Looking ahead to 2012 : Beacon Falls

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First Selectman Gerard Smith has a few projects in mind for next year.

“My plans for the new year are not to make a whole lot of changes but to make effective changes,” Smith said.

Streetscape to be finished in spring

A map shows the Beacon Falls Streetscape. -CONTRIBUTED

The streetscape project on South Main Street should be finished next spring. The walkway was supposed to be completed by the end of the year, but unforeseen problems slowed the project.

The walkway still needs to be paved, lights installed, and barriers finished, according to Smith.

The walkway, which will run from the Depot Street Bridge south to the intersection of Route 42 and South Main Street, is part of a bigger greenway along the Naugatuck River which will eventually connect Thomaston to Derby.

Smith said he still has to find funding to do the extras that were not included in the original plan.

Officials hope the attractive walkway will bring more people downtown to enjoy the outdoors and increase traffic to local businesses.

The state Department of Transportation’s original overall budget for the project was about $1.025 million, with the town picking up about $205,000 of that cost.

Once the project is complete, the two southbound lanes on South Main Street will be reduced to one lane and a pedestrian crosswalk will cover the intersection of Route 42 and South Main Street.

What to do with Wolfe Avenue property

Debates over what should be done with the town-owned property on Wolfe Avenue will continue into the new year. The town bought the property three years ago with plans to use it for a new community media center.

However, conflict over whether to raze the existing building or renovate it has become a divisive topic in certain quarters. Historical preservationists say the 19th century home once owned by president of the Beacon Falls Rubber Shoe Co. Tracey Lewis has value for future generations beyond the brick-and-mortar costs. Those in favor of tearing down the house and starting anew point to a 2010 architectural report found that it would cost more to renovate than build a new facility. A new building designed from the ground up would better suit the needs of the community, they said.

Such a center would replace the tiny library on the top floor of Town Hall and add space for local civic organizations to meet and host activities.

A Community Media Center Committee has requested funding for a preliminary design of the center, but lack of funding has stalled the project for now.

In late 2010, the Board of Selectmen voted to raze the building immediately, but neither the money nor the political will to follow through has been forthcoming.

Historical Society members hope the new Board of Selectman will look more kindly on their cause and rescind the demolition order.

Smith said he has no plans for the property at the moment and is still gathering studies to see what would be the best approach.

Toby’s Park in need of maintenance

The mile-long Toby’s Pond and surrounding park along the Naugatuck River needs to be cleaned up.

O&G Industries donated the 45-acre park to Beacon Falls in 2009, but it hasn’t been maintained since.

Smith said he is working with O&G to develop a plan for Toby’s Pond which he hopes to execute in the coming year.

“It’s a valuable asset, but we need to make sure we are going to do something that can actually sustain itself,” Smith said.

Upgrades for sewers, roads

In the past year, the former administration in Beacon Falls twice attempted to pass a bond package for road repairs, and was twice rejected.

Officials blamed the failure of the first referendum on miscommunication about the inclusion of an asphalt recycling system. The second referendum included more roads and no specific equipment, but lost by one vote. Since voters didn’t approve the road package, the roads are continuing to disintegrate with no funding in sight.

Smith said the roads still need to be fixed. He said the town will appoint an engineer to do a study and determine which roads need to be repaired and when.

As part of that study, the engineer will look into an infiltration of rainwater into the wastewater treatment plant. Smith said a lot of water runs into the wastewater treatment plant through cracked and rusted old pipes from the “Hills” section of town.

“We’re paying to treat water that’s just rain water, not sewage water,” Smith said.

He said the problematic areas need to be identified and measures taken to fix them.

In addition, the wastewater treatment plant needs a series of state-mandated upgrades, Smith said.

“We will have a study and a complete plan to come in with a comprehensive road package,” Smith said.

A better emergency response

Smith said he wanted to put together a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) to better respond to emergencies.

When Tropical Storm Irene hit, Smith said Beacon Falls had enough first responders between the fire, police, and public works departments to handle the situation. However, after Snow Storm Albert, there was a much wider problem, Smith said. During that storm, many firefighters and first responders were taking care of their own homes.

A CERT team would support fire and police during a disaster, freeing up other first responders.

“It aids in the response of the work that needs to be done with the fire department and the police department,” Smith said.

Citizens undergo a free, two-day training to learn about basic disaster response such as fire safety, search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations, according to the CERT website.

“Anybody can and is encouraged to volunteer,” Smith said, especially people with special skills, such as nurses, machine operators, contractors, doctors, emergency medical technicians, and paramedics.

Getting the finances in order

Smith said he plans to put some financial controls in town hall next year.

He said he will have all the books channeling through finance department so that checks will be written by one source. Currently, the town clerk can also write checks.

“I just want to streamline town hall,” Smith said.