A matter of when, not if for port project

Mayor N. Warren ‘Pete’ Hess discusses the future of the proposed Port of Naugatuck during the Naugatuck Chamber of Commerce’s annual Breakfast with the Mayor on Nov. 27 at Jesse Camille’s Restaurant. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — The borough is primed to shift gears and move full speed ahead on the port of Naugatuck project.

That was the message Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess had for the borough business community during the Naugatuck Chamber of Commerce’s annual Breakfast with the Mayor event Nov. 27.

“I am hopeful that it will happen soon. My plan is to start the process in 2019. It’s only a couple weeks away, so we will go full speed ahead,” Hess said.

The Port of Naugatuck is a proposed inland port and intermodal transportation hub on the mostly-vacant 86.5 acre parcel of land along Elm Street that is owned by Lanxess, the successor of Chemtura Corp. The port would be used to transport consumer goods for warehousing and distribution. It would also allow international goods to go through customs in the borough.

Lanxess plans to donate 80 acres to the borough to aid development of the project.

The proposed site of the port sits along the Pan Am Railways line that stretches from southern Connecticut to Canada.

Hess said the borough has been in talks with Nestle Waters, the bottled water division of the Nestle Group, about the company building a warehouse at the proposed port.

Hess said Nestle Waters, which has four plants in Maine, ships its products south by truck. The port would allow the company to ship by train and store goods in Naugatuck, close to large markets like New York City, Hess said.

“That is a great solution for them. They are one customer with an extreme interest in coming here. They will be our anchor tenant,” Hess said.

Nestle Waters did not return a message left seeking comment.

Hess said the borough is also in talks with two other large companies, including one based in China, and a number of smaller companies in regards to housing and moving goods through the port.

Aside from lining up potential companies for the port, Hess said the borough has also been working with Connecticut agencies, such as the Department of Economic and Community Development, and agencies from other states, including the Maine Department of Transportation.

“There are a myriad of opportunities and forces that are driving this project, which makes it clear to me that it is going to happen. It is just a question of when,” Hess said.

Hess said the port’s future relies on financial help from the state. The borough is looking for the state to put about $43 million into the project, he said.

In an interview after the breakfast, Hess said the majority of the money would pay for environmental remediation to fill and cap the property to the east of the train tracks at the site of the port. Money is also needed to build a railroad spur to allow trains to pull off and unload their cargo, he said.

Hess didn’t mince words when speaking at the breakfast about the potential positive impact the port could have on the state.

“I think it is the most important and best economic opportunity for the state from an economic development standpoint,” Hess said. “So it becomes my job and everyone here’s job, when we talk to our state officials and governor, to let them know the Naugatuck Valley can fix Connecticut.”

Once the port is operational, Hess said, there is nothing stopping it from expanding. He said the Pan Am railway could be connected to the railways in Montreal, allowing goods to be shipped to Naugatuck from as far away as San Francisco, Calif.

Hess also touched on a number of other projects the borough is working on during the breakfast, an annual event hosted by the chamber to give the business community an opportunity to hear about what’s happening in Naugatuck.

Hess said the borough is creating a solar farm at the former Laurel Park landfill, which is a superfund site, and a merchant fuel cell project, which will allow the borough to sell electricity to companies.

The borough is also working to create a micro grid to power Naugatuck High School, Western School, the borough-owned former armory building and possibly additional businesses along Rubber Avenue.

“What we are doing is we are going to create a safety zone so that, in the worst-case scenario, we will have a place in Naugatuck for shelter, food, gas, whatever it takes to survive,” Hess said.