Riccio: "Forward Thinking"

"Build a state of the art waste water treatment facility as a for profit town enterprise."

This letter is written by Tom Riccio

Recent headlines of “surprise” by elected leaders over Unilever closing are poppy cock.  Those with their heads out of the sand knew the decision to move was only a matter of time for the past decade.  I find local government guilty of not having a contingency plan in place and ready to implement the day Unilever announced its shutdown.  If such a plan was in place, actions would already have begun to find a solution for this property.  We obviously did not learn our lesson from Stanley Bostich.

So how can Unilever closing be turned into a positive.  The town of Clinton is currently under order from the State to fix waste water treatment problems in town.  This ongoing debate has lasted over twenty years at a cost of nearly half a million dollars.  We are now at the point of facing stiff daily fines if a solution is not reached soon.  I offer the solution that Unilever be made to decontaminate its property and either sell it to the town at a discount or donate it to the town.  Clinton in turn builds a state of the art waste water treatment facility as a for profit town enterprise. 

Waste water conjures up ugly images.  But consider this.  The current sewage runoff into Clinton Harbor from failed or antiquated septic systems pollutes Clinton’s shoreline 24/7, and even more so after a heavy rain.  The advantages of having a high tech treatment facility are numerous.  First, economic activity in Clinton could blossom.  Ever wonder why we have no chain restaurants in Clinton?  Not enough septic space available.  Secondly, our gems, Clinton Harbor and the Town Beach would become even more of an attraction for tourists, yes, those people we want to come to town, spend money and then leave.  Commercial and residential shellfishing could be opened.  Third, revenue could be generated by taking in wastewater from surrounding towns, and possibly selling the clean water produced.  The site is centrally located and large enough for such an operation.  We could possibly get the Connecticut Water Company or some other private firm to join in a venture. 

Sound silly and pie in the sky?  Maybe, but crying over the loss of Unilever is living in the past.  Bold ideas are needed immediately for this property or else the household budget in Clinton will get a whole lot tighter.

