Smart Investment: Conservation Efforts in the Valley

Remediation, reclamation, and redevelopment could be considered the 3Rs of economic expansion in the Valley

The Environmental Protection Agency classifies brownfields as real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence, or potential presence, of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.
The Lower Naugatuck Valley is largely dependent on reviving these sites for development and future growth. In fact, remediation, reclamation, and redevelopment could be considered the 3Rs of economic expansion when it comes to brownfields.

James Ryan, President of Shelton Economic Development Corporation, says, "If one embraces and understands the State of Connecticut's Smart Growth principles, one will instantly realize there is no downside to brownfields redevelopment, as underperforming assets are restored to productive reuse, and [made] safe for public or business use."

Ansonia Director of Economic Development, Sheila O'Malley, says, "Reclaiming contaminated properties in Ansonia is one of the biggest opportunities for growth. Reuse is critical to the economic prospects of the city."

According to O'Malley, there is little developable space left in Ansonia. "Officials are working to find creative solutions to revive existing parcels of land. The city is assessing, remediating, and demolishing structures that have been contaminated to create a level, clean plot of land ready for development. This effort requires forming partnerships, funding from federal, state, and local agencies and, most importantly, time."

In May of 2016, the Connecticut congressional delegation announced federal funding for brownfield cleanups. The Environmental Protection Agency grants included $400,000 for the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments (NVCOG) to assess properties with suspected contamination.

NVCOG Executive Director Rick Dunne explains, "Our organization receives the funding and decides how to invest it. Municipalities that are part of our 19-town region can request assistance for brownfields cleanup."

Dunne says that companies often times seek new land to develop but it makes more sense to remediate brownfields, and not take more open space to exploit economic development imperatives.

"Since most brownfields needing remediation are located along the river, taxpayers are already invested in the infrastructure of roads and sewers installed when the factories were located on the river," said Dunne.

For years, the Naugatuck River was polluted from waste discharged from nearby factories. "Historically the river was used for fishing and travel; later it served a mercantile purpose, followed by industrial use," says Jack Walsh, Valley United Way President & COO.

"If the Naugatuck River revitalization is not one of the best cleanup stories in the country, I don't know what is," he continues. "Anyone who grew up in the Valley remembers how the river used to be. It marks another change in the history of the river."

The Naugatuck River cleanup has spurred recreational activity, which Walsh calls the river's next phase.

Greenways are another component resulting from the ongoing regional cleanup efforts. Existing greenways, and those that are being planned, are connecting municipalities along the Naugatuck River, preserving watershed areas, and creating recreational space. Looking ahead, long-range plans are in place to connect municipalities along the Naugatuck River by 44 miles of paved pathways, bringing further revitalization to the area.