Category: Community News

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.

 

 

Hartford residents air pleas for help

During a press conference at the American Legion at  2121 Main Street, representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had planned to privately tour and review residents’ claims of flooding and sewage backups.  However, the tour was canceled by the EPA representatives and they did not meet with residents.  The EPA representatives also did not comment publicly because they were not authorized to speak publicly, especially in the presence of the press and the politicians who were also in attendance.

Hartford restaurant owner, Joan Facey, was one of several local business owners who intended to have their voices heard regarding the flooding and sewage backup issues that are negatively impacting their financial and emotional stability.

Upon taking the podium, Joan addressed the crowd and said that she was specifically speaking to U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, MDC Chairman William A. DiBella, and Executive Director Scott Jellison.

Joan Facey said, “And when the flood came, the water came, and this sewer backed up, it came up the flat roof. The water [went] down, the sewer went up, and came down to the building,” Facey said. “It ruined my building. I have a restaurant sitting there [with] equipment that I cannot use. It’s $8,000 just to sanitize the place and repair just for that …” She also asked Blumenthal how she can get the $8,000 to repair and sanitize the restaurant, asking him, where is her justice.

The article published in the Hartford Courant explicitly continued:

Community Activist Bridgitte Prince said during a press conference at the American Legion at 2121 Main St. that she and representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency out of Boston would be touring privately to review residents’ ongoing claims of flooding and sewage backups. Prince later said that the EPA reps canceled the tour and did not meet with residents.

She said that the EPA representatives were not available to comment publicly, as they were not authorized to speak to the crowd publicly, especially with the press and politicians present.

Residents and activists contacted the agency due to ongoing incidents of flooding and sewage backups in Hartford’s North End and concerns that the lack of action is tied to the location in the city. Residents said they feel unheard by some elected officials and the Metropolitan District Commission.

Prince said that, in her opinion, the city’s flooding issue is akin to a New Orleans Ninth Ward district catastrophe waiting to happen.

“You’ve got pipes, busted sewage pipes that are centuries old and it’s not being repaired. You’ve got residents that live in the North End from Blue Hills Avenue all the way down to Windsor Street, [who] have human waste flowing through their basements. They don’t know whose human waste it is, because it’s been that long since it’s been fixed,” she said.

She said that these issues are not things that the Black community should have to endure.

“You just can’t have money and fix the structures on the perimeters of the Capital city. But the only time you want to show up in this district, the only time you want to show up at this forum and be sitting at the table [is] when it’s time for votes, but you don’t do anything with this situation,” she said.

Max Kothari, the local business owner of Star Hardware at 2995 Main St, said that his business has been flooded at least four times. He said that every time he reaches out to MDC, the answer he receives is that it is too complicated for them and that the water cannot be mixed with the river, which leads to water not being able to go out.

“Our business gets completely destroyed when we get flooded. That means our neighborhood, our businesses, and more importantly, our houses get backed up with sewage and we are supposed to be OK with it. That’s just not kosher … people higher up have to find a way to get some answers. We’ve been living like this … [in] our businesses, we walk in sewage cleanup, we cannot get flood insurance [for] this,” he said.

Blumenthal thanked the residents and business owners for sharing their stories and said that anyone hearing the stories cannot help being outraged and angry about what they have lived through.

“It isn’t just one storm, one flood, or one sewer to back up. It is many, many of them. I can’t speak for the EPA. [They are] part of the executive branch. They report to President Biden. I don’t appoint the head of the EPA, we control the purse strings in the United States Congress, and as a delegation. I am sure that we will go to work to make sure that the EPA takes an interest.”

He also said that he will also make sure that the MDC, state Department of Energy, Environmental Protection, and others come together, as they need to hear and see what the residents have experienced.

“It is about justice. I don’t have a magic solution today. But I’m certainly going to continue listening. I can pledge to you that we’re gonna take back this information. At the end of the day, this is an issue of environmental justice …” he said.

Blumenthal also said that Congress recently passed the Infrastructure and Jobs Act, which is more than $1 trillion for the whole country, the first of its kind that they have passed.

He said that fixing the sewage and flooding issues is the kind of endeavor that should be supported, as it involves environmental protection, public health, communities, and their fabric and strength, and ultimately, justice.

“I’m going to make sure that Hartford gets its fair share, and the North End of Hartford is taken into account,” he said.

In response to the residents’ stories, DiBella said that the MDC has spent $2 billion for the last five to 10 years on separating the sewers.

