Local News

Veterans Day ceremony Saturday in Brookfield

A Veterans Day ceremony is being held in Brookfield tomorrow.  The  Jason D Lewis Brookfield Memorial VFW Post will host the ceremony at 10:45am at Williams Memorial Park across the road from the Brookfield Public Library.  The public is encouraged to attend the event to honor our military veterans who have served our nation as members of the Active Component, the National Guard and the Reserves.  The ceremony will begin with the posting of the colors and the singing of the National Anthem. There will be a wreath laid at the foot of the Soldier’s memorial monument followed by a moment of silence to honor the memory of those Brookfield veterans who have passed away. The Post Commander, Joseph A. Beal, will then deliver the commemorative speech. After the address, the Post Honor Guard will render a 21 gun salute paying tribute to Brookfield and area veterans. The ceremony will end with the playing of Taps and a final prayer.


Lamont officially unveils his retooled transportation plan

Gov. Ned Lamont officially unveiled his latest transportation improvement plan Thursday, expressing a willingness to compromise, but noting an urgency to finally address Connecticut’s long-standing transportation challenges.

The Democrat acknowledged his earlier proposal, which included dozens of tolls on highways throughout the state, was a “bridge too far” for many state lawmakers. Lamont said this new, scaled-back initiative relies on revenue from 14 tolls on a list of named bridges and overpasses, coupled with low-cost borrowing from the federal government and other borrowing. It attempts to target major traffic chokepoints across the state, helping to speed up commutes, both on the highways and rail lines.

Brookfield US 202 improvements are planned.  The total estimated cost is $7.1 Million.  Lamont says the commuter benefits include improvements to intersections reduce the number of crashes, as this is one of the highest frequency crash locations in Connecticut.  This section along Federal Road in Brookfield is notorious for crashes and traffic delays. An improved intersection and upgrades to the signal structure will lead to less traffic and fewer crashes, making it easier for drivers to access the various shopping and restaurant options on this stretch of road.

The plan calls for reconstruction of the Rochambeau Bridge over the Housatonic River in Newtown on I-84.  The total estimated project cost is $70 Million to $110 Million.  Lamont says this project is one of the essential elements to make sure CT2030 not only provides a prosperous future, but a safe one for Connecticut drivers. The reconstruction of this Newtown crossing will make driving safer and even more manageable during the winter months with an upgraded structure and repaved surface.

Improvements to ease access to local roads is planned in Southbury at Exit 14.  The total estimated cost is $5-7 Million.  Commuter benefits include exit upgrades rebuild the ramp, improving access to local roads, relieving congestion from both the highway and locally.  Lamont says this is yet another exit on a Connecticut interstate highway that was not designed with modern traffic in mind. When drivers come off the ramp, there is an abrupt stop at the end, which leads to headaches for both interstate and local drivers. Improvements to the exit structure will lead to better flows of traffic on and off the highway, decreasing delays on local roads in Southbury.

A controversial part of the proposal is the I-684, Bridge over Byram River in Greenwich.  The total estimated cost is $12.9 Million.  There are bridges across Connecticut that have not seen upgrades or renovations in decades and CT2030 addresses that issue head-on. This bridge on I-684 is maintained by CTDOT and is in need of State of Good Repair improvements. Improving this bridge will make traveling through Connecticut on this busy highway safer for all drivers.

Plans call for 132 New Rail Cars, 30 Locomotives for New Haven Line, Waterbury & Danbury Lines, Shore Line East, Hartford Line.  On the Danbury and Waterbury branch lines, new signaling systems, new cars, and new dual-power locomotives that can run on diesel and electric tracks will allow for more frequent service and for more convenient trains that provide direct service to Stamford and New York City.  The proposal also outlines digital fare collections and new kiosks.  Connectivity with a new CTtransit app allows customers to use the app to pay fares, and they have access to new kiosks on Shoreline East. This app provides connectivity across the CT Transit services.

New fare system investments in coordination with Metro-North Railroad that will better integrate mobile ticketing and fare kiosks with existing CTtransit & CTrail fare systems. Also Shore Line East will see new ticket machine kiosks on platforms in addition to a new mobile phone app.

It’s a new approach Lamont hopes will finally lead to a compromise with Democrats and Republicans in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly on transportation.

“As long as the numbers add up and they’re real, I’m willing to listen,” said Lamont, when asked if he’d agree to make changes. “Right now, there’s no other plan on the table. This is a plan that adds up and fixes the problems in front of us. If they have another idea, it’s time to bring it forward.”

Lamont is billing his new CT2030 plan, which he urged taxpayers to review online , as a “realistic” and “fiscally responsible” effort to reduce congestion, make travel faster, more convenient and reliable, while ultimately improving the state’s economy. It calls for investing $14 billion in Connecticut’s roads and bridges and $7 billion in public transportation, including airports, ports, and bus and rail service. There are two categories of projects: new enhancements, and preservation and maintenance projects. The whole package will require legislative approval. It remains unclear when, or if lawmakers might consider the proposal.

