I've been planning on writing this blog post for a few weeks now. The theme was going to be "why South Main Street is a terrible location for the biofuel plant." Earlier this week, I had decided that today was the day I finally would have time to get this done. Lo and behold! this morning's newspaper announced that Chestnut Hill had decided to give up on moving into Waterbury.
I was sorry to see how much animosity was involved in the announcement. I can understand their sentiment, however, since they probably assume that Larry DePillo represented all of the opposition. DePillo devotes a tremendous amount of time to protesting just about everything (okay, I'm exaggerating, it just seems like that sometimes) and he typically cites information that is either completely wrong or is correct but misinterpreted. More than once I have seen outsiders to Waterbury become exceedingly frustrated and flat-out baffled by DePillo's speeches at public hearings. While I appreciate the energy he puts into his causes, I wish he would take the time to get his facts right. He makes all of us look bad.
The Republican-American has run a few stories suggesting that those of us opposing Chestnut Hill never bothered to research the facts before arriving at our decisions to oppose the plant. I certainly was more than willing to consider their proposal in full fairness, and from what I can tell, many other opposition voices also did the research first. For more on the topic, see Bryan Baker's blog post, "Good Riddance".
Unfortunately for Chestnut Hill, the facts were damning. Their poor track record is unsettling. Their venture in New Jersey was a colossal environmental and health disaster. Their lack of respect towards the Waterbury community compounded the problem. Factor in the unsuitability of the location relative to several plans to revitalize that neighborhood, and factor in pollution concerns, and the proposal falls flat.
One question that I was going to raise before reading the news this morning, but that I think is a valid concern going forward, is the issue of pollution levels. Maybe I wasn't paying close enough attention, but it seems like the amount of pollutants legally allowed for each site creating pollution (like FirstLight and Phoenix Soil) is based solely on the output of that single business. [If someone knows the answer to this, please share!] While the amount of pollutants being produced by a single business might fall within legal safety limits, the combined total pollutants being produced by all the businesses in Waterbury's flood plain area is, logically, higher. If a company wants to add a plant that creates even a miniscule amount of pollution, shouldn't the acceptability be based on the total existing pollution level?
Speaking of which, what is the current total existing pollution level in downtown and the South End?
Now that Chestnut Hill has decided to forget about Waterbury, we're left with the question of what to do with that factory site. A few people have expressed bitterness over the loss of Chestnut Hill (which I don't think is that great a loss). The great thing about this whole situation is that people are demanding to know how the city will bring that site back to life. This is fantastic. One year ago, this neighborhood barely registered on anyone's radar. The Loyola group has struggled for support. The residents of this neighborhood have struggled to have even their most basic needs met. Our success in preventing Chestnut Hill from starting their biofuel factory on South Main Street is only one small step in revitalizing an important part of our city.
The question remains, what is the future of that property? It's a large tract of land with a rich history and loads of contaminants. I decided that I should stick to my original plan of visiting the site before tossing out any suggestions.
I drove down to the South End this afternoon and parked in the side lot at PetSmart. I wound up spending almost two hours walking the perimeter of the Anamet facility (a good chunk of that time was spent talking with security guards at Ansonia Copper & Brass / FirstLight -- I was accidentally trespassing, but after I explained myself we had a really good conversation about the brass industry and what's going on now with old factory sites). I took a lot of photos and came to a few conclusions.
Basically, I have to say that the property is not well-suited for industry. Times have changed, as have logistics and expectations. The only practical way that large trucks can reach the site is from the Meadow Street exits of I-84, but even then it's a little tricky with some of the turns.
In times past, the Naugatuck and Mad Rivers were seen as power sources and convenient sewage systems. Today they have the potential to be fantastic recreational facilities and therefore a reason for people to choose to move to Waterbury. We should be working to convert the rivers to parks, rather than encouraging the restoration of industrial facilities on these magnificent resources.
Also in times past, it was considered perfectly acceptable to locate people's homes directly across the street from factories. This can't possibly be seen as acceptable today. It's just plain uncivilized.
There are factory buildings running along South Main Street from Jewelry Street to Washington Avenue. They are bleak, bland and crowd the street. They have no architectural value. Tear them down and widen South Main Street, turning it into a tree-lined boulevard with bicycle lanes and ample sidewalks. Find money from somewhere to clean up the brownfield pollution (yeah, I know, it's not that easy a task, but let's not be stopped--if we continue to complain and protest and fight like we've done the past few months, just imagine what we could accomplish!).
I don't have any answers as to what should replace the factory buildings. It needs to be something that works well within a residential neighborhood and can function as a buffer against the FirstLight facility on the other side of the river. Imagine a greenway running along the river. That could be enough of a buffer. The Anamet property could become a mixture of condos and retail.
I took too many photos to post here, so I've got them loaded onto Picasa. You can watch them as a slideshow or you can click on this link to the page and see them individually with captions/commentary and some map locations.