“Unfortunately, the way that it goes down is, it’s a question of the river and everything else in the environmental issue is DEEP and we have programs to deal with. It’s a dollars and cents thing. We don’t have a system in this country that’s been built for the storm … in 2021, where we got a 200-year storm, a 100-year storm, and a 50-year storm in the same week,” he said.

He said that the bottom line is that the system is only built for a 10-year storm.

DiBella said the MDC is separating the sewers in the North End and starting the process in Blue Hills.

“The big problem is we’ve got to get to an outflow, which is Park River. The city and MDC are doing a study on that. But we’re moving forward on the separation system, but it’s not a 10-year or five-year program. The integrated plan is going to run out probably almost 20 years or 25 years. We can’t spend that much money in that short of time,” he said.

DiBella also said that even if the MDC were to receive funding from the federal government, it could not be done any faster.

“No, we don’t get a lot of money. We’re not getting money from the federal government. That’s one of the issues. We’re getting money from the MDC customers and from DEEP. We’ve spent $1.7 billion of ratepayers’ money on this project and we’ve spent $800 million. So $1.7 billion from MDC’s customers and $800 million for the state. It’s significantly low,” he said.

Source Credit: Deidre Montague, Hartford Courant, January 17, 2023.

EPA to review Hartford residents’ claims

The Hartford Courant publication, dated January 17, 2023, reports that representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) out of Boston, Massachusetts will be in Hartford on Tuesday to review claims by Hartford’s North End residents and activists regarding incidents of flooding and sewage backups that have plagued the Upper Albany, Blue Hills, and Northeast neighborhoods for several years and in some cases decades. According to the article, the plan is to initially meet at the American Legion, 2121 Main Street, at 3:00 PM then travel to different neighborhoods to speak to residents about the flooding issues of their homes. Further details may be viewed at the Hartford Courant website.

Source Credit: Deidre Montague, Hartford Courant, Tuesday, January 17, 2023.

Fonfara joins the race for Hartford mayor

Fonfara imageSenator John W. Fonfara is making a move for Hartford mayor in his lifelong hometown after 36 years of service in the State legislature. In an interview with the Hartford Courant, Fonfara asserted that he is now driven to be in a position that allows him to provide opportunities to the families that are unfortunately living in Hartford neighborhoods and are struggling due to extreme poverty and lack of opportunities.

As State senator and chairman of the finance committee, Fonfara was recently elected for another two-year term, and he is ranked among the most influential legislators due to serving as co-chairman of the tax-writing finance committee.  In his current position, Fonfara would not have to run for election until 2024, however, he expressed his goal and objective to transform the City of Hartford by providing opportunities to the families in Hartford. Hence, his decision to join the race for Mayor. Additional details are available on the Hartford Courant website.

Source Credit: Christopher Keating, The Hartford Courant, January 10, 2023.

Mayor Luke Bronin winds down tenure at helm of City Hall

Hartford’s Mayor, Luke Bronin, is winding down his tenure and will not seek a third term at the helm of City Hall.  Bronin acknowledges that the toughest battle during his two terms as Mayor was pulling the City’s finances back from the brink of bankruptcy with a state-financed bailout.

The COVID-19 pandemic dealt a gut punch to the revitalization process which was both devastating and a major source of frustration, making Bronin’s final year at the helm, a major feat.  The pandemic has changed the fundamental work landscape by increasingly shifting it to working remotely from home, reducing the need for office spaces by large and small businesses.  There are also planned high-profile downsizing by businesses including United Healthcare. Further details are in provided in an article authored by Kenneth R. Gosselin and published by the Hartford Courant on December 5, 2022. Visit the Hartford Courant website.

Image Source: Google Maps

‘A critical moment that is heading toward crisis’

An article authored by Kenneth R. Gosselin and published in the Hartford Courant on October 24, 2022, under the same title as provided above, informs that theaters in downtown Hartford are fighting for survival because of the epic slow return of audiences and lagging subscription renewals after the pandemic has eased.

According to Gosselin,  Hartford’s theaters are facing harsh realities as the they reopened for business after lockdown due to COVID-19 concerns. Although masks and vaccine card entry-requirements have eased, public concerns for COVID-19 pandemic still linger.  The article continued by quoting David R. Fay, Executive Director at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts,, “…we are standing, but we’re looking at at least a two-or-three-year road to get attendance back to where it was pre-COVID.”  Over the 12 months ending on August 31, 2022, the number of theater tickets sold had declined by 32 percent, when compared to the same period one year earlier (as reported by TRG Arts, a data analytics firm).