Representatives from both organized labor and business on Thursday urged legislators to support Lamont’s latest effort.

“Fixing our infrastructure is not a partisan issue,” said Sal Luciano, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO labor organization. “That’s why labor is standing with the governor and the business community today to call upon the legislature to summon the political courage to get this done.”

H. Darrell Harvey, co-chief executive officer of The Ashforth Co., a Stamford-based real estate firm, said Lamont’s plan aligns with what needs to be done to retain and attract business in Connecticut and help the state’s workforce move easily around the state.

“This is the infrastructure of the state. We’re way behind the rest of the country. We’re way behind the rest of the world,” he said. “Let’s play politics on stuff besides our foundation of our state, the infrastructure of our state.”

Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said he appreciated the hard work and thoughtfulness that went into Lamont’s plan. But he said he still has “serious concerns” about tolls, which Lamont said would be in place for the length of the state’s loan for each of the 14 projects.

“Republicans agree with Governor Lamont that we need to invest in transportation to support economic success and encourage job growth,” Fasano said. “But where we have always differed is how to pay for it.”

Fasano said tolls “remain very problematic” for him and his fellow Senate Republicans. They also remain problematic for anti-toll activists, some of whom attended Lamont’s announcement on Thursday, and the trucking industry. Joe Sculley, president of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut, said his group remains opposed to tolling existing highways, whether that means current highway lanes as first proposed or on specific bridges.

“As the trucking industry already pays the diesel tax, the Petroleum Gross Receipts Tax, and vehicle registration fees, tolls would be a fourth tax for the privilege of using what we have already paid for,” he said.

The base rate for tolls would range from 50 cents to $1 for passenger vehicles and $3.50 to $7 for heavy trucks, before discounts are applied. Some of the bridges proposed for tolls include the Gold Star Bridge that stretches over the Thames River from New London to Groton; the so-called “mixmaster” in Waterbury; and the Routes 15 and 17 interchange in Norwalk.

Lamont’s plan also proposes Connecticut partner with private companies to develop high-speed ferry service from Stamford to lower Manhattan; sets in motion a possible fully functioning airport in south-central Connecticut; calls for track improvements and new stations along the Hartford Line; and includes funding for new commuter rail cars and public busses.


Recount triggered in Danbury City Council at-large race

An automatic recount has been triggered in one of the Danbury City Council races.  With all of the absentee ballots, Election Day Registration ballots, and the ballots cast at polling places, there was just a 14 vote difference between two candidates seeking an at-large seat.  Democrat incumbent Bob Taborsak got slightly more votes than Republican incumbent Bruce Bennett.  If the results stand, there will be an 11-10 split on the City Council, giving Republicans just one more seat than Democrats.  While there was a meeting last night, the new members won't be seated until the December 5th meeting. 


State DVA Commissioner to take leave of absence for military duty

State Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Tom Saadi will be taking a six-month, quasi-leave of absence beginning next Friday while on active duty with the U.S. Army.  In a letter to the governor, Saadi explained that he will be stationed in upstate New York, enabling him to maintain regular contact with his staff via email and telephone.  He will also have the ability to use his military leave, and return to the DVA campus on occasion to keep the agency on a steady course forward.  

Saadi, a Major in the U.S. Army Reserve, volunteered for the active duty mobilization. He is serving with the Danbury-based 411th Civil Affairs Battalion. 

Saadi said he is thankful to have a team of dedicated DVA staff, volunteers, community-based partners, and veteran service organizations who will continue the collective mission of ‘serving those who served’ --without interruption. 

Governor Lamont says he appreciates the fact that the veterans affairs commissioner not only has dedicated his career to ensuring veterans have access to the services they’ve earned, but is also willing to volunteer to serve the nation when called upon.


Danbury-based FuelCell Energy signs new agreement with ExxonMobil

Danbury-based FuelCell Energy has signed a new agreement with ExxonMobil.  The company says the two-year expanded joint-development agreement will further enhance carbonate fuel cell technology to capture carbon dioxide from industrial facilities.  The agreement, worth up to 60 million dollars, will focus efforts on optimizing the core technology, overall process integration and large-scale deployment of carbon capture solutions. ExxonMobil is exploring options to conduct a pilot test of next-generation fuel cell carbon capture solution at one of its operating sites.  ExxonMobil and FuelCell Energy began working together in 2016 with a focus on better understanding the fundamental science behind carbonate fuel cells and how to increase efficiency in separating and concentrating carbon dioxide from the exhaust of natural gas-fueled power generation.