- Tom Riccio

Jonathan Sanders August 03, 2011 at 09:27 PM
I commend you for your forward thinking Tom, but the center of town is no place to have a waste water treatment plant. The smell alone would drive away the very tourists you wish to see come to town and spend.
Stephen King August 04, 2011 at 01:37 AM
I have to agree with Jonathan on this. What I would like to see in this forum first is a revisit of all the possible solutions that we paid for already. I understand we have been talking about this for years but a refresher would be nice. In fact, if we really want to be forward thinking in this town this issue should without doubt take precedence over the proposed new high school. The choice is simple - a new high school or continued pollution in the sound and possible fines. Which would you choose? I find it hard to believe we can afford both without a meaningful commercial tax base.
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Jim Braun August 04, 2011 at 02:30 AM
Wait just a second here Tom. I read that other article on Patch and I know our problems with waste are centered around dog poop. Your proposal does nothing to alleviate the horrid conditions associated with this scourge. I strongly recommend you revise your "letter" to add a "doggie doo drop off" to the proposed waste water treatment facility! ;-)
Donna Cuomo August 04, 2011 at 07:54 PM
There are homes not far from the site of this factory, a waste water treatment plant are you kidding me!
Stephen King August 04, 2011 at 08:27 PM
Donna, the plan would include these gigantic fans that would blow the stench out to sea. Sorry, bad humor on my part - the influence of watching "The Family Guy" :)
Donna Cuomo August 04, 2011 at 08:40 PM
very funny
Ona Nejdl August 04, 2011 at 09:37 PM
Guess wHat? There already are 2 small wastewater facilities in the center of town. Site #1. On Rt# 1 in the Shop Rite, parking lot next to West Marine and #2. at Clinton Crossings, under the bridge that goes from one side on the mall to the other. These have been in place for years.. goes to show you-can't believe some of the people most of the time. Forward thinking is good.
Charlene August 04, 2011 at 10:53 PM
I think Tom is on to something here. It doesn't take much digging to learn about new technologies that process sewage and other waste water in environmentally and "aromatically" responsible ways. There are also processes that allow recovery of solid waste for use as clean fertilizer. The possibility of raising revenues through a treatment plant that also produces a profitable byproduct is something worth exploring. I'm sure there are trade-offs, but, given past problems with Unilever's waste water, I think we could at least improve on their record.
Stephen King August 05, 2011 at 01:16 AM
If this is a possible solution where do we begin? Could the current waste water committee comment whether or not this could be feasible to study further? If there are technologies that could discount the common perceptions I could see this as a viable solution considering the proximity of the site to where the waste water issues reside. This could also offer an extra benefit of reducing some of the underground infrastructure costs.
Steve Bristol August 05, 2011 at 01:56 AM
Gee, and I was half-kidding when I mentioned it on 7/15: "Unilever To Close Permanently" or whatever it was titled: Hey, let's buy the Unilever property and build a sewage facility on it. We're already used to odors coming from there. Of course the odors might not be the same.
Tom Riccio August 05, 2011 at 10:12 PM
Thanks Charlene, you are absolutely right. Countless ours of research shows a number of plant alternatives which vary greatly from the classic open air separators most are accustomed to seeing at a wastewater plant. One system actually cleanses water by mimicing a tidal plain. Los Angeles and other cities have installed odor neutralizers from Siemanns which handle 10 times the gallons/day are plant would. Plants of today are able to take industrial waste water polluted with heavy metals and turn it into drinking water. Before people start to say not in my back yard, please educate yourselves on the current level of technology and have the confidence to know a properly researched, planned and executed venture would be in everyone's best interest.
Tom Riccio August 05, 2011 at 10:15 PM
Hi Clemson, The plant in Cromwell off Rt 9 would be an example of what we would not build. I drive by it everyday and it smells awful. Of course, the plant is older and does not use newer technologies available.
Charlene August 05, 2011 at 10:45 PM
As I dug around online, I actually got a little excited about the possibilities -- even if Unilever is not the answer. My search in no way represents a thorough investigation, but when i attended WPPC meetings a couple of years ago, I didn't see anything like this discussed (this is a decentralized solution): http://www.organicawater.com/ Tom, your thinking about how to use the Unilever site for something that addresses another problem in town is the way we should be looking at the bigger issues we face. It is a far more constructive approach than other reactions to the closing of the plant.
Tom Riccio August 06, 2011 at 09:44 PM
Another is www.livingmachines.com. The reality of the property is that unless another industrial player comes in, this site would not be good for retail due to he limited access of the east and west entrances. I am not sure about conversion to residential apartments. My other thought was a train station with a catchy name and shops, and a shuttle bus service to Clinton Crossing. But in this economy, retail is a tough sell as the Morgan school crowd will find out in trying to sell the current school location.
Steve Bristol August 07, 2011 at 11:42 PM
Tom, Yeah, Cromwell, where any drive past leads to accusations or dirty looks among passengers. I actually love the train station idea, or even combo residential/small retail...in a vacuum....but that's the kind of outside the box thinking that's needed. As with everything, it takes money and lots of it.
Donna Cuomo August 08, 2011 at 02:49 PM
Now there's a good idea, a new clean train station
Christine Riccio August 10, 2011 at 01:11 AM
Are you being facetious Donna?
Tom Riccio August 11, 2011 at 02:05 AM
Good evening Donna, Unilever already operates a wastewater treatment plant on location and has done so for years now. Apparently the homes close by have not noticed. The plant also has train loads of chemicals parked on property and has dumped who knows what into the ground over the past 30 years, once again probably unnoticed by the surrounding home owners. The train station in Old Saybrook with attached businesses and eateries is full every night of the week with customers from all over. If these commercial based ideas for increasing the town tax base do not appeal to you, what ideas do you propose for this location? I have read that U2 is selling their stage from the last tour. Would a summer outdoor concert venue be acceptable?
Steve Bristol August 11, 2011 at 01:32 PM
Morning Tom, Let's see...55+ residential, small businesses, mass transit, its own treatment system, potential partnership with Chelsea Premium Outlets....gee, put up a windmill or solar panels to power it and the POTUS would probably schedule a visit to tout public/private socially-conscious cooperation. Sounds good to me. (NOT being facetious..OK, maybe the POTUS thing)
Stephen King August 11, 2011 at 02:45 PM
As I've said before we first need to determine if the site could be deemed a brown field. If so, all bets are off. The good news is the site is not currently listed as one by the state DEP. But, I have to question the thoroughness and timeliness of the last assessment and whether a new one should be warranted considering Tom's last comments.
Steve Bristol August 11, 2011 at 08:35 PM
Stephen, Maybe not a brownfield but certainly not pristine, but you're absolutely correct. I just thought it would be nice to think about good things that might happen rather than the bad things that have---especially with elections coming.
Stephen King August 12, 2011 at 02:53 AM
Clemson, I too wish for good things. However, it's my corporate business sense that can often trump my optimism. Regardless of our forward thinking the property is still owned by Unilever and I haven't heard what they intend to do with it once the facility is officially closed. While new state EPA laws hold the originator of the pollution responsible for the remediation even after the property is sold it does beg the question whether it is cheaper for Unilever to hang-on to the property and avoid possible remediation costs if there is suspected pollution. This is speculation of course but, considering the past actions of companies like GE it wouldn't surprise me to see similar tactics. If the property doesn't go up for sale then we'll know something isn't right. But then again, we can take comfort that Mr. Fritz is all over this!
Tom Riccio August 13, 2011 at 02:44 AM
The first selectman's most recent comment is telling "we need the State's help in attracting new business". This is obviously not going to happen with State tax hikes, the passing of paid sick leave and increased State spending driving business from CT in droves. This is a local problem and should be solved by local government setting the framework to attract business to Clinton. Expanded retail, eateries, industrial, antiqueing, and water related industries should be courted to come into Clinton. A master plan of what we want Cllinton to look like 10 years from now should be developed and implemented next fiscal year. An entertainment zone should be established for our marina traffic and summer tourists instead of them heading to Madison, Westbrook or Old Saybrook. Once again bold leadership is needed on the Board of Selectman which has been irrelevant for the past two years. Lead and make the tough decisions (which we will respect you for) or get out of the way.
Steve Bristol August 13, 2011 at 03:56 AM
Tom, Speaking of Westbrook, did you see that Pilot's Point has a proposal for 27 1300-1400sf apartments in two buildings on their property? Hearing is the 23rd.
Bradford J. Sullivan August 13, 2011 at 12:33 PM
Tom, Your post evokes memories of the debate surrounding the downtown revitalization and West-End improvement proposals. A couple of years ago the committee for the revitalization project presented a comprehensive and expensive plan to, among other things, bury the electrical lines in the center of town, create attractive spaces for strolling, walking, shopping and essentially upgrade the town center. No money was appropriated. Your ideas are good ones but there is no true desire to take action in Clinton because the majority of voters do not want to make the capital investments necessary to move forward. I urge you to call Doug Traynor, who is chair of the Economic Development Commission, or Larry Oullette of the Downtown Revitalization Committee. Your energy and ideas are sorely needed. One way we can start the ball rolling is insist on the reinstatement of the Town Planner position. A full time town employee whose job it is to plan and execute the much needed long term, development of our community would be a huge first step.
Bradford J. Sullivan August 13, 2011 at 12:36 PM
I love this idea. What's the first step? I think it is getting the Economic Development Commission some working capital and a town planner.
Steve Bristol August 13, 2011 at 02:31 PM
Mr. Sullivan, I think the first thing that needs done is to finally come up with a comprehensive wastewater treatment plan. It does little good to plan for center of town and West End if it's got to be all torn up and done again or if it's so expensive for the town that we truly can't afford the proverbial pot to p in. Guesstimates floating around for several months have been in the mid-eight figures, with questionable amounts coming from the State. If WPCC minutes are accurate, they haven't even begun the planning stage.
Tom Riccio August 13, 2011 at 04:35 PM
Hi Brad, I enjoyed your piece on capital investments and agree in planning and funding for the long term. The revitalization of downtown is a good idea, but as Clemson points out, the foundation needs to be put inplace first. I like to think of it as a wagon wheel. The center hub is our view of what we want in Clinton. Each spoke is a critical need to make the want happen, and the rim or outside of the wheel ties everything together. Wiithout one spoke or the rim, the hub is useless. The wastewater treatment solution is one of the critical spokes and must be solved prior to Clinton reaching for the next rung on the ladder. I agree with funding future projects and needs at 3-6%, but I also know this means short term expenses such as salaries/benefits, equipment, and other items wll need to be curtailed or minimized as much as possible. I understand how the BOF is caught in the middle. Three or so years ago, I attempted to get the RTC ahead of this problem with an idea lamely called Project 21. We were to do a survey of the town to see what citizens wanted Clinton to look like 15-20 years down the road. Tiny tourist town, big box mecca, quiet rundown armpit of the shoreline? What spokes woud then be needed to support the vision? Sadly the idea went nowhere. I agree the town planner is a self paying position as long as it generates income from grants and promotes economic development. Hope your summer is going well. Tom
Steve Bristol August 13, 2011 at 05:21 PM
Tom, I had a whole analogy prepared to post about wanting an M-B S63 AMG, hiring a broker, being denied for building a garage, and on and on, but I'll go with your foundation, wheel and ladder. Call me crazy but I like to know what I'm able to plan on before I actually plan--and certainly before I PAY to plan. I'm sure most realized my Utopia U-P project was more than a little tongue-in-cheek. The DEP has thousands of pages of reports on materials shipped in, shipped out, produced, spilled, discharged, etc. at Unilever-Pond's over the past few decades. No telling what went on before then. In any case, neither there nor Stanley-Bostitch will be a cheap fix, if and when they are fixed. Of course, we still have the new/renovated/repaired school hanging over our heads, a State economy in shambles....and an unpredictable electorate with an unbelievably wide spectrum of ideas.


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