Tires—loads and loads and loads of tires—may arrive on the shores of Fair Haven if a growing recycling company gets its wish.
The city’s not sure it wants to help grant that wish.
That recycler is a company called Tri-State Flexi-Pave. It has been shopping around for property to buy in order to run a regional operation recycling old tires into flexible, porous paving surfaces (pictured below) for sidewalks, parking lots, bike paths, and tree surroundings.
New Haven officials have shown the company three Fair Haven sites off the Mill River. At the same time officials have debated internally whether a tire recycler is the “highest and best use” for a riverine district where the city has hoped to attract new homes and businesses.
The three sites—the old Simkins paper recycling plant on East Street; the old St. Gobain plant at Grand and East; and the old Hess property on River Street (pictured at left)—are already zoned for heavy industry, according to Acting Deputy Director of Economic Development Stephen Fontana.
“We’re in a holding pattern right now,” Fontana said. The company is waiting to hear from the state about requests for public aid before proceeding with discussions about the New Haven sites.
The company installs Flexi-Pave products manufactured by another company in Florida (called K. B. Industries). It is seeking to open its own manufacturing plant here to service the region. In the process, it is seeking two forms of state assistance, according to an email message sent by a company representative to city officials and obtained by the Independent:
• The company is negotiating with the state Department of Economic & Community Development (DECD) “for grant and low-interest loan support,” wrote the representative, Jeff Leichtman. “This effort will be a win-win-win for all. It will create a green manufacturing opportunity that helps Connecticut solve its stormwater management problems, greatly assist the state [to] solve its tire disposal problem (as a result of the sterling plant closure) and creates 100-150+ jobs and significant income tax, sales tax, and property tax revenues to the State and City. Flexi-Pave would also be willing to commit some additional revenues to the City tied to its tire recycling efforts (details to follow).”
• The company is asking the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) to agree to buy lots of that recycled paving if the deal goes through. “[W]e raised the issue of a $500,000-$1,000,000 green infrastructure demonstration project this summer using Flexi-Pave; money for this would come from the State Clean Water Fund budget administered by DEEP, with the result solving some thorny local drainage and park restoration problems. What better place to do this demonstration than New Haven,” wrote Leichtman. DEEP sets aside 3 percent of its Clean Water Fund, which is geared toward improving wastewater-treatment plants and sewer systems, for “green” projects.
Reached for further comment, Leichtman responded: “Flexi-Pave is exploring many sites across the state and in other states for a potential manufacturing facility, but it is far too early to discuss any particular site in this search process. When and if New Haven becomes a distinct possibility, Flexi-Pave might have more to say.” Tri-State Flexi-Pave officials could not be reached for comment.
“We’re in negotiations with the company, so we would not be able to comment,” DECD spokesman David Treadwell commented (or, rather, didn’t).
“Flexi-Pave has looked at and is considering sites in [Connecticut] where they would build a manufacturing facility. At this facility they would make use of used tires to produce the rubber aggregate that is a key component of their product. They have looked at sites and talked with local officials in New Haven, Hartford, Waterbury, Middletown, and Bridgeport,” DEEP spokesman Dennis Schain reported in an email message. “Flexi-Pave produces a product that reuses discarded tires – removing them from the waste stream and solving disposal issues. The product they produce is also an environmentally sound infrastructure product in that it helps reduce the run off of storm water and the impacts that creates. DEEP is hopeful that Flexi-Pave can be encouraged to locate a manufacturing facility in our state because of the positive role it will play in creating jobs, addressing the issue of tire disposal, and in producing a valuable product.”
Green? Or Blight?
New Haven’s not so sure.
On the one hand, Fontana’s office plans to follow up with Flexi-Pave and try to find a site that works in order to bring jobs and taxes.
On the other hand, officials want to make sure the project brings in enough jobs and taxes to make it as worthwhile as other potential uses.
Also, the city owns only one of the three sites it showed Flexi-Pave. The others, owned privately, have had other potential buyers, Fontana said. In a March 24 memo to city officials, Flexi-Pave rep Leichtman wrote that the Simkins site’s configuration “didn’t work” at first blush, though the company would be “glad to take a second look. I do think River St. has great potential and because of water access, has many attributes. And the state will help with some green space throughout the property and along the river walk and property line on River Street that will enhance the quality of the area.”
Fontana’s boss, city economic development chief Matthew Nemerson, said he’d like to see the facility end up in the region. But he questioned whether it belongs in the emerging Mill River and River street districts, he said.
“Everybody wants River Street. I am very loathe right now to commit large swabs of River Street to low-grade industrial uses. Is that [a tire plant] the new New Haven or the old New Haven: 20 jobs for people chopping up mounds of tires?” he asked.
“I would rather have housing.”
The precise number of jobs the facility would bring emerged as an issue in recent conversations between Flexi-Pave and city officials. The company didn’t make a hard promise: While it may have 20 or 50 jobs at first, it envisions growing to “well over 100” and perhaps “closer to 200” eventually if it ends up moving an installation and distributing facility to the planned manufacturing operation, Leichtman wrote.
Another concern raised: Where to store all those tires? Officials predicted that neighbors might consider the facility a blight. “We can certainly design enclosed storage in a Butler building and mitigate that issue substantially,” Leichtman wrote.