Caseworker on Your Corner events scheduled in 5th District

5th District Congresswoman Jahana Hayes has scheduled a number of events in the Greater Danbury area over the next few weeks to have her staff help constituents with various issues.  The Caseworker on Your Corner events are meant to help people with any questions or cut red tape with federal agencies.  All of the events are at 10am.  Her staff will be at Brookfield Town Hall next Wednesday, Newtown Municipal Center next Friday, on the 19th at New Fairfield Library, on the 20th at Bethel Library and the 22nd at the YMCA on Main Street in Danbury.  The last event will be on the 26th in Southbury.


Sandy Hook Memorial group seeks to move forward on selected design

The Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial Commission recently held another meeting about how to move forward on the selected design. First Selectman Dan Rosenthal says the first call with a fundraising firm was promising.  The second firm asked for a potential donor list and he says had an extraordinary fee.  

One of the parents on the Commission who lost a child on 12-14 has questioned what kind of budget would pass at a referendum. Rosenthal told Brian Engel and others on the Commission that the community accepts the idea of a memorial, but because of emotions people will be private on their feelings.  He thinks a lower cost stands a better chance of passing.

Committee member, former First Selectman Pat Llodra suggested rescoping the project as the cost is greater than what can realistically be achieved.  She does not believe a $10 million project would be acceptable to the community.  None of the elements have been subject to professional cost estimates.  Llodra suggested the Public Works Department help with topography to reduce overall infrastructure costs.

One Committee member said they can't let the excellent get in the way of the good and should continue with parts of the design that are affordable. 

When discussing the cost of the pavilion, the question was asked about scaling back its size, as opposed to removing it all together.  Joann Bacon, whose daughter Charlotte was killed on 12-14, was disappointed.  Bacon believes option three won't work because it's missing so much of what the Commission liked. 

If there can't be bridges over the two ponds on site, another feature such as a dock or platform was requested.


Recount held for Newtown Legislative Council seat

There was a recount in Newtown for a Legislative Council race.  There was an apparent tie for the final council seat in District 3, with    Democratic newcomers Carol Walsh and Alison Plante getting the same number of votes.  The recount showed Plante winning the seat by a single vote, 949-948.


Danbury gas station owner arrested for illegally shooting off gun near highway

A Danbury gas station owner has been arrested for accidentally firing a shotgun while familiarizing himself with the recently purchased weapon.  29-year old Jeehad Jamal, owner of the Exxon off North Main Street, was charged Monday with illegal discharge of a firearm, reckless endangerment and breach of peace.  Police say the Mahopac man was behind the gas station, in a wooded area facing the highway where drivers exiting westbound saw the shooting.  No one was injured.  Police collected four live shells and a spent shell casing.  Jamal was released on bond for a court appearance next Thursday.


Sherman man arrested for alleged Halloween assault

A man has been arrested for an assault in Sherman on Halloween.  The Sherman Resident Trooper responded to a Route 55 West home, near the New York border, on a report of an active assault.  28-year old Jacob Harris was charged with disorderly conduct and assault.  He ported bond and was released for a court appearance the following day.  Harris was arraigned and the case was referred to a Family Relations Officer.  His next court appearance is scheduled for December 5th.


New Milford Police investigating hit & run accident

New Milford Police are investigating a hit and run accident.  The crash happened on Railroad Street in front of the former New Milford Train Station around 5 o'clock last night.  The evading vehicle was exiting the public parking lot when it hit the rear bumper of another vehicle waiting in traffic.  The dark colored, possibly blue or black, Volkswagen Beetle or Fiat 500 style vehicle could have minor front end damage.  The driver was described as a white woman with little to no hair.  Anyone with information is asked to contact New Milford Police Officer Petersen at 860-355-3133.


FEMA continues to send macroburst reimbursement to state for pass through to towns

Now that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has passed along some money for debris removal operations in the wake of the severe storms, local towns are waiting for the funding to be passed along from the state.  The Public Assistance Grant reimburses Fairfield and New Haven counties for actions taken in the immediate response and during recovery.  New Fairfield First Selectman Pat Del Monaco noted that the FEMA reimbursement numbers from the May 2018 macroburst have been finalized. The amount to be received for debris removal $1,900,920 and administrative costs of $133,190. The total reimbursement is $2,131,052, which is approximately 85% of the total expenditures from the storm.  New Fairfield's Finance Director noted that this money is expected to be received in 3 or 4 weeks.


DOT continues nightly highway ramp closures in Newtown

The state Department of Transportation is continuing overnight highway ramp closures in Newtown. The Exit 9 on and off ramps had been closed at the beginning of this week. Starting tonight, the Exit 10 ramps will be closed nightly until Monday morning.  This project will bring paved and striped lanes, bridge decks and travel lanes without exposed concrete foundation repairs.  All closures are weather dependent. Detours will be put into place for each ramp closure.  Newtown state Representative Mitch Bolisnky was critical of the DOT for what he said was the unreliability or lack of information about the extent and timing of the repairs.  He says communication issues with the contractor and DOT resulted in dissemination of updates that were, at best, inaccurate and, at worst, denied upon request.


