a freshman, I was very timid and afraid to mess up, and he gave me so many life lessons that I carried with me through my years at UHart,” she added.

Professor Stephen Smith gave her opportunities in the architecture department, such as helping her find her first campus job and scholarship opportunities, and encouraged her in his studio class.

At Barney, Thibodeau took courses with Assistant Professor Aydin Oksoy for two semesters, noting that he was the most enthusiastic professor she has ever had.

Thibodeau also says that Assistant Dean Celia Lofink was a great professor who gave her an eye-opening opportunity in her Small Business Practicum course, where she was paired up with a local storage facility in Hartford to assist with a renovation project. She learned how to communicate with a real business partner while focusing on school and staying on top of her work.

“It was a tough project and a big task, but she supported me in the classroom to learn and get my work done the best I could but also helped me navigate my first real-world design project outside of my architecture classes, which was both intimidating and exciting,” Thibodeau says.

Source Credit: University of Hartford, June 30, 2023. https://www.hartford.edu/success-stories/2023/ss-barney-ceta-madison-thibodeau-23.aspx

 

Water woes: More heavy rain brings more headaches in Hartford

 

Star hardware-backyard

Residents in several areas of Hartford and in CT were still dealing with previous flooding from the torrential rainstorms during the first two weeks of July when heavy rains during a tornado watch resulted in the highest-recorded rain totals in each county, ranging from 3.38 inches in Hartford County to 1.07 inches in New London County.  Hartford residents shared the horrors of their flooded businesses and homes after new flooding on Sunday 7/16/2023, closed roads, and soaked basements in several counties across the State.

Many North Hartford residents have applauded the state for pledging $85 million to mitigate flooding in the streets and their basements but expressed that the pledge will not eliminate their sickening memories of sewage, massive amounts of water, and damage to their homes. The flooding issues continue and are compounded by sewers that are inadequate to handle the volume of water created by the heavy rainstorms. Other residents are hopeful that the funds will be distributed to help the residents in a timely fashion.

Five residents have shared stories of the emotional toll caused by the flooding whenever it rains and the continuous flooding in their homes and businesses, the smell of decay, and the heavy losses that they incur (many losses cannot be replaced).

Sharon Lewis, a Hartford resident and executive director of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice, said that since the Dec. 4 flooding, she has endured several setbacks. The biggest setback was finding out that she was not insured for sewage backups. Her house is still condemned, but she and her husband had been living in a hotel and their last day was July 3. She is currently living in temporary housing and the rent is paid by a private donor for a period of one year.  Lewis has expressed her gratitude for the people who have helped her during such stressful circumstances and she remains tremendously overwhelmed. She offered that she had been hospitalized twice for issues relating to stress. According to the Hartford Courant, Lewis said:

“All of my precious antiques were destroyed and discarded. My mother’s DNA was in the basement freezer. I never got around to sending it in. Everyone who knows me knows that I’ve been a collector of rare artifacts from the African American experience post-slavery my entire life. I was so proud to own a piece of history. Gone in an instant.”

“Then to discover that I was technically homeless?… This has taken a tremendous toll on me. Never in a million years would I have thought that I’d be in a situation such as this. Seven months and one day living in limbo not being able to help myself due to the emotional toll this has taken.  I have been hospitalized twice for issues relating to stress.”

Bridgette Prince, a community activist, knows the pain of grieving and mourning the loss of cherished memorabilia and tangible artifacts that can never be replaced. Prince explained that although she had lost her military items to flooding 35 years ago, the pain of the loss remains in her heart to this day and fuels her fight as a community leader and activist for issues to be resolved for all residents in the north end. Prince was born in Hartford and grew up in East Hartford where she and many of her friends aspired to be in the military and were able to make their dream a reality. Her father’s house in Hartford flooded 35 years ago and Prince lost her military uniform, paperwork, metals, and certificates from the military (all cherished memorabilia that she had stored in his home) some of which cannot be replaced.

Prince offered that according to the National Weather Service,  much more rain is expected this week and there will be more flooding. Therefore leaders should be making sure that residents are protected from flooding with immediate relocation assistance and other forms of assistance. Regarding the July 4 flooding, according to the Hartford Courant, Prince said :

“People call me crying. You know the Church called me. This is how I found out about the church, North United Methodist Church called me on the 4th of July. And I was like, the irony of it, Independence Day… How do you celebrate independence when we are still looking and fighting for the government to say okay, this matters, this is beyond urgent… Leaders should be making sure residents are “independent of sewage and toxins and waste and flooding coming into your property, destroying your possessions that you worked hard for, that you inherited, that you earned.”

