This letter is written by Philip Sengle:
A local newspaper’s recent front page presented a stark reality for Clinton. The top article, “A Farewell to Clinton,” described the proud history of the Unilever Plant and its closing. The article recounted the loss of taxes, jobs and the community generosity of Unilever to many local organizations. First Selectman Fritz was quoted as saying “Many people that live in town worked at Unilever and it’s going to be tough to see them go. They were really, really good to the town.” This is true and probably an understatement, if you ignore the pollution they left behind. This probably explains why the plant has not and may never be sold.
A second front page article that day titled, “Big Y is Coming to Town,” provides the contrast between Old Saybrook and Clinton. A Big Y Supermarket will be built at the corner of Rt. 1 and Spencer Plains Road, which is directly across the road from a new West Marine Store (another business to leave Clinton). The article goes on to say Kohl’s Department Store will likely also build there. More taxes and business for Old Saybrook to be sure. The article also explains all of the town agencies that worked together to facilitate this development. A model of cooperation we better develop and follow in Clinton. More proof that investment flows to where it is treated best.
The obvious questions are 1, what is Clinton doing to prevent business loss and 2, what is Clinton doing to stimulate economic development? The answer I believe is “little to nothing.” Our own Economic Development Commission seldom meets and has no budget. Who then is marketing Clinton? While the town government cannot solve every problem, nor should they, – they must take the lead in promoting economic development. Will we be business friendly and work with developers as in Old Saybrook or just watch businesses leave, believing nothing can be done? One potential bright spot is the old Morgan site which could be developed after the new school is built. There is even a rumor that the Target Store Chain is interested. I hope so.
But there is a glitch. Both the old and new Morgan sites sit on an aquifer that supplies public drinking water via a Connecticut Water Company well. This means that development could be limited to protect that water. This area is being “remapped” by the Connecticut Water Company into a Class “A” aquifer. We won’t know the extent of the area until the remapping is approved by the State of Connecticut. The good news is that the new area could actually be physically smaller than what is contained on the existing aquifer map. Also reclassification will not preclude all development, just control it for protection of the water. For example some types of development such as gas stations, dry cleaners, restaurants and stores that sell pesticides, fertilizers, paints and solvents could be prohibited. There is nothing for us to do about this particular site regarding this issue. Decisions will be determined by engineering and science and not politics. However to fully develop the old Morgan site and Rt. 81 in general, we will need off site treatment of waste and somewhere to dump it. I’m sure Patch followers know what that means. More very large town spending is in our future.
But our overarching problem of lack of economic development and the resulting lack of growth in the grand list upon which our taxes are based is going to haunt our town for years to come. Part of the problem may be that we are in denial about this serious problem. In which case we don’t see any need to change. The first step in recovery from any problem is recognizing that the problem exists. The situation Clinton finds itself in will take years to fix and may never be fully fixed, but we need to try starting now. We have no time to lose.
-- Philip Sengle