Questioning the Town Planning Process – Water Bottling Plant in Bloomfield CT

MDC

Some residents from Bloomfield CT and surrounding towns which make up the Metropolitan District Commission are opposing the construction and operation of a new 443,000 square foot Niagara Bottling Plant which will process up to 450,000 gallons of water daily on its first line (and up to 1.8 million gallons per day if it expands to the maximum of 4 lines).  Bloomfield began negotiations with the company in 2013-14, however Niagara instead tried to build the new plant in Ulster, N.Y. but were unable to secure tax breaks and avail community concerns, and eventually returned to Bloomfield to work out a deal in December 2015.

The Problem

  1. Residents have expressed concern over the Niagara bottling plant itself, and also have raised objection to the process by which the Town negotiated the deal and offered tax abatements without public participation.

The Solutions

  1. Bill for Land Use and AbatementsState Senator Beth Bye introduced legislation, S.B. 328, which could enable public notification before the local governing bodies approve a tax abatement, a change which might prove to be an effective method for facilitating communication and transparency in town planning.  In the current draft the towns may, by ordinance, disclose this information, however the bill does not currently require disclosure (and without an enforcement requirement, no change would be likely to occur).  Vote here!
  2. Senator Bye and Rep. David Baram also introduced legislation, S.B. 422, to cancel the water and sewer rate discounts that Niagara (and other water bottling businesses) could receive.  Eliminating the ability for public water utilities to discount water and sewer rates for water bottling users could negatively impact existing and future businesses in the State, and has generated some objection from other lawmakers and business developers.  You can vote on this piece of legislation here!
  3. The Bloomfield Town Council has presented its own plan aligned with the citizens’ demand to improve communication through: an expanded email list of the town council agendas, automated distribution of agendas to all commissions and committees, public hearings and newspaper notices for tax abatement applications, disclosure of the developer on any applications for zoning, wetlands or abatements, and quarterly reports from the MDC.  Let the Town Council know how you feel about this proposal!

Background

Bloomfield Town Manager Philip Schenck cited that the agreement includes 100% tax abatement on the building for the first three years, followed by a decreasing rate (85-85-80-50) over the next four years.  The company will pay about $440,000 in building permits, as well as physical asset taxes and property taxes on the 42-acre lot (valued between $1-2 million).   The discount would save Niagara about $300,000 a year on water costs and about $1.8 million on sewer costs at maximum usage, according to MDC CEO Scott Jellison. The MDC meanwhile would realize about $3.8 million in additional revenue annually.  The plant will cost the company about $73 million to construct.

Photo by Brian Smithson - Creative Commons License
Photo by Brian Smithson – Creative Commons License

The Metropolitan District Commission contends that the plant will not endanger the supply, noting a surplus in capacity.  MDC Board of Commissioners Chair William DiBella noted that they are bound by the legislature to provide the water to law-abiding customers regardless of the intended use, and that higher industrial water use can lower water bills for residential customers (they approximate an average $30 household savings by 2020).  To challenge the construction of the plant, critics note the environmental damage of the plastic bottle industry, and question the value of the approximately 38 jobs which the company has planned to provide.  Several ad-hoc organizations have risen to the occasion to challenge the new plant, including the Bloomfield Citizens group.  State Senator Beth Bye, who represents Bloomfield, Burlington, Farmington and West Hartford, stated plans to introduce legislation to reduce plant operations during water shortfalls, identify the ‘real value’ of being sold to private companies, and prevent private discounts on water improved with public funds.

Though the construction of the plant seems all-but-inevitable at this point, with the negotiations and permitting complete, it is important to question if the benefits of the bottling plant outweigh the cost to the community?

  Benefits:

  • Tax income for the town of Bloomfield
  • Between 38-75 full-time (low-wage?) jobs
  • Lower water bills (approximately $30 per household by 2020, according to the MDC) for residents in the MDC towns of Bloomfield, East Hartford, Hartford, Newington, Rocky Hill, West Hartford, Wethersfield, and Windsor

  Costs:

  • Approx. $4.1 million in tax abatements over 7 years
  • Plastic consumption and related environmental damage
  • No current law or regulation preventing bottling plant operations during a drought or water shortage

Given that the plant’s construction will likely proceed despite some recent public dissent, it is perhaps more critical to focus on the process by which the Town negotiates these types of development deals, and address the public’s opposition to closed-door planning meetings and tax abatement negotiations with private companies.

 

 

Leave a Comment