NAUGATUCK — Nearly a year has passed since Naugatuck Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess took office.
“It’s hard for me to believe I have been the mayor for almost a year,” said Hess as he addressed the audience during the Naugatuck Chamber of Commerce’s annual Mayoral Breakfast Nov. 10 at Jesse Camille’s Restaurant.
The annual breakfast gives the borough’s top political leader an opportunity to reflect on the past and look to the future. For Hess, one issue in particular dominated his first few months in office — the wastewater treatment plant.
When Hess took office the borough and Veolia North America, the private company that runs the plant, were embroiled in a legal dispute over long-standing issues. The borough also faced federally-mandated upgrades to the plant to reduce emissions that were projected at the time to cost as much as $86 million.
The borough and Veolia reached a settlement and are moving forward with the upgrades, which are expected to cost significantly less than originally thought.
“I spent 70 percent of my day for my first six or seven months working on that and we did reach a global resolution,” Hess said.
Hess also touched on some smaller projects, including the dog park, which had a soft opening in October, and the ongoing work to restore the Whittemore Bridge.
The Whittemore Bridge work is one of two bridge projects under way in the borough. The state is currently working on the Route 68 bridge, which connects Bridge Street to Prospect Street.
“I take a lot of flak because of the traffic problem. But if we didn’t do [the Whittemore] Bridge this year we would have lost our federal funding, so we had no choice but to go forward,” Hess said.
Hess said the work on the Whittemore Bridge, which connects the east and west sides of the borough over the Naugatuck River via Maple Street, will go a long way to making the entrance to downtown Naugatuck more inviting.
Hess said there is money available in the project’s budget to buy colored lighting to place under the bridge, which will also serve as a connecting piece for the Naugatuck River Greenway, and light up the Naugatuck River.
The borough is also planning to put lighting along the underpass of Route 8 in the area of the Exit 27 on- and off-ramps, and work with the Arts Council to paint murals along the walls of the underpass, Hess said.
“So the entrance to Naugatuck is going to be sensational,” Hess said. “I think we are going to get more bang for our buck out of that than people realize.”
While Hess has spent much time dealing large issues like the wastewater treatment plant, he said it’s the small things that have resonated with residents.
Following the success of Mayor Pete’s Downtown Festival in September, Hess said the borough is planning more festivals downtown.
“No one comes up to me and says ‘Hey Pete, what a great job on the wastewater treatment plant,’ but everyone comes up to me and says, ‘Hey, that downtown festival was the best thing we ever had, we want more,’” Hess said. “So we are going to be purchasing a portable stage and some sound equipment and we will be having regular festivals.”
While the borough’s focus remains on redeveloping downtown, Hess said North Main Street is emerging with two bakeries recently opening on the street and a southern barbeque restaurant planning to open a storefront there.
“I think developers are catching on that if downtown is going to be great the things that adjoin it are going to be great too,” Hess said.
Hess said he is taking a three-pronged approach to ensuring the borough continues to move forward.
The first is working to grow the grand list and attract new development.
The second is transit-oriented development, which includes working to get frequent train service in Naugatuck. The borough also wants to move the train station from Water Street to the parking lot of the former General DataComm building on Rubber Avenue to be included in the redevelopment of the site.
Thirdly, Hess said, he is working to acquire the 86.5 acre parcel on Elm Street that is currently owned by Chemtura so the town can divide it and sell the parcels to generate tax revenue.
Hess said achieving any of the three goals would be extremely beneficial to the borough, but achieving all three will significantly help Naugatuck.
“We have an opportunity to be the best town in Connecticut. Anyone who knows me knows my goal is to be the best,” Hess said.