Further information on this crisis of survival can be viewed on the Hartford Courant’s website.

Resource Credits: Hartford Courant; The Journal Inquirer.

Hartford’s convention center faces uncertain recovery from pandemic

Resource Credit CT Convention Center Archives

An article authored by Kenneth R. Gosselin and published in the Hartford Courant on September 25, 2022, highlights challenges that COVID-19 pandemic concerns have triggered and uncertainties regarding the convention center’s complete recovery from the huge hit it took in the pandemic.  According to the article, convention center experts report that, in terms of its duration,  the depth of the fallout from the pandemic exceeds that of the 9/11 attacks.

COVID-19 triggered a dramatic shift in the workplace to either a hybrid or a completely remote work environment, but experts expect that the return to in-person networking, training, and shareholders’ meetings is on the horizon.  However, the convention center’s fiscal problems are real.  CRDA reports that in the convention center’s  2019 fiscal year there were 178 events. The 2020 fiscal year indicated a shortfall of 105 events due to a drop in bookings at the convention center during the last three months as the pandemic took hold.  There were no events in fiscal 2021, except the COVID-19 testing sites.

The article continues that the City of Hartford is increasing its efforts to  become an economic driver by attracting more business  conventions to Hartford. The City will invest $1.3 million in federal pandemic relief funds to create a convention and visitors bureau that is solely aimed at Hartford.  Further details are available at the Hartford Courant.

$4.5 Million in funding headed to Hartford

An article authored by Ted Glanzer and published in the Hartford Courant on July, 29, 2022, illuminated various projects that will benefit from state dollars that are earmarked for City improvements. According to the article, the City, the Capital Region Development Authority, and a number of non-profits in Hartford are among the beneficiaries of the latest round of hundreds of million of dollars in funding on the State Bond Commission Agenda.

The article asserted that the Speaker of the House, Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, informed that the City will receive a total funding of $4.5 million for brownfield remediation, the Hartline linear park project, and property improvements on  Magnolia and Irving Streets.

The brownfield remediation funds of $2M is not designated for any specific property. It will be spent at Hartford’s discretion.

The $1.5M set aside for the Hartline project will fund a planned walk and bike trail connection between the City and Bloomfield.

Other major funding to the City  will be $1 million slated  for improvements in the heart of Albany Avenue area.  Specifically,  the parcel that used to be a police station, a  PAL satellite office with a basketball court, located at the corner of Magnolia and Irving streets.

There is also $5.5 million slated to be awarded for redevelopment of the former Fuller Brush Company located in North Hartford that will be turned into new housing units as part of the City’s revitalization initiative.

The article continued that Mayor Luke Bronin lauded the City’s delegation and the Governor for securing the funds for such important projects.  Ritter noted that the redevelopment of Albany Avenue “is coming together.” He further stated that $10 million will be awarded to CT Science Center, for renovations and technology upgrades.

City-based non-profits are also slated to receive grants. These include, Elizabeth Park Conservancy – $1 million; Northside Neighborhood Alliance – $500,000; The Albany Avenue Y.M.C.A. of Greater Hartford – $500,000;  the Northwest location of the Boys & Girls Club of Hartford – $500,000.

At its next meeting, the State Bond Commission is expected to officially approve hundreds of millions of dollars in spending that in part will benefit Hartford-based projects. Further details may be viewed at the Hartford Courant website.

Image Credit: Courant File Photo

Hartford food truck project delayed

On February 28, 2022, the Hartford Business Journal published an article authored by Zachary Vasile, reporting that investors Rebeca and Quan Quach had filed plans with the City of Hartford to establish a food truck park dubbed “West Side Park” on the vacant lot at 510 Farmington Avenue.  The proposed operation entails four food trucks and a double-decker bus that also serves food. Further information is located on the HBJ website.

However, a recent article authored by Kenneth R. Gosselin in the Hartford Courant, on June 27, 2022,  regarding the status of plans for the “West Side Park” indicates that the opening of Hartford’s first food truck park at the corner of Farmington and Girard avenues in the City’s West End  that was previously scheduled for May, 2022, is now delayed until early July, 2022.

The article continues that the investors attributed the delay to problems resulting from a combination of their own inexperience with the intricacies of dealing with multiple city departments on a project that had no existing zoning regulations, and the slow responses from city departments to their questions. Further information may be gleaned from the Hartford Courant’s website.