Prince also expressed her opinion that during the recent flood, the City should have been out there supporting all residents who needed assistance, including relocation assistance.  She continued that officials who attended the recent press conference celebrating the $85 million in funding announced by Gov. Ned Lamont should have also been present to help constituents during the recent flood.

Nikeda Parkes is a homeowner who lives on Granby Street. When she purchased her home she did not know that she would be inheriting flooding issues. Parks report that during the last rainfall, water began gathering by a huge tree at the back of her home. The roots of the tree are affecting the foundation of her home which is built on a slab and has no basement. Since the recent rain, she is unable to cut her grass because of the water that has pooled by the tree and created a swamp that has taken over her entire backyard. The standing water also breeds mosquitos and other types of insects and bugs because it has not run off to the street.

Parkes said it took her by surprise that many of her neighbors on the street had been dealing with flooding issues over a long period of time. She is hopeful that things will eventually get better due to the funding that is being put in place. According to the Hartford Courant, Parkes said “They [her neighbors]  have gotten so used to the empty promises, that they don’t have any hope in seeing that it’s gonna be fixed.”

Reggie Hales is a Hartford native and president of the Hartford Enterprise Zone Business Association and publisher of the Inquiring News. He no longer lives in the area, but he represents and supports local merchants in Main Street, Barbour Street, and Windsor Street areas, known as the “Enterprise Zone.” Hales pointed out that merchants and residents in these areas are exhausted because, despite the recent funding, the City knew that flooding from the severe storms was going to happen again and residents and merchants in the area are left at the mercy of Mother Nature.

Hales informed that he is advising residents and business owners that it could be time to solicit legal assistance on the matter of fixing the sewage and flooding issues because “we are low on the totem pole, these promises come every four years and at the end of the day, we continue to suffer” Hales continued that the flooding and sewage are negatively impacting merchants and their businesses in the north end, they are losing customers, and are unable to open for business as they clean up the damages for which many insurance companies do not cover the cost. He said, “Is it fair that they continue to be a victim of something that obviously is an emergency in any other community?”

Max Kothari, the business owner of Star Hardware,  is closing his business due to repeated flooding. He said that the issue is primarily about an infrastructure that needs to be handled by those in power, “The people in power keep talking about infrastructure, which is true. There are infrastructure issues that need to be dealt with. The majority of the issues are controllable within their reach, but they choose not to fix it. And that is very, very disheartening…To see… younger African American, minority kids playing in the sewer water, not knowing that they’re playing in sewer water. It’s just a crime. And what’s really astounding is the people in power know about this, (but it) does not equate to a health emergency. ” His hardware store was 35 years old and he had been running it with his wife for 35 years. He also said that it was traumatic coming to work on July 4 and having to call his employees to come and clean up the flooding instead of celebrating their independence holiday with their loved ones. Kothari continued to say that he is most stunned by the lack of humanity when it comes to solving issues in the north end.

Source Credit: Deidre Montague – Hartford Courant – July 17, 2023

CT commits $85 million to mitigate flooding and sewage issues in North Hartford

In a 06/26/2023 press release, Governor Ned Lamont announced that his administration has committed $85 million to repair flooding and sewage issues in North Harford.  The content of the press release is copied below:

Funding Contributes to a Total $170 Million Investment to Address Flooding in the Neighborhood
(HARTFORD, CT) – Governor Ned Lamont today announced that his administration is committing $85 million in state funding from the state’s Clean Water Fund and Clean Water Fund-related funding to implement a pilot program that will address sewage overflows in streets and basements in North Hartford, where residents have been chronically impacted by the long-term recurrence of sewer overflows.

Administered by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), the Clean Water Fund is the mechanism through which the state provides financial assistance to municipalities for projects addressing wastewater needs.

The funds will be applied to 12 projects proposed by the Metropolitan District (MDC) to increase protections from sewer and stormwater-related flooding and backups in North Hartford. The projects are estimated to cost $170 million. In providing this funding, DEEP has confirmed that MDC anticipates the remaining funding for these projects will be covered within the current MDC rate structure, with no impact on current rates. Five projects are slated to begin in 2023, six projects will begin in 2024, and one project will begin in 2025.

“I am glad that we can release this significant state funding to Hartford’s North End, which has been disproportionately impacted by sewer overflows for a long time,” Governor Lamont said. “I’m grateful to DEEP, the Hartford delegation, the MDC, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the community leaders in Hartford for working together to make progress on this complex but critically important issue.”

“Legacy combined sewer systems threaten both the health of our ecosystems and the vitality of our communities,” DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes said. “With the acceleration of climate change, more frequent, intense rainstorms are overwhelming sewer systems and causing street flooding, which leads ultimately to sewage backups that are devastating to residents. DEEP is committed to funding innovative pilot projects that will begin to bring relief to the North End and inform our approach to the broader Clean Water Fund program. I thank the members of the North End community for their advocacy on this issue. I look forward to continuing collaboration with community and legislative leaders and our federal partners on additional steps we can take together on climate, clean water, and environmental justice.”