Old Bethel train station canopy fully restored

The old Bethel train station canopy has been fully restored to its 19th century look.  First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker says this section of the old station was still owned by state DOT until recently, and their plan was to tear the canopy down due to its age and poor condition.  He notes that it took 10 years of negotiations with the state for the town to finally get control of the canopy so it could be restored. The project costs are covered by lease receipts, not the town budget.

(Photo: Matt Knickerbocker)


Education task force in Danbury holds another meeting

It was right back to business yesterday for Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton.  A day after winning reelection to start a 10th term, Boughton held a Task Force meeting about education in the City.  An updated demographics study has been ordered following the unexpected enrollment increase at the start of the new year.  Boughton says there are short and long term problems to address, which could be done through a new Charter School, a new pre-k center to free up room in elementary schools, and building new classrooms.  A study found that most of the increase came from multi-family houses, and about half were from other countries.  The number of English language learners increased 11 percent from the previous year, and about half of those students are new to the district.


New Milford Town Council takes control of 25 protected acres by Veteran's Bridge

The New Milford Town Council has unanimously agreed to take control of 25 protected acres by Veteran’s Bridge.  The Northwest Conservation District agreed to buy the land several years ago using money from a GE settlement, which could not be directed to a municipality.  The intention was always to gift it to New Milford.  But some Town Council members are concerned that it will cost too much to maintain the land, which runs from the bridge to Housatonic River Brewing.  The proposed donation was sent to the Planning Commission and must still be put to a Town Meeting for a vote.  If approved, the property will be conserved in perpetuity.  Mayor Pete Bass says the limited mowing could be done by a private company in exchange fro a sponsorship. The Youth Agency could use an employment grant to have program participants clear existing trails.


New Milford officials approve new Public Works Director

There's a new director of public works in New Milford.  Jack Healy, who has served as the acting director, was confirmed to the position at the Town Council's most recent meeting.  Michael Zarba resigned from the post last month in a stunning letter where he said he felt he no longer had control of his department and that decisions about personnel, equipment and design criteria were made without his input. Healy became assistant director in June, from the Town of Berlin, where he was the public works director and town manager.  He was also the public works director in Litchfield.


Ohio man makes brief court appearance in case of murder of Bethel woman

An Ohio man was back in court yesterday on charges stemming from the death of a Bethel woman.  The judge told 27-year-old Brandon Roberts he will have to decide at his next appearance whether to plead guilty or go to trial, with only one plea deal offered.  Details were not disclosed.  The case was continued to January 8th.  Roberts was charged with murder, felony murder, robbery and carrying a pistol without a permit for the December 8th killing of 25-year-old Emily Todd in Bridgeport.  The Danbury senior center therapist was found the next morning.  Her family later told police she met Roberts, who was staying with relatives at a Stratford hotel, on an online dating app.


Officer fired after lying about underage drinking at party

WILTON, Conn. (AP) - A Connecticut police officer has been fired for lying about a party where there was underage drinking.

The Wilton Bulletin reports the Wilton Police Commission voted to terminate Officer Steven Zawacki on Oct. 16 following an internal affairs investigation.

According to the report of the investigation, Zawacki violated the department's standard for dishonesty or untruthfulness.

Zawacki reportedly responded to a noise complaint at a home where an 18-year-old resident was hosting a party for about 100 minors. Zawacki turned his body camera off after the resident admitted there was alcohol at the party.

The report says Zawacki didn't perform any substantive investigation at the residence and did not notify a supervisor about what was taking place.

The investigation also found Zawacki gave misleading information to two shift supervisors who questioned him.


EPA awards grant to Housatonic Valley Association project in Danbury

$30,000 is coming to the Housatonic Valley Association for a watershed restoration project in Danbury.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded the funding as part of $1.5 million in competitive grants. 

The Still River Watershed Connections program engages local youth in the restoration of the Still River in order to build a sense of stewardship, teach valuable career skills, and provide a steady source of volunteers for watershed restoration projects.

This project aims to support a significant expansion of the existing Connections program to reach 250 additional at risk youth many of whom live in neighborhoods close to the River. Project activities include retooling a local high school's existing aquatic science curriculum to integrate the Connections program; conducting student-led restoration projects along the Still River, and developing a paid summer job-training internship program. Interns will be hired to perform work on the four restoration sites, and 10 local high school science teachers will be trained in project-based learning methods and Still River watershed issues and will integrate that training into their courses.

Project partners include the Danbury Public Schools, Danbury Youth Services, and Western Connecticut State University.


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