Zoning Dispute between City of Hartford & CRDA

In  an article appearing on the front page of the Hartford Courant on  June 16, 2022,  Kenneth R. Gosselin reported that the future of recreational marijuana seemed to have taken a downturn as the Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA) strongly opposes the approval of a cannabis shop at the 89 Arch Street, across from the convention center.  Plans for the cannabis shop were endorsed by the City of Hartford’s planning and zoning department that contends it has zoning purview for the Arch Street parcel, but the CRDA  argues otherwise.  In a virtual  hearing  on Tuesday, June 14, 2022,  the issue was tabled until June 28 to allow time to determine which agency has zoning purview.

The article continues,  “In a letter to the commission, Hartford City Council President Maly D. Rosado also urged caution, asking the commission to withhold any vote “until city leaders can develop a more robust plan on the sale of legal cannabis within Hartford.”

Additional information regarding this issue may be viewed by accessing the Hartford Courant online or the PressReader website at https://pressreader.com/article/281479280078338

Image Resource Credit: Douglas Hook / Hartford Courant.

Neighborhood park planned for crucial parcel on Hartford’s Albany Avenue

Once a bustling police substation and recreation center for teens, a city-owned parcel on a prominent stretch of Albany Avenue is now envisioned as a neighborhood park replete with a new basketball court, walking trail, covered seating and ornate landscaping.

The substation was razed seven years ago to make way for a new police satellite office. But the idea to rebuild the structure — first on the same spot, then later on Coventry Street — was scrapped after Mayor Pedro Segarra left office in 2015.

Last year, members of the community joined city officials and planning and zoning commissioners to give input on the future of the mostly vacant Albany Avenue parcel. Only a basketball court with tall, rusted fencing remains. The rest of thelot is covered in weeds and broken concrete. Litter and dead leaves lay scattered about.

But the group of city leaders and neighborhood dwellers who rallied behind plans for a park are optimistic that the upgrades will help revive the desolate area. They see the park as a space for elderly people to take a brisk walk and children to play after school.

“It’s going to make a big difference,” said Denise Best, a resident of the Upper Albany neighborhood who is chairwoman of the local revitalization group. “Just having people out there, especially our seniors, will bring a vibrancy. We are working to make it a place of destination.”

A rendering shows an aerial view of a community park planned for a one-acre site along Albany Avenue between Magnolia and Irving streets.
A rendering shows an aerial view of a community park planned for a one-acre site along Albany Avenue between Magnolia and Irving streets. (Amenta Emma Architects)

The state bond commission authorized $1.5 million for the project Tuesday. The funds were originally approved to build the new police substation, but were never used. Organizers say the park will probably cost between $1.5 million and $2 million, but any additional money would be solicited from private investors.

Work on the 1-acre site between Magnolia and Irving streets could begin as soon as this spring. A Hartford firm, Amenta Emma Architects, has been doing pro bono designs for the redevelopment, including several renderings that show sprawling green space with freshly planted trees, a gleaming new basketball court with stadium-style seating on one side, chess tables and a quarter-mile walking trail that makes a loop around the parcel.

The section facing Albany Avenue features rows of shaded seating, planter benches and sculptural landscaping.

Ornate landscaping and shaded seating are some of the elements included in early plans.
Ornate landscaping and shaded seating are some of the elements included in early plans. (Amenta Emma Architects)

Supporters say the project will not only create an outlet for people in the neighborhood, it will also spruce up a blighted space. Albany Avenue is a main city thoroughfare, and the lot is not far from a crucial gateway to the North End.

The corridor is getting significant improvements as part of a streetscape effort, with new traffic signals, lighting and curb extensions underway. Backers see the transformation of the vacant parcel as a complement to those upgrades.

“Whenever you drive down there, it’s an eyesore,” said Nicole Porter, a city resident and public schools employee who was part of the community group offering input on plans for the lot. “You want to do something to improve the area, keeping in mind that we also want to make sure it brings additional development.”

A blighted former police substation at the site was torn down years ago.
A blighted former police substation at the site was torn down years ago. (Michael Dunshee)

Marilyn Risi, head of the nonprofit Upper Albany Main Street, a community revitalization group in North Hartford, said she was concerned about the park being so close to a busy street. Fencing around the basketball court and other barriers between the recreation space and the cars that whiz by on Albany Avenue are crucial, she said.

“The distance from the play area to the street, it’s not that deep,” Risi said. “We don’t want little ones chasing a ball into the street.”

She praised the idea to move the basketball court, now located at the front of the property near Albany Avenue, away from the road and into the center of the parcel.