The proposal for these funds includes a novel, private property infrastructure pilot that has potential financial, social, and environmental benefits by addressing privately-owned infrastructure that is connected to the public sewerage system. Of the total $170 million invested toward flood mitigation in North Hartford to date, $73 million is estimated to perform private property infrastructure improvements on over 3,500 properties, with backflow preventers and emergency sewer lateral repairs available, where needed. The Connecticut Office of the Treasurer, the Clean Water Fund manager, has worked with DEEP to secure funding for the pilot private property infrastructure improvements.

As part of its proposal, the MDC has committed to intensifying efforts to hire minority and disadvantaged business enterprises (MBE/DBE) and to work with all of its contractors to increase the use of Hartford labor for the North Hartford sewer flooding mitigation pilot project. DEEP sees significant opportunities to increase MBE/DBE and local labor for the private infrastructure work outlined in the proposal.

DEEP and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are in the process of coordinating a community forum for North End residents in July to provide information about the initiative and answer questions.

In addition to this $85 million commitment announced today, the biennial state budget that Governor Lamont signed earlier this month creates the Hartford Sewerage System Repair and Improvement Fund, a pilot grant program overseen by the Office of the State Comptroller that will provide support to Hartford residents impacted by flood damage on or after January 1, 2021. The governor will next appoint an administrator to the program, who must be a resident of Hartford with experience in environmental justice issues and insurance. Once the application process is fully developed, eligible Hartford residents will be able to request reimbursement.

EPA New England Regional Administrator David W. Cash said, “This is great news for the North Hartford community. I applaud Connecticut’s commitment to address flooding and sewer overflow issues that have gravely impacted its residents for decades. EPA remains steadfast in its commitment to advance environmental justice by working with community members and advocates and DEEP to resolve these issues. I look forward to continuing to work together to address this pressing concern that has affected this overburdened community.”

Comptroller Sean Scanlon said, “As our cities age and our climate changes, we must improve our infrastructure to meet our rapidly-changing needs, especially in historically under-served areas. Today’s announcement is a historic step in that direction, and by overseeing this pilot program, I’m proud to help provide immediate relief to Hartford residents who have been impacted by flooding and who may have their homes impacted in the future.”

Treasurer Erick Russell said, “I’m relieved that help is on the way for North End residents and businesses, and grateful for the creative and collaborative problem-solving that led to this solution. It’s our responsibility, and in our collective best interest, to ensure that everyone in our state has access to clean water and safety from environmental dangers. This is a necessary and worthy use of the Clean Water Fund and I’m glad my office, and our talented and expert staff, could be part of identifying and securing this funding.”

Senator Richard Blumenthal said, “Flooding and sewage backup in Hartford’s North End is not only a wastewater infrastructure issue – it is an environmental justice issue and a fairness issue. Addressing this problem requires a combination of both short and long-term solutions and a continued partnership between elected officials, community members, and our state and federal agencies. I am proud to see the first step in a series of actions to provide reimbursement and repairs to North End residents and will commit action at the federal level to continue to implement improvements.”

Mayor Luke Bronin said, “This investment in the stormwater and sewer infrastructure will make a big difference for residents and businesses in North Hartford. This package includes funds to reimburse residents and small business owners who suffer damage from flooding, and it includes funding to make improvements in the ancient infrastructure that’s just not able to handle the kind of storms we routinely see today. I’m grateful to Speaker Ritter, Governor Lamont, our Hartford delegation, the MDC, and above all to the activists and residents who spoke up and made this happen.”

State Senator Doug McCrory (D-Hartford) said, “After several years of meetings with residents, businesses, and city and state officials, my colleagues and I were able to secure funding to address flooding issues in Hartford. Homeowners affected by flooding will finally get assistance to repair their property and improve their environment.”

House Speaker Matt Ritter (D-Hartford) said, “This is a major victory for residents of Hartford’s North End who have lived with flooded basements and sewage backups for years. Our goal was to get residents immediate relief as well as have a long-term plan to improve Hartford’s infrastructure. The Hartford legislative delegation was able to work with residents, advocates, DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes, and Governor Lamont to come up with significant funding.”

State Representative Minnie Gonzalez (D-Hartford) said, “Flooding is a major concern wherever it happens because of the long-term prohibitively expensive damage it could do, the negative health effects, and the lives that are turned upside-down as a result. I therefore join my colleagues in thanking Governor Lamont for his support of this important funding.”

