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.



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.

Land Bank CEO Announces Bid for Mayor

Arunan Arulampalam, Hartford Land Bank CEO, announced his bid for the City’s top office as the city’s mayoral race continues taking shape.

The field of candidates currently includes former state legislator, Judge Eric Coleman, and city council member Nick Lebron. Arulampalam emphasized that like many families in Hartford, he is from an immigrant family who found safety and opportunity in Hartford. He added that his roots as a Hartford native uniquely position him to help the City’s overlooked and underestimated residents advance within their communities.

Prior to being Hartford Land Bank’s CEO, Arulampalam served as deputy commissioner for the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection, under Governor Ned Lamont.  Arulampalam also serves on the boards of the Hartford Public Library and the House of Bread and as a commissioner on the Hartford Redevelopment Authority,

Once elected, Arulampalam’s plans for the City include holding slumlords accountable for maintaining their properties. Otherwise, the City will reclaim and redevelop those properties that are in disrepair.  As a success story, Arulampalam also lauded the Parkville Market which he would like to replicate across the city of Hartford. Further information may be viewed on the Hartford Courant website.

Source credit: Stephen Underwood, Hartford Courant, Jan 05, 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.