A basketball court, now located along Albany Avenue, would be moved back toward the center of the parcel.
A basketball court, now located along Albany Avenue, would be moved back toward the center of the parcel. (Amenta Emma Architects)

Mayor Luke Bronin said more community input will be sought before final designs are agreed upon.

“We’re trying to make it a place that’s more welcoming for businesses, that feels safer,” he said. “I do think there’s a connection between combating blight and public safety, and the way a neighborhood looks and feels matters to people.”

Pergolas and planter beds are envisioned for the front of the park.
Pergolas and planter beds are envisioned for the front of the park. (Amenta Emma Architects)

You can read the Hartford Courant Community article here.

In Our Midst: The Principal Baker (40-Year Anniversary)

 

Resource Credit: Scotts’ Bakery

A stylish nonagenarian, George Scott, owner of Hartford’s premier Jamaican bakery, sports handsome good looks, a full head of white hair, and an intermittently functioning hearing aid that requires a guest to speak up. Scott himself speaks quietly, his Jamaican cadences singsongy but precise. Asked what year he was born, he grins.

“You will have to figure it out,” he says. “Subtract ninety-one from wherever we are now.”

Scotts’ Jamaican Bakery, which he and his wife, Pauline, opened 40 years ago this November, has grown from a mom-and-pop operation into a business with 50 employees and $3 million in annual sales. In the living room of his family’s Windsor home, Scott sits surrounded by mementos of a life divided into two halves — his long stint as a meat-patty maven in Hartford, and the earlier part, in Jamaica, where he was a teacher and headmaster.

He talks about his childhood outside 1930s Kingston, where his father worked in the tax office. “We lived in an old house raised up on brick columns. I spent a lot of time beneath the house, exploring.” Scott recalls traipsing into the woods with a slingshot to hunt birds, and taking the electric tram along Red Hills Road to school. A standout student, he landed as an apprentice teacher at Knox College, a Presbyterian high school founded by a Scottish minister. After four years he went to St. Andrew’s University in Scotland, to study psychology and philosophy.

The courses he took in Scotland have faded, but not the adventures he had there. Working on a farm. Hitchhiking around the country. Making a solo canoe trip up the River Ness and into the Loch, where he looked for the monster. At the close of the academic year, graduating students would hold a cèilidh — a party with Scottish dancing — and the men would wear kilts. “The tradition was that they didn’t wear anything under their kilts.” Scott chuckles. “I wore underpants, of course. I wasn’t that risqué.”

After four years Scott returned to Knox College to teach, and eventually rose to become principal. By then he had married Pauline — a former student — and begun a family. But education salaries in Jamaica were paltry; and so, at nearly 50, he embarked upon a new life in another country.

He had no training as a baker, but food had always loomed large. During his childhood, his mother started a business making guava jams, cooked over a fire in the yard. “They were made in an open copper pot, and there was a Jamaican woman who would mix it with a big wooden paddle. My mother would be inside, and the woman would yell, ‘Missus! Missus! It ready! It ready!’ And mother would go chasing out to test it.” The Scott house was filled with bottled jams for his mother’s startup. “The memories of that are very vivid. You weren’t afraid of starting something new.”

The new thing Scott and his wife started in 1978 helped put four children through college. They run the business now, and Scott spends his days relaxing and reading. A lifelong love of poetry persists. Pauline and the Scotts’ daughter Rachel, home for a visit, produce a sheaf of poems Scott wrote, back in the early 1960s. The former teacher recalls his habit of reading poetry out loud in class. “Some poems, you have to read them aloud, with feeling,” he says. “I was good at that.”

Rachel Scott laughs. “Do you know why my parents are together? My father was substitute teaching our mother’s English class, and he read poetry. My mother was just 15, but she turned to her friend and said, ‘I’m going to marry that man.’ And that’s what happened! So when Daddy says he’s good at reading poetry, he’s really good at it!”

The principal-baker smiles, recalling a life perfectly balanced between feeding people’s minds and feeding their stomachs. “One of my students, I’ll never forget — there was a poem by an English poet, and I read it in a poetry class. And years later, when he was in college, he came across it, and vividly remembered it. That was what I enjoyed about teaching. You strike a chord, and a student remembers it years and years afterward.”

As for meat patties, the passion remains there as well. “A patty and a coca bread is as filling a lunch as you could want. I love the taste.” Scott twinkles sheepishly. “The doctor says I’m not supposed to eat them — but whenever Pauline and I go out for a drive, I say, let’s stop and get one. And we do.”