State Representative Julio Concepcion (D-Hartford) said, “I am grateful to see we are going to make progress on addressing this quality-of-life issue that has affected so many families in the North End for some time. I thank Governor Lamont for prioritizing this funding and look forward to seeing it be put to great use for our residents.”

State Representative Maryam Khan (D-Hartford, South Windsor, Windsor) said, “I am incredibly proud to see the flooding issues in the North End get the attention it truly deserves. This result is the culmination of months of work by many parties, including DEEP, MDC, the City of Hartford, and the residents that spoke up in community meetings. I’m grateful we were able to work collaboratively and effectively to come to an agreement that invests and prioritizes in the wellbeing of residents, and shows that we are truly committed to their needs.”

State Representative James Sánchez (D-Hartford, West Hartford) said, “I’m proud to have been a part of the negotiations to help address serious flooding issues in Hartford. For years, the Blue Hills neighborhood in the city’s North End has suffered from sanitary backups and chronic flooding. I fully support these funds, which are a significant step toward finding solutions to help so many of our residents who need help. Hartford’s antiquated combined sewer and storm system is no longer able to handle today’s heavy rain events that are fueled by climate change. This funding will help assess, identify, and correct the problem of laterals to suspect homes and the infrastructure attached. I thank Governor Ned Lamont, Speaker of the House Matt Ritter, and our entire Hartford delegation for their tireless work to tackle this issue head-on.”

State Representative Joshua Hall (D-Hartford) said, “The funding is appreciated and very necessary to help north-end residents and businesses who have endured this problem for far too long. I want to thank the residents of the North End of Hartford for raising their voices to ensure equity for our community. I also want to thank Governor Lamont, Speaker Ritter, Senator McCrory, and the entire Hartford delegation for helping find a solution to this problem.”

Scott Jellison, CEO of the MDC, said, “This partnership and logic developed between the MDC, DEEP, EPA, and the City of Hartford to address sewerage overflows by removing stormwater at its source, rather than collecting the sewerage overflows at the river is the solution which will prove to be most beneficial to the community and more effective in eliminating sewerage backups into residents’ homes, businesses, and the rivers. MDC cannot solve the ever-changing severe rain events caused by climate change, however with this partnership, Harford Region can mitigate the impacts by setting the standard and acknowledging its impacts to the sewer system. MDC has committed to and will begin separation work in North Hartford by this July 2023. MDC is confident, removing stormwater first from the sewer system, rather than collecting the overflows in which it causes, will become the model and standard for other CSO communities across the country.”

Sharon Lewis, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition for Economic and Environmental Justice, said, “This funding announcement represents more than just financial support. It is a transformative leap towards environmental justice, reflecting a commitment to rectify systemic financial and environmental inequities that have plagued our community for decades and ultimately helping Hartford residents become better equipped to face the evolving impacts of climate change. However, the key to true justice is in the administration of these programs. Those impacted need not be further traumatized by the system. The administration of these funds can serve as a model of justice by upholding the principles of fairness, compassion, and efficiency. It will demonstrate a commitment to supporting those in need, fostering community resilience, and promoting a sense of trust.”

Source Credit: State of Connecticut, Gov Ned Lamont Press Release dated 06/26/2023.

House Bill backs Hartford residents beset by flooding

The legislature’s Planning and Zoning Development Committee has voted for H.B. 5888 to be advanced to the General Assembly and according to lawmakers, the bill is now called H.B. 1139. Community leaders, including Bridgitte Prince and Randy Watson, were elated when they learned of the decision because they consider H.B. 1139 a key part of their goal to solve North End issues.

Senator Derek Slap, D-West Hartford, a co-sponsor of the bill, commented that the bill includes modest and common-sense reforms that will improve transparency, strengthen accountability, and empower customers. He also expressed his anticipation of working with his colleagues in the Senate to get the bill passed in the coming weeks.

According to lawmakers, if H.B. 1139 is passed by the CT General Assembly, it would:

  • require annual audits of the Metropolitan District Commission’s (MDC) accounts by the state Auditors of Public Accounts,
  • establish a task force to examine the MDC’s organization and operations. The task force would review district charter provisions and appraise the feasibility of allowing members of the district’s board of commissioners, appointed from non-member municipalities to vote on water rate approvals established by the water bureau.
  • require the district board to adopt a model code of ethics by 2025.

Considering the recent flooding beset by North East residents, the MDC has responsibility for sewer and water systems. State Rep. Tom Delnicki, R-South Windsor and co-sponsor of the bill commented that he is hopeful that the Planning and Development Committee will vote to send H.B. 1139  to the floor of the House Representatives.

