NAUGATUCK — Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess stood on the overgrown vacant lot off Elm Street that was once home to Uniroyal factories last Thursday morning and painted a picture of his vision for the Port of Naugatuck project for U.S. Sen. Christopher S. Murphy (D-Conn).
It’s a vision the borough is hoping the federal government can picture as well.
Hess said Naugatuck is in the process of applying for $20 million in federal funds through the BUILD grant program to build a rail spur off the Pan Am Railways line that runs through the site. The spur is a key component for the port project.
“It’s tailor-made for this grant program because it’s got such interstate operability attached to it,” Murphy said about the project.
The Port of Naugatuck is a proposed inland port and intermodal transportation hub on the mostly-vacant 86.5 acre parcel of land that is owned by Lanxess, the successor of Chemtura Corp.
The site sits along the Pan Am Railways line that stretches from southern Connecticut to Canada. Hess envisions a rail-to-truck terminal where goods can pass through customs and be loaded to and from trucks and trains.
The vision stretches beyond Naugatuck. Hess has met with Jon Nass, chief executive officer of the Maine Port Authority, and other Maine officials to discuss the possibility of connecting the Port of Portland, a sea port, with the proposed port in Naugatuck.
“Every connection provides additional opportunities,” Hess said. “Portland, having a sea port and freight trains, gives us even more opportunities.”
Hess is also working with state agencies, Lanxess and Pan Am Railways, and has had discussions with Nestle Waters, the bottled water division of the Nestle Group, and Maine businesses about being a part of the port project.
Murphy said having Maine as a partner in the project is important to securing the federal funds. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is chairman of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Subcommittee on Appropriations, which has sway over the grant funding. Murphy is a member of the subcommittee, too.
“She and I would be a pretty important team to get this across the finish line,” Murphy said. “But it’s a big amount of money, it’s not an easy lift by any means. But this would have significant regional impact.”
Murphy said making the one investment in Naugatuck will impact every New England state as well as New York and New Jersey, including taking thousands of trucks off the road because the goods will be shipped by train. He said it’s rare when a project has such a positive spillover effect and the federal government likes to invest in projects that have a multi-state impact.
“That’s why I think this will be very attractive,” he said.