BEACON FALLS — A streetscape project nine years in the making may finally be coming to fruition.
The Joint Board of Finance and Selectmen voted May 17 to fund the $1 million project. Federal grants will pay for 80 percent of the project, leaving the town to foot about $205,000.
The project would create a greenway along the Naugatuck River from the Depot Street Bridge to Route 42 as part of a 2002 plan for downtown development. The walk is part of a long-range plan to build a greenway from Torrington to Shelton. Ansonia and Shelton have pieces of the project done already. According to plans, Depot Street South would become a one-lane street with a grass area, walk path and timbered guardrail.
The joint board voted to only fund the base bid $134,070 for the project, which doesn’t include a lookout over the river. Officials hope to get an extension to find funding for the other part of the project. They currently have until June 1.
Officials plan to fund the town’s share of the project from $103,000 in a refund from CRRA to put toward land acquisition and land improvement and $37,000 in money from a grant for economic development. The money will not affect the proposed budget.
If Beacon Falls doesn’t use the grant money it received, the town would lose it and would be unlikely to receive more in the future, according to First Selectman Susan Cable.
“If we toss this money back, not only will we never get it, but they’ll never look at us in a positive way,” Cable said.
Dayton Construction Company came through with a bid for the project that was under the engineer’s estimate and was approved by the Department of Transportation.
“The project is, frankly, ready to go,” said Peter Burns of Lucks Engineering and Consulting.
Pre-construction meetings are expected to start this summer
The town had until June 1 to make a decision whether to go through with the project.
Beacon Falls has already invested about $40,000 in the project over the years for engineering and planning, Cable said.
Cable said that a lot of money the town has saved up for specific projects, like improvements to Matthies Park or the town library has been used for short-term needs instead over the years, leaving plans without means to back them up.
“We’ve always tried to put monies aside for things and every time we try to put money aside for things, public outcry comes … so we dip into it,” Cable said.
At the meeting, Cable said townspeople are well aware of the project, which the town has discussed for a long time.
“At some point, we have to decide that we really want to move the town forward,” Board of Finance Chair Chris Bielik said.
After the meeting, Selectman Michael Krenesky submitted a letter to Cable stating that townspeople he’d spoken to questioned how the town could spend money on the streetscape during the current economy.
Additionally, Krenesky questioned the value of building only part of the project.
“This is more than just grass, trees, paved walkway and pretty streetlights. The streetscape is a key element of the 2002 EDC Downtown Plan that also includes realigning the road and adding parking. If we do not do it right the first time, we may not ever complete it. … Let’s do this right and for the right reasons,” Krenesky wrote.
During the meeting, Krenesky had commented that even though he supported the project, he thought a lot of its purpose was lost by not completing the whole thing. After hearing comments from Beacon Falls residents, Krenesky changed his position, he wrote in the letter. In the letter, he recommended either funding the entire $205,000 or canceling the project.
While Cable agreed that the town should fund the entire project with the add-on lookout, she said even doing the base bid was a step in the right direction.
“The bottom line is this is going to help economic development. I still maintain that it’s very important and I do not want to give a million dollars back (to the federal government),” Cable said.
Krenesky wrote that the town could come up with the extra $65,000 it needed by using $50,000 from the recent sale of the grange and allocating $15,000 from the consulting/engineering line item in the 2011-12 budget.
Cable said she had intended to make the same recommendation. She thought part of the money from the grange sale should go towards to streetscape and part towards the community media center study for the Wolfe Avenue property.