Delnicki applauded the vote by the legislature of the Planning and Development Committee as a milestone. Delnicki explained that H.B. 1139  is a great opportunity to move forward by examining the MDC charter, ascertaining MDC’s specific responsibilities, and determining changes that might be appropriate in the future.

A spokesman for the MDC stated that he had not seen the new version of the bill and could not comment on it. However, during the Planning and Development Committee’s meeting on February 17, 2023, the MDC’s District Counsel Chris Stone opposed the bill on the basis that its provisions are, “unreasonable, unnecessary, and have the potential to cause significant harm.” Stone asserted that the MDC is currently subject to a rigorous annual audit by an independent auditing firm because the MDC committed to its bondholders that the independent audits are/will be performed in a timely manner to protect the bondholders’ investments. Stone offered that they [MDC}:

  • oppose the creation of a task force to examine the organization and operations of the MDC and make recommendations for changes to the MDC charter;
  • do not understand the need for the proposed task force and potential changes to the charter because several legislative changes were already made that affect the MDC and its charter. Some of these changes were made at the MDC’s request and others were made despite the MDC’s expression of concern.
  • oppose the proposed mandate that 33 volunteer members of the MDC Board of Commissioners adopt, administer, and enforce the model code of ethics because these volunteer members already have their own code of ethics.

In addition to H.B. 5888 gaining committee approval,  support for the residents came in the form of a recent response by state Rep. Geraldo Reyes, Jr., to the Greater Hartford’s NAACP’s plea to address the flooding and sewage issues in Hartford’s North End. In his statement, he expressed his support for the organization’s quest to achieve environmental justice in the city’s North End.  Reyes emphasized that flooding has proven to be a major problem and a burden no matter where people reside.   Reyes acknowledges that more work is required because  – for too long – too many neighborhoods of color across the state have been ignored and this lack of action is putting their health at risk and also stunting economic growth in those communities. He is committed to fighting for “a more robust Environmental Justice Law” and expanding the scope of existing laws by strengthening the language.

Reyes acknowledges that “power plants sewage treatment centers, waste treatment centers, waste incinerators, and landfills are disproportionately causing harm to low-income communities and communities of color throughout Connecticut…We need to address that issue head-on before more damage is done.” He also expressed his commitment to supporting Hartford communities and advocating for the best Environmental Justice Law that the state can offer and helping the Hartford Delegation to secure a real solution for Hartford residents.

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., in a recent statement to the Courant newspaper, applauded the federal  Environmental Protection Agency and DEEP for identifying potential sources of critical funding that would provide immediate short-term relief for residents in the areas that were impacted by the flood, but long-term solutions would be most important.

Blumenthal asserted that the flooding and sewer backups in Hartford’s North End communities are pressing and urgent environmental justice issues and frustrating to residents who have waited far too long for a resolution, “we owe them [the residents] action … I will continue to push for strong and sustainable solutions and will keep working with local and federal partners to advocate for a better future for this community.”

Mayor Luke Bronin offered support to residents and noted that the sewer systems are ancient because they were built more than a century ago and need work to separate the sewer from stormwater “so that when there’s flooding, it doesn’t back up and put sewage into people’s basements.” Bronin also explained that the Clean Water money can only be spent on the separation of stormwater and sewage. It cannot be used to build the required storm water-sewer systems capable of handling the level of water that residents are experiencing.

During the public comment section of the meeting, Prince sought clarification from the council regarding the agency responsible for helping to solve the flooding and sewage issues in the North End because neither the MDC nor the City of Hartford is claiming responsibility for the growing problem. Jennings informed the council members about the potential health conditions due to residents’ exposure to moisture and water from flooding and sewage issues.

At the February 6, Community Forum on Flooding, the MDC Chairman, William DiBella, concurred with the Mayor’s assessment of the antiquity of the sewer systems but offered that for the last 10-15 years, the MDC has been putting money into improvements and also working with the community, the city, and the federal government. Over the last 10-12 years, $1.7 billion was expended and he expects that MDC will spend another $2 billion in the next 25 years. He expressed his understanding of the complaints regarding residents’ experiences from the flooding and their complaints about the MDC’s slow response time which he blames on issues happening on private property that is not within the MDC’s control.

DiBella said, “We have only so much authority given to us by the State… and DEEP basically controls what we can do.”

In a statement to the Hartford Courant, council President, Maly Rosado responded to the concerns expressed by Prince and Jennings during the aforementioned council meeting.  Rosado said, “My colleagues at City Council will work to advocate for these important investments so we can ensure that we address the root cause of this flooding…The conditions described by residents in our North End are unconscionable, and nobody in our city should have to deal with flooding and sewage in their homes that can affect their quality of life, their health, and their financial security.”

Rosado also informed that the MDC is responsible for the city’s water, sewer, and storm-water systems that were not built to handle the once-in-a-generation storms that have become more frequent thereby necessitating significant investment to upgrade the systems. Investments are needed now. Kicking down the road or pointing fingers does not help. This project is expensive but necessary, Rosado said, “We need to make sure we get the funding from the state and the federal government that our residents deserve.”

Source Credit:  Deidre Montague, Hartford Courant, Sunday, March 26, 2023.

 

 

Hartford Parking Study indicates huge changes

As the City of Harford seeks to rebuild the supporting momentum for revitalization that existed prior to the pandemic, a study by THA Consulting of Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, indicated that, as development unfolds in the coming years,  the City may have to replace and even increase the number of parking spaces that already exist.  According to a study by the University of Connecticut, Hartford has 80 percent more parking spaces than cities of similar size, and the so-called parking craters that were developed when buildings were demolished for redevelopment projects but were scrapped, have been frequently ridiculed as blemishes on the landscape.

In the past, the City was applauded for eliminating minimum parking requirements citywide on new projects, as a means of supporting redevelopment and promoting alternative modes of transportation through public dependence on mass transit, but as noted in the recent study, such a transition has been at a slower pace than that of other cities. Erin Howard, Hartford’s Director of Economic Development, asserted the need for a delicate balance between creating the right type of parking that supports redevelopment yet simultaneously encouraging building on surface lots throughout the city. The study alluded to the limited power that the city has in its effort to drive pricing and use parking as a means of influencing future development in the city.

There is also a concern for small businesses due to the upsurge of work-at-home business response to the pandemic which has since increased in popularity therefore, the need for businesses to thrive and stay open, has become a primary focus. The current objective is to build mixed-use residential/commercial properties in strategic locations and strategize on both new and existing parking lots through mixed-use parking arrangements that can accommodate commercial parking during the daytime and residential parking after work hours. Further details can be viewed on the Hartford Courant website.

Source: Kenneth R. Gosselin, Hartford Courant, Sunday, March 5, 2023.

NAACP demands aid to Hartford North End Communities

The Greater Hartford NAACP has called for action to solve flooding issues in Hartford’s North End communities.  This call came as the federal EPA  said it is investigating the causes of sewage overflows and whether the agencies responsible for the City’s stormwater infrastructure have fulfilled their obligations. The EPA and NAACP statements are a follow-up to the continuous efforts by community leaders and residents to secure action from local, state, and federal officials and agencies.

Corrie Betts, Greater Hartford NAACP President, commented that her branch of the NAACP is committed to collaborating with her NAACP partners in the fight for environmental justice and the accountability of the leadership to address the harmful impacts on Black communities. Betts said that the flooding in Hartford’s North End illustrates the long-standing pattern of neglect and mistreatment of Black communities and he was recently contacted by the national board of the NAACP regarding the situation. He added that the neglect is risking the lives of men, women, and children and is negatively impacting the economic well-being of these communities.

The disinvestment, redlining, and inadequate infrastructure have been exacerbated by climate change and extreme weather events thereby compounding the harm of chronic flooding and pollution on the communities in Hartford’s North End.  He continued that it is time for the city, the MDC, the state DEEP, the Department of Public Health, and the EPA to take action and collectively resolve the issues.

Betts said the NAACP is calling on organizations and agencies to take action by:

    • investing in critical infrastructure improvements in predominantly Black communities throughout the City of Hartford with improvements to water services and flood management systems;
    • addressing root causes of the issues such as a lack of investment in the communities;
    • working with key leaders and organizations to develop solutions that are responsive to the needs of the communities.

He said, “We must act now to ensure that all members of our community have access to safe, reliable, and equitable services.” Read the full article in the Hartford Courant.

Source: Deidre Montague, Hartford Courant, March 1, 2023.

Bi-Partisan Group seeks more transparency from the MDC

On Friday, February 17, a bipartisan group of lawmakers and conservation advocates met in Hartford to advocate for the proposed legislation, HB-5888, that would increase oversight and transparency within the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC).  The MDC is a quasi-government agency that provides drinking water and sewage treatment services to more than 400,000 customers across portions of Hartford, Middlesex. and Tolland counties.

If passed, this bill would establish a task force to study MDC organization and operations, mandate annual compliance audits by Auditors of Public Accounts, mandate that the MDC adopt and enforce a model code of ethics, and allow MDC commissioners from non-member municipalities to vote on water rates.

The MDC asserts that these measures are both unreasonable and unnecessary., while supporters of the bill advocate that it would restore public confidence in the MDC during a time when lawmakers argue that public trust in the utility company is waning.

