Point Stratford plans inch forward with $500k grant

January 27, 2016

By John Burgