Wiltonians can expect to see trench work on the Yankee Gas lines this summer, a special town meeting in March, convening of a security task force and perhaps a new position in the town’s employment roster.
First Selectman Bill Brennan gave an informal “state of the town” update to the League of Women Voters at their meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 13, in the town hall annex.
The Yankee Gas project has been far and away the most time-consuming issue for Mr. Brennan over the last two years.
“This has been a major strategic initiative to get natural gas to the town,” Mr. Brennan said.
When CL&P announced it had acquired Yankee Gas, Mr. Brennan said the town followed through immediately.
“We pursued them and got them to come in and talk with us,” he said. “You’re in competition with other towns. They (Yankee Gas) have to pick their locations for expansion. What interested them was we got a grant to put curbing in … an advantage is we said we will pay for repaving the road when it is all done. That got their interest.”
The easement issues that have delayed the project to this point have been worked out, Mr. Brennan said, according to an email he received on Tuesday.
“They’ve done their surveys and an infinite amount of work … at this point they are hooked,” he said of Yankee Gas. “We are in a reasonably good negotiating position but they are a big utility and the toughest I have had to deal with in my 38 years in business.”
The project will bring natural gas lines to the schools and perhaps at some point, to private homes as well.
The capital projects voted on last spring are all moving along, but Mr. Brennan took a moment to talk about Comstock Community Center.
Although there is no money in the budget for renovations, he is hoping to move forward on some that would improve the building for the wide usage it receives.
“We are trying to come up with the right balance of projects to improve Comstock without triggering a lot of code requirements that will balloon the project to the point we can’t get funds approved,” he said. He is thinking of upgrading windows and bathrooms as well as replacing the oil burner.
Energy management is another of the first selectman’s priorities, but it is difficult to make progress, he said, because “we don’t have a lot of staff to manage a lot of these projects.” As a result, much of the burden of the town’s energy programs falls to the energy commission.
“So far, we’ve been fortunate to have Bruce Hampson and others to do this work,” he said.
At one point the Board of Finance did a study and recommended the town hire a facilities manager. Now, Mr. Brennan is proposing to hire a facilities and energy director to handle management of capital projects. The position of town custodial manager was eliminated during a “tough budget year,” he said.
“Our energy budget is $2.4 million a year. The position is well-justified.”
A special town meeting will be held March 12 to enable citizens to vote on the proposed fiber network that would carry data on fiber optic wires between town buildings, schools and the library. The lines would be buried in the Yankee Gas trenches. The project has been the subject of controversy since it was proposed in the last budget cycle.
“Any time you want to make some change it requires some vision,” he said. “People in elected positions have to show leadership to move things along or you will be drowned out by the naysayers.
“Anybody at the Clune Center for the Dave Brubeck soirée will see what an asset we have and I can remember the battle over that,” Mr. Brennan said.
“Unless you invest in your town you are going to go backwards.”
Mr. Brennan said the matter has been the subject of considerable public discussion and although he is “surprised at the continued chatter,” he is determined to move forward. It has been approved by major town boards and a decision is needed before the Yankee Gas trenches are open.
Finally, work on assembling a security task force is also moving forward. Wilton Police Chief Michael Lombardo, Second Selectman Hal Clark and Schools Superintendent Gary Richards are on board. They will be joined by four or five citizens.
“We are very anxious to have a good security task force as an ongoing element of the town,” he said. “We have to be constantly vigilant in a changing world. Our school security has been continually upgraded over the years. The same with town hall.”