Tom Delnicki introduced the bill and ahead of the public hearing on the bill, he spoke to reporters saying, “We are not here to sink the MDC…We’re here to try and make it better.” Delnicki further emphasized that there needs to be a second set of eyes on MDC finances and operations, modern-day revisions to the MDC’s 1929 charter, tougher standards of ethics, and active representation for non-member municipalities.

Delnicki continued that four of the commissioners that sit on the MDC board represent non-member districts and do not have a right to vote. These commissioners represent towns that get water from the MDC, namely South Windsor, Glastonbury, East Granby, and Farmington. They should be afforded the right to vote on the water rates that their customers pay.  He further explained that HB No. 5888 grants the right to each of these commissioners to vote on one thing only – the rates.

Sen. Derek Slap, Rep. Jillian Gilchrest, Rep. Mike  Demicco, leaders of the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters, and the Rivers Alliance of Connecticut supported Delnicki’s bill. Lawmakers illuminated concerns regarding the legal bills of an MDC chairman, a discounted deal with Niagara Bottling Company, and flooding in Hartford as examples of situations that have diminished public confidence in the MDC.

Slap also alluded to the notion that the MDC currently lacks the benefit of the doubt. He also stated that fundamentally, the MDC exists to serve its customers and the towns “…not the other way around.” His constituents have expressed their love for the water, their faith, and their confidence in the water, but they do not have the same faith and confidence in the governance of the MDC.  Slap expressed his belief that constituents should be able to have the same faith and confidence in the governance of the MDC as they do for the water that the MDC provides…”…There should not be a difference between the two.”

In written testimony, Counsel for the MDC District,  Christopher Stone, contends that the MDC opposes H.B. 5888 because they consider its provisions unreasonable, unnecessary, and potentially harmful.  Stone added that the MDC’s ethics program is “comprehensive” and its Code of Ethics contains approximately 95 percent of the provisions contained in the Model Code. No municipality or district has adopted 100 percent of the Model Code as is proffered by HB 5888.  Additional information may be viewed on the Hartford Courant’s website.

Source:  Alison Cross, Hartford Courant, February 18, 2023. 

 

Hartford residents share flooding woes

Hartford residents were finally granted the opportunity to tell federal officials about their experiences having to deal with flooding and sewage that has entered and damaged their homes and businesses over the past several years and even decades.  In a meeting with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,  David Cash, EPA Administrator Region I, and Sharon Wells, the EPA’s director of the Civil Rights Urban Affairs Region 1, Hartford residents told the EPA officials that ‘nobody should have sewage in their basement.’

The meeting was organized by community activist Bridgitte Prince, civil/environmental rights attorney Cynthia Jennings, the Greater Hartford African American Alliance, Veterans for Black Lives Matter, and McKinney King American Legion Post 142, with the support of U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal. The meeting was held at the American Legion Hall on Main Street, Hartford, and was in place of a previously scheduled meeting (visited by EPA investigators) that was canceled on January 17, 2023.

A resident of Pembroke Street, Debra Jervis, told the officials of having to deal with flooding that happened in 2019, and again in 2022. She is now in danger of losing her insurance if she files an additional claim.  Jervis emphasized that as a homeowner, and on behalf of other homeowners who are facing similar situations, “…we’re begging you for help.  We need help. We are tired of the finger-pointing where well, it’s the City, it’s the MDC… We’re crying out for help. Please help us.”

Senator Blumenthal told the residents that this meeting is the beginning of a process that will only end when there are actions taken to eliminate the flooding, stop backups in people’s basements, and all other sewage issues that for too long, residents have had to experience first-hand.  He continued to say that action is overdue, although not casting blame on any one person, or any one agency, because in this situation several agencies bear the responsibility for addressing the problem. He assured the residents that he believes in good faith, everyone wants to address this problem, and he will be attending more meetings as a means of staying on top of the problem.

Cash, the EPA administrator, expressed that it was devastating to hear what the residents have had to deal with in terms of flooding and sewage issues. He said (excerpted), “Nobody should have sewage in their basement, no one should have floods…we’re setting our sights and trying to solve this problem working with the community…looking forward to working with DEEP as we move forward.”

Katie S. Dykes, Commissioner of the State Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, was in attendance with her staff.  She acknowledged that flooding and sewage issues in the City have been long-standing with the combined sewers that go back 100 years.  She said, “We’ve billions that we’ve been investing in trying to address the issue…But residents have real concerns that they haven’t seen these dollars…We’ve done a lot on the public system to try to fix it – the infrastructure that’s in the streets [or] the wastewater treatment plants – we’ve made major upgrades. There are a lot of good ideas here that are coming out about ways we can also provide grants or even loans…to help people make improvements on their properties to address these issues.”

Dykes offered that climate change is creating more frequent and intense rainstorms.  She said (excerpted), ” When you have a vulnerable community, where they feel that there has not been [a] proportionate investment, this community is feeling those impacts of climate change, first and worst…We are going to be sitting down tomorrow to talk with our partners at EPA and figure out while we have these federal dollars, what can we do to make a difference?’

Resident Reesa Cannada said (excerpted) she has been a homeowner for 43 years on Elm Street,  with her husband, and now whenever it rains, her basement becomes  “like a river…I have to put on rain boots to go in the basement, and we have to pump the water out of the basement.” Cannada said she has no intention of moving due to the problem and she is also advocating on behalf of the other homeowners.

Jervis said she was fortunate to receive financial help from her insurance, but she still had to pay out-of-pocket for the difference in the cost of repairs.  She is trying her best to put preventative measures in place and the City has helped through a grant program, but that is putting a band-aid on the problem.

Mayor Luke Bronin thanked the residents for sharing their experiences and illuminated the need to talk about the City’s entire stormwater system because, for the most part, Hartford’s sewer systems were built more than a century ago.  “It’s an ancient system…But the thing I want to make sure that everybody here knows because it’s got to be part of our advocacy as a City…there’s hundreds of millions of dollars of work being done to separate the sewer and the storm sewer…the problem is that Clean Water money that has been spent, can only be spent on separation, it can’t be spent to build a storm sewer system that’s actually capable of handling the amount of water that we’re getting.”

MDC Chairman William DiBella said the MDC is working with the community, the City, and the federal government. He said, “There are issues that we have to deal with, relative to what we actually have the authority to do. And it’s basically stormwater…And the environment has changed dramatically. In April of last year, we had a 100- and 250-year storm in the same week. That’s a significantly different environment that the systems [were]  designed for. We need federal help. We need state cooperation and help, and regional, as we are a regional body along with the City of Hartford.”

Dibella said he understands what is happening in the community and the complaints of residents regarding a slow response time, many of the issues are happening on private property, which is not within their [MDC’s] control. He said, “We have only so much authority, given to us by the state…And the DEEP basically controls what we can do. We just spent $1.7 billion in the last 10 to 12 years… And we’re going to spend another couple of billion dollars in the next 25 years. The mayor was right. It’s an old system…And we are now putting money into it…And we have been doing this for the last 10 to 15 years.”

Dibella also talked about the $2 million that the MDC had spent during this year [2022] just for backflow controls. He said, “We put them [at] our expense to resolve those problems, but the environment has changed so dramatically in the last seven to 10 years. We all have to work together, the federal infrastructure bills money is coming down…And we’re participating.”

Source: Deidre Montague, Hartford Courant, February 7, 2023.

 

 

 

North Hartford residents say EPA left them high and dry

Residents of North Hartford have expressed outrage and disappointment regarding the cancelation of the planned January 17 tour by representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) out of Boston. The tour was planned in an effort for EPA representatives to meet with residents and review their ongoing claims of flooding and sewage backups in the City.

North Hartford’s residents had contacted the EPA due to ongoing incidences of flooding and sewage backups and also to voice their concerns that the lack of remedial action is linked to their location in the City.  They expressed their feeling of being unheard by several elected officials and the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC).

Reports indicate that community activist Bridgitte Prince was informed in writing that an EPA representative would meet with residents on January 17, but she was later told that the meeting was canceled. Prince stated that she understands the reason given for the cancellation, that the EPA investigators did not have the authority to speak with the media, but she does not understand why they would disrespect the flooding victims by canceling the meeting.

Prince further stated her opinion that the EPA representatives could have attended the meeting, sat in silence, and listened to the critical testimonies that would have helped the representatives to make an unbiased conclusion. Prince indicated that the motive for the cancelation is questionable because the EPA representatives did not cancel their meetings with the MDC.  She said that the EPA investigator wanted to meet with her on a one-on-one basis, but she refused because she wanted to maintain transparency in the process.

Prince expressed her feeling that because of her race, she was denied her Title VI rights of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, however, she also said that she received a call from an EPA representative in Washington confirming that they had received her complaint against the City of Hartford, MDC, and the EPA investigator with whom she [Prince] was in contact.

The Hartford Courant reports that Mikayla Rumph from the U.S. EPA Office of Public Affairs for the New England Region confirmed that the January 17 meeting was postponed due to unanticipated publicity. She [Rumph] informed that the EPA is committed to rescheduling and completing the inspection, and discussing with state and local officials the options for further options for additional community engagement. All this in an effort to gain a better understanding of the concerns and also work with the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to review community concerns with the MDC.  More details are available on the Hartford Courant website.

Source Credit: Jessica Hill, Hartford Courant,  January 20, 2023.