Upcoming Middletown Events

A downtown Middletown clean-up event is being sponsored by Cinder + Salt and Councilman Ed Ford this Saturday, April 17, 10 a.m. to noon. The meeting place is Cinder + Salt at 195 Main Street, near Thai Gardens. Please register here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/cinder-salt-earth-day-street-clean-up-with-the-city-of-middletown-tickets-141877652879. If you can’t make this event, another is coming up in May.

For Middletown residents, the Recycling Commission is sponsoring its annual Earth Day paper-shredding event on Saturday, April 24 from 9 to 11 at Vets’ Park off Newfield St. Confidential papers only (no junk mail!), and a limit of five boxes or bags per car.

Middletown’s Arbor Day ceremony honoring local legislators and John Hall will take place on April 30 at 2 p.m. in the garden of the Middlesex County Historical Society, 151 Main St. Enter through the gate off Spear Park.

Tree Fund Gift Supports Spring Tree Planting

Middletown’s Public Works Department and Urban Forestry Commission will soon be planting more trees, with support of the Jonah Center’s Tree Fund. In the coming weeks, you will see water bags on the trees planted last fall along Church Street near the Traverse Square apartments (with cost sharing by the Middletown Housing Authority) and along 3 sides of the YMCA. These 22 new trees added to the approximately 130 trees planted by the Urban Forestry program, funded by the city budget.

Recently, the Jonah Center Tree Fund received an unsolicited $500 donation from the Community Foundation of Middlesex County/Sally Ann McGee D’Aquila & Salvatore D’Aquila, Jr. Fund. We hope this timely example will inspire others to support the Jonah Center’s ongoing Replace Our Trees program. Gifts received will continue to supplement plantings by the Urban Forestry Commission in Middletown. In the past decade or so, Middletown has lost over 100 trees per year, and that is just counting the trees on city property.

Even though the city’s tree maintenance budget was dramatically increased last year, those funds are strained by the need to catch up on the large number of tree removals that are required for public safety, often at a cost of over $1000 per tree. The Jonah Center’s Tree Fund is a way that local residents can help stop the rapid disappearance of trees from the urban landscape due to age, climate change, and pests.  Arborist Jane Harris chooses species for new trees that promise to be more resilient and resistant to such threats. Food and habitat for wildlife, the need to avoid too many trees of a single species in a given location, and a species’ ability to withstand urban conditions such as road salt and root confinement are also considered in these decisions.

To assist in the effort, you may donate by check payable to The Jonah Center, PO Box 854, Middletown 06457 or by credit card/PayPal here. Indicate “Tree Fund” in the memo line or using the online donation form.

In Portland, the Jonah Center is still seeking permission and planting sites for new trees after a disappointing season in 2020, when we obtained permission to plant only 3 trees, and those were on private property. We are looking for sites in or near the town center area where trees will improve a streetscape, shade a sidewalk or other pavement to mitigate “heat islands” in summer, and where the property owner or tenant can take responsibility for watering. If you know of such a site, send us a message here.

Volunteers Sought for Air Line Trail Clean-up Day

Air Line Trail eastbound approaching overpass at Middle Haddam Road.

The Portland Air Line Trail Committee will host a trail maintenance day on Saturday, April 24TH (rain date May 1ST) starting at 10:00 a.m. gathering at the trailhead parking lot at 82 Middle Haddam Road. We will be trimming back invasive plants and branches along the trail, picking up litter and sticks, and sweeping the asphalt approaches at the intersections at Breezy Corners Rd and Middle Haddam Rd.

We are planning for a minimum 2-hour event. Please bring your own work gloves, masks and any equipment you have available, i.e. pruners, trimmers, etc. We will maintain social distancing while working (family members may work together). Children under 14 must be accompanied by an adult.

If you can possibly assist, please email your name(s), email address and contact phone number to:  chantal.foster@comcast.net

Elisabeth Holder’s Garden in Spring

Our Alive Outside initiative features articles, stories, and artwork that help us connect with the world outside. Thanks to Jim Fellows for arranging this piece by local gardener and environmental advocate, Elisabeth Holder.

 

When I was in high school, I worked for an Englishman named Mr. Follet who’d retired from running a nursery in my hometown. My main job was helping this 86 year old man keep up with the weeding, but he took some time every day to teach me something. Some of the lessons that I’ve retained for the last 5 decades were to “know the weed” before you pull it, always take good care of your tools, and sharpen them frequently so they cut easily and cleanly.

 

I plant most of my vegetables in raised beds, but grow onions, garlic, and rhubarb in well-mulched areas at ground level. They seem particular about having good juicy soil and lots of mulch, but they don’t need as much care as some of the others.

 

I divided 4 of my mother’s spindly rhubarb plants in 1992, expecting to get about 8-10 new plants. I ended up with 20 and have been dividing and replenishing them ever since. There must be over 100 progeny planted now, from upstate New York to Massachusetts. This shows the refurbishment of the bed around 2014, involving the dividing and replanting of the plants with spindly stalks, adding lots of compost, but leaving the strongest plants alone. Vigilant 60-pound hound dog for scale.

 

Tend your compost piles, treasure your autumn leaves, and hope for a good snow cover to insulate the precious roots. And, most of all, enjoy the company of the creatures all around — the catbird that watches intently to see what I will dig up, the  chipmunk that dashes away with a giant June bug grub in its mouth, and the bluebird that just seems to find me amusing.

 

NRG Raises the White Flag on Power Plant Expansion

A resolution to terminate the tax agreement between the City of Middletown and NRG, owner of the power plant on River Road, will be tabled at the Council meeting on April 5. It appears that NRG is waving the white flag and has requested a one-month delay of Council action in order to terminate the tax agreement by mutual consent with the City. 

Pending such a mutual consent agreement, that will presumably be ratified at the May 3 Council meeting, below are the details of the tax agreement for reader information.

So, public testimony at the April 5 meeting will not be needed, though it will be allowed as the item remains on the agenda. 

Many thanks to all who participated in and supported our campaign.

 

NRG Middletown Power Plant — site of proposed new 375 MW generator

The tax agreement with NRG is unfavorable to Middletown. Until the proposed turbine is built and becomes operational— something that could not possibly happen before 2024, at the earliest—property taxes paid to the city are frozen at the 2019 level of $1.78 million per year. The city is losing over $200,000 per year in taxes while the agreement remains in effect for a project that is not getting built anytime soon.

But it the proposed turbine should ever be built — an increasingly unlikely outcome, due to market conditions — the tax agreement represents an unconscionable giveaway to NRG. Why would Middletown give a tax break to a company that is going to pollute our air more and stand in the way of meeting the state’s climate goals?

What would the actual tax revenue from the project be?

Under the terms of the agreement, taxes paid to the city would depend on the “forward capacity market price” for each year. You don’t need to understand what that means. Simply stated, the taxes paid to the city each year would vary between $2.36 million to $3.41 million per year, but would most likely be at the lower end of that range. Over a 25-year period, the total paid to the city would be somewhere between a minimum of $59 million and a maximum of $85.25 million. Assuming the forward capacity market rises over the next five years and NRG or its successor built the plant, we estimate total tax revenue over 25 years of no more than $65 million — and that’s being optimistic and contrary to current trends and predicted future trends in the capacity market.

But with no tax agreement, the taxes paid would depend on different factors — namely, the rate of depreciation assigned by the assessor’s office and the tax mill rate for each year. Assume for our purpose here a constant mill rate of .0358 for 25 years. The depreciation could be 75% of initial value over 25 years, or it could be an accelerated depreciation of 75% of initial value over 17 years. So, without this tax agreement, the total taxes received by the city over 25 years would be between $82.5 million and $123 million.

Summary — Financial impact of the Tax Agreement.

Prior to turbine operation: $200,000 tax loss per year

After turbine operation: $700,000 – $2.3 million tax loss per year (depending on depreciated rate applied by the assessor’s office.)

 Let the Common Council know you support termination of the tax agreement with NRG

Email all Common Council members here council@middletownct.gov

For more details on the tax agreement and the calculations cited above, read more below: Continue reading

Update on Proposed New Boathouse

Plans for a new boathouse on Middletown’s riverfront are progressing. DiBattisto Associates LLC and Christina Wasch, Associate AIA, recently presented renderings (shown above) of a proposed new Middletown High School boathouse at the March meeting of the city’s Economic Development Commission. (Right click on the image to open and enlarge it in a new tab.)

The Boathouse Building Committee has recommended the least expensive option of the three it originally considered. This proposal retains the Wesleyan boathouse (left) and the current Middletown High School  boathouse (center) which would be refurbished for the community rowing program. The additional proposed building (right) would serve the MHS rowing program that has been so successful in recent years.

The next step is for the professional design team to present a quote to develop the plans more fully — to approximately 40% of what would be needed for construction.

Shown below is an aerial rendering of the proposed new building’s footprint (in white) next to the existing boathouses. To the far right is the restaurant located in Harbor Park. To the far left is the area know as Columbus Point, bordered by Sumner Brook.

NRG Power Plant Update

NRG power plant in Middletown as seen from the Air Line Trail in Portland. Photo by John Hall

The Jonah Center’s campaign to resist the installation of a new combustion turbine at the NRG power plant at 1866 River Road appears to be making an impact. Middletown’s Economic Development Commission (EDC), at its meeting on March 9, voted unanimously to recommend that the tax agreement with NRG be terminated. A resolution to that effect is expected to be on the agenda of the Common Council on April 5. The tax agreement pertains primarily to the property taxes that would be due after such a new turbine becomes operational. But, in the meantime, the agreement freezes property taxes on the existing plant at the amount due in 2019. So the city loses revenue each year the agreement is allowed to stand. Continue reading

Complete Streets News — Portland, Durham, Meriden, & Middletown

The grassroots activism to make our streets safer and more comfortable for walkers, bicyclists, wheelchair users, and users of public transit is the “complete streets” movement. Middletown, Portland, and Durham have Complete Streets groups working with their respective towns to achieve improvements that make our streets complete in that sense – suitable for all users.

Streets, after all, are by far the largest public spaces. They should not be just for moving motor vehicles, but for active transportation (meaning, by muscle power) and community gathering. When people are walking, they meet, speak, and achieve a sense of belonging.  Here are some exciting news items. Continue reading

Opinion: Raise the Gas Tax

By Erik Assadourian

I was shocked and outraged to read that Governor Lamont would want to raise the gas tax by 5 cents by 2023 (2/18). Not because that’s too much, but because it is far too low.

As the frightful weather across the US reminds us, climate change, aka global weirding, is here. Bayous in Louisiana are iced over, millions are snowed in in Texas, even the Middle East has snow. Meanwhile the poles are melting more quickly every year, as new research finds.

And fossil fuels are the number one contributor. Thus, why would a tiny increase in gas taxes seem excessive? Frankly it is far too timid—especially considering the low price of gas right now (lower than 2005 and that’s not even adjusting for inflation). If anything Lamont should propose a much higher increase—both to pay for roads and transportation (including increasing and better subsidizing public transit and bike lanes to support both low-income residents and to encourage the shift away from the car) and of course to disincentivize driving and incentivize people buying more fuel efficient cars. Continue reading