Planned industrial development step toward ‘port’

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By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer

Naugatuck Mayor N. Warren ‘Pete’ Hess, left, and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn, discuss the ‘Port of Naugatuck’ on June 1 at the proposed site for the project off Elm Street in Naugatuck. –ANDREAS YILMA

NAUGATUCK — The borough is planning an industrial development on vacant land off Elm Street that officials hope will be a step toward creating the “Port of Naugatuck.”

The proposal includes a 322,100-square-foot industrial building, two building pads — one about 162,000 square feet and the other 65,000 square feet — for future industrial buildings, and a container yard on land off Elm Street between the Naugatuck River and Cherry Street Extension.

The land is part of the roughly 86 acres that used to be home to the former Uniroyal Chemical Company. The Lanxess Corporation, which is a successor to Uniroyal, owns the land. The borough has an agreement in place to buy the land from Lanxess for $1.

The borough has an application before the Inland Wetlands Commission for the project to build the industrial building and pads.

The plan calls for filling 2,500 square feet out of the total 3,060 square feet of wetlands in the area to provide more access throughout the site, said Michael Lambert, an engineer with Civil 1, Inc. The Woodbury-based firm is working with borough officials on the project.

Borough Engineer Wayne Zirolli described the wetlands as “poorly drained soil” during the commission’s June 2 meeting

“It’s really low valued wetlands,” Zirolli said.

The plan also includes improvements near two buildings owned by Lanxess on the site and a new private road between the buildings. The 86-acre site used to have over 50 buildings on it when Uniroyal was operating there. Three buildings remain, including one that is used only for storage, according to an engineering report by Civil 1.

Curt Jones, an engineer with Civil 1, said environmental remediation on the site is almost finished. He said Lanxess will remove any contaminated soil from the site that cannot be capped in place.

“This is the final piece of the whole long puzzle,” Jones said.

The Inland Wetlands Commission took no action on the application last week. The members were scheduled to conduct a site walk of the area earlier this week. The commission will continue discussions on the application at its July 14 meeting.

Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said in an interview he hopes this development is the beginning of the Port of Naugatuck.

“We’re building an industrial park and included in the industrial park, our first number one choice is the Port of Naugatuck,” Hess said. “If it isn’t, it will be something else.”

The Port of Naugatuck project is a proposed inland port and intermodal transportation on the 86-acre parcel owned by Lanxess. The hub would be used to transport goods to and from trucks and trains for warehousing and distribution.

“An intermodal facility and an inland port both provide the opportunity for more connections and more opportunities for businesses around the world to reduce their costs and to hopefully find a home in the Valley, so that the Valley can benefit from the income, the jobs and the new investment and new companies,” said Hess, after touring the site June 1 with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

The site sits along a freight rail line that stretches from Connecticut to Canada. The freight line is key to the project, as is building a rail spur at the site.

Hess met with Blumenthal to discuss the project, which officials estimate could cost $75 million to develop. Hess envisions a public-private partnership between the government and corporate stakeholders to fund the project.

Blumenthal said the proposed American Jobs Plan, a major new federal infrastructure program, could include funding for rail improvements.

“The American Rescue Plan lasts for two, three, four years, but the infrastructure investment will be for an even longer time period,” Blumenthal said. “So a grant from that source could be used years down the road because it will take some time to design, plan, do the architectural drawings, and these projects are not immediate shovel-in-the-ground type events.”

Pending changes within the freight transportation industry could also determine how the port project plays out.

CSX Corp., a Florida-based transportation company, signed a definitive agreement to acquire Pan Am Railways, Inc. last fall. CSX is also in talks with Norfolk Southern, a competitor, about buying partial ownership of Pan Am Southern.

Hess was previously in talks with Pan Am officials about the port project.

Hess is also interested in talking with Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific National, two large Canadian rail companies, about being a part of the project. Canadian National Railway is in the process of trying to acquire Kansas City Southern, another rail company.

Hess said officials can’t make a deal until the mergers are finalized.

“We need to make this inland port a priority,” Blumenthal said. “Whether it’s the merger issues, or the funding challenges, it has to be high on the list of priorities because there is such an immense opportunity here for Naugatuck and for the entire state.”