By Meghan Peterson, PhD
MP: What was the outcome of the tax sale the Town conducted on Tuesday, January 30, 2018?
LM: The tax sale of Higganum Cove was held at the end of last month. The outcome of what the Tax Collector, Kristin Battistoni, was attempting to achieve was successful: which was for Haddam to take possession of the Cove in the most cost-effective and timely manner. On July 30, 2018, the property will once and for all belong to Haddam. In the interim, the State of Connecticut (DEEP) and the feds (EPA) ask that no residents trespass on the property until that date has arrived.
MP: What are next steps for the Cove? What is the vision for it?
LM: In 2017, Town Planner Liz Glidden and I held a meeting with Bill Cowan, President of the Haddam Land Trust and Lisa Malloy, Director of the Haddam Historical Society, to discuss passive recreational uses at the Cove. I look forward to exploring passive recreation options for the Town in the future. The good thing is that much of the wildlife and vegetation are beginning to make a comeback; the ecosystem is bouncing back, according to DEEP. There are indeed opportunities for passive recreation there. We have to be mindful, however, that construction work on the Dublin Hill Bridge is expected to begin in early 2019 (bidding expected to be ready by this Fall). As a result, we have to coordinate efforts in terms of residents enjoying the Cove and at the same time ensure they are safe in the construction zone.
MP: The State Bond Commission’s January meeting was canceled. Where do we stand now in the process for Tylerville Water?
LM: I am happy to report that Tylerville Water was on the Commission’s agenda Friday, Feb. 16. Liz Glidden and I attended. Bonding has been approved! We will also be meeting with the design and engineering team in the near future. I am ecstatic that this issue is going to be solved once and for all! The residents will have clean water to drink, cook and bathe in. It was mentioned to me how many people this will positively affect, and I did not think about that until now. I just knew that something had to be done and playing the blame game was getting us nowhere!
MP: January was quite a historic month for our little town – particularly with the awe-inspiring ice dams on the River. What was the Town’s official course of action to address potential issues with the damming?
LM: I declared a State of Emergency for the Town. This enables us to work on collecting FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Assistance) monies. I am working on reviewing and processing paperwork to obtain reimbursement for affected property and business owners. I am currently working with the CT Emergency Management Coordinator on this matter. Also, if any residents are interested, I have a nice photo of the ice dams near the Bridge to commemorate the history! I am so relieved and happy that no one was hurt.
MP: What is the latest on road work?
LM: The final part (reclamation work) of McTigh Road is going out to bid in April and will be completed this Spring, along with the remaining piece of Bartman Road. As I mentioned earlier, the final design plans for the Dublin Hill Bridge will be in hand by the end of March. Although we can go out to bid for it in September 2018, there will be NO construction over the winter months; therefore, we will begin construction in 2019. Eversource will be completing their work in Haddam Neck so the roads that have been put on hold last year will get done this construction year. There have been many residents emailing and contacting my office on the poor conditions of their roads. I want all of them to know that I am working on the list that was provided for VHB on road conditions. Many bonded projects came in under budget, and once we know the costs of the final piece of McTigh Road, we can start to add to the list. At this point in time, our final payment for Town road aid has been eliminated by the State legislature. I will continue to advocate for these funds.
MP: Can you share the latest on bringing the Senior Center into ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)-compliance?
LM: The work on the bathrooms at the Center has already gone out to bid. That work is expected to begin in March. Work on the ramp and paving will follow, as those will be a separate bidding process.
MP: What about news on the Grand List?
LM: We have great news on that front. It’s been a very interesting year. Despite the overall failing State economy, Haddam has fared quite well: the Grand List is up over 4%. Another positive thing is that the Board of Selectmen (BOS) recently approved of an Infrastructure Committee to examine the opportunity for implementing sewers in Higganum Center once and for all. Implementing infrastructure is vital for attracting businesses, which in turn can only help with our tax base for Haddam. I want to publicly thank Jennifer Gauthier and Tammy Anderson for all of their hard work on updating the Towns records and educating our residents and business owners. Haddam spends less for Assessor services than area towns because we have two certified Assessors. It is extremely short sighted to cut this department, as Selectman Schlag has suggested. In addition, we will be able to do our own revaluation in house – saving us thousands of dollars.
Regional School District #17
MP: The Board of Education (BOE) has been studying closure of one of the elementary schools in Haddam. What is your position?
LM: The BOE has been reviewing this topic for the past year and a half. The district has declining student enrollment, some of the RSD #17 buildings are being underutilized in terms of capacity, and the State is cutting way back on funding. I was approached by the committee studying this matter and was asked whether Haddam was interested in purchasing Haddam Elementary School (HES) for a new Town Hall. I stated that as much as it is a beautiful building, the Town does not have the need or financial ability to take care of, and maintain, another building. Moreover, if we relocated Town offices, what would happen to the Field Park Drive building? I do not want yet another vacant building in Haddam. From there, we discussed options for HES or Burr (depending on which school is closed) – and which would have the most economic benefit for the Town. We discussed ideas of Senior Housing, Housing, a Community Center, and a Senior Center. Right now, the Town is working on a master plan. With the appointment of the Infrastructure Committee, we can get to work on tying all of these moving pieces together for the benefit of the people. The residents need to decide what to do once and for all for Higganum Center, as we cannot allow any more empty buildings to persist in our community. With a vision and plan, we can ensure this does not happen – and seize this opportunity.
MP: There has been some confusion over the Town’s recent acquisition of Chatham Lake and related subdivision properties from the now-defunct Nason Group. What is the status on this?
LM: As a Town leader, this very difficult and complicated issue had to be handled. I was aware that this would potentially be controversial and a matter for dispute. According to the deeds of property owners of the Chatham Lake community as well as the Declaration of Chatham Lake, those owners have a 1/73rd “common interest” (there are 73 properties). This means that there are rights within those landowners’ deeds. For Haddam to take over those private properties would be illegal, and this is a complicated issue. People cannot trespass on those properties, as most of it is land locked, and those owners’ interests are part of legal documents. My words on this issue have been twisted by the Haddam Bulletin and recently at the Feb. 12 Board of Selectmen meeting. It is important to get the rights of the property owners settled, the public safety requirements of the dam implemented, and selling of the approved building lots to recoup lost revenue. Then, as a community, we can discuss as a Town the open space options or use of the property. It is a process. The last thing Haddam needs is another liability.
MP: What is your position on the number of Resident Troopers in Haddam? It has been suggested by Selectman Schlag that the coverage of two Troopers be reduced to one Trooper
LM: During a special BOS meeting, Selectman Schlag proposed the cut. My position is that especially with the opioid crisis being what it is, the prevalence of drugs, the four easy off-on points to Route 9, and all the current criminal activities with which the Troopers have been dealing, I state unequivocally that I would NEVER vote for minimizing the amount of police coverage we have. As it is, we only have one of the Troopers here Monday-Friday; the other alternating nights and weekends. We are still left with gaps in coverage, depending on Troop F. I commend our Troopers for what they do; they have a lot of work cut out for them. I emphasize again that I oppose the idea of reduction. Public safety should never be undermined or compromised. As always, I encourage residents to stop by my office, call, or e-mail with any questions. Enjoy these last few weeks of winter!