First a crew stumbled upon bags and bags and bags of asbestos inside the abandoned old English Station power plant.
Then bricks started falling off a second building onto Grand Avenue.
Amid it all, a foreclosure led to the polluted property changing hands yet again, this time to an investor from Kew Gardens, N.Y.
Welcome to the latest chapter of New Haven’s decades-long quest to convert the 8.9-acre site of two mothballed former energy-generating plants into a clean site that will generate new jobs and taxes.
The site is 8.9 acres on the southern portion of man-made Ball Island in the Mill River. There sit, for now at least, two plants where United Illuminating (UI) first burned coal, then oil, so much of New Haven could turn on lights, run machines, watch TV.
UI hasn’t generated power there for 26 years. It no longer owns the property.
But as part of a deal struck with regulators, when United Illuminating was sold to the Spanish conglomerate Iberdola, UI agreed to spend $30 million to clean up the property by August 2019 so a new owner could build a new commercial operation there.
Unexpected problems have delayed the clean-up, and post-clean-up plans remain unclear. But UI said this week that it remains on track to finish the job, probably within the $30 million budget, by year’s end.
“Clean Road” Leads To Asbestos
The first plant on the island — labeled “Station B,” but on “Parcel A” — fronts Grand Avenue at the entry point to Fair Haven. The two-story, 25,000-foot building, constructed in the 1890s, burned coal to generate electricity until 1903. UI built the second, 100,000-square foot plant, English Station (“Station A” on “Parcel B”), back from the street in the 1920s. It burned coal in 14 boilers there until the late 1950s, then oil through 1992.
By that time environmentalists had dubbed English Station one of Connecticut’s “Filthy Five,” then “Sooty Six,” most-polluting power plants, and fought efforts to allow them to resume poisoning the air. UI sold the plant to an “unaffiliated” company called Quinnipiac Energy in 2000. Quinnipiac Energy sought, unsuccessfully, to win permission to revive the plant.
The new owners claimed they lacked the money to clean the site, which is contaminated with lead and PCBs. City officials, eager to find a way to bring new development to the property, sought to find the money from UI, even though UI no longer owned the property, under the argument that the company was responsible for the pollution. The city finally found an opening when Iberdola sought state regulatory approval to purchase UI for $3 billion. Mayor Toni Harp turned to an old ally, state Attorney General George Jepsen, to intervene in the regulatory process. Jepsen succeeded in winning a vow from UI/Iberdola to spend $30 million on a clean-up of the land, even though the company didn’t own it anymore. (UI originally offered to spend $1.9 million.) It was estimated that the $30 million would enable crews to clean the property enough to meet standards for commercial (though not residential) development.
UI obtained access to the property in August 2016 and soon got to work. It agreed to complete the job in three years. It built a “clean road” to English Station to set the stage for the work. It broke the job into two phases: First remediating Parcel A, then the English Station portion.
Then came the surprises. Entering English Station, a UI-dispatched crew came across bags filled with asbestos. No one had known about them. Now the company would need to develop a plan for removing it before it could tackle the building itself.
Then, earlier this year, bricks and mortar began falling off the facade of Station B, potentially endangering pedestrians and motorists on Grand Avenue. The city’s building official, Jim Turcio, checked it out, and concluded the building was in danger of imminent collapse. He ordered it stabilized for the short term. And UI began planning to demolish it, with the agreement of the city.
UI spokesman Ed Crowder said the company is in the final process of choosing a contractor to take down the building and remediate the pollution on the land around it. It “We expect to begin submitting permits for that shortly” and have the building down by mid-year, Crowder said.
UI is “still in the assessment” portion of Phase 2, according to Crowder. It expects to issue a request for proposals for contractors to do the work on the building, which had been delayed by the asbestos removal. UI has submitted a request to the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) for an extension on the deadline for completing the entire job, from August to December.
It remains unclear whether English Station itself would come down.
The company is on track to finish the job by the end of the year, Crowder said. And the $30 million pricetag remains “in the ballpark.” (Click here for UI updates on the project.)
Meanwhile, the Harp administration has remained in touch with the affiliate companies that bought the property in 2006 about plans for what to build on the property once UI completes the remediation.
But as of the close of 2018, those two companies — Asnat Realty and Evergreen Energy — are no longer in the picture. According to city land record, they defaulted on a $3,856,126 debt to a lender, Pacific Atlantic LLC, which proceeded to foreclose on the property. Pacific Atlantic then transferred the property to a limited liability corporation called Paramount View Millennium of Forest Hills, N.Y. Paramount in turn turned the property over for a dollar to a newly formed limited liability corporation called Haven River Properties; the transfer was recorded in city land records on Dec. 21.
UI’s Crowder said the company has had “preliminary conversations” with the new owners, but not on any substantive plans.
City economic development deputy Steve Fontana said the Harp administration is hoping to see an “energy park” rise from the ashes of the English Station operation — a fuel cell plant, for example. Or a solar power array. Or an efficient natural gas facility.
“It is a tremendous opportunity for redevelopment,” said Fontana, City Hall’s point person on the English Station project. “We’d like to see the highest and best use, not just any possible use. We want something that is attractive and clean,” producing new jobs and tax revenue for the city.
The secretary of the state’s database lists the principal of Haven River Properties as David Tropper, based at an address in Kew Gardens, N.Y. Tropper is also listed as a principal in entities listing the same Forest Hills address as Paramount View Millennium. Tropper-led entities using that address include ANS Testing and Services of Connecticut LLC, Advanced Clinical Products LLC, and the Foundation for Internet Safety.
Details about those organizations were not available. Reached Thursday by phone, Tropper, who said he prefers to remain out of the public limelight, declined to provide details on them, either, or on plans for English Station. Nothing can start there until at least next year, he noted. “Right now everything is up in the air. Nobody knows what is going to happen. There are a million hurdles to get anywhere,” he said.
In the meantime, Steve Fontana is urging UI to conduct a public session to update New Haveners on the status of its English Station clean-up. Fontana suggested either a hearing before a Board of Alders committee or a community meeting. UI last held such a session at John Martinez School in June 2017; neighbors were skeptical. (Read about that here.) No new public meeting is yet planned; Crowder said UI is “in regular contact with the city” and will “work with them to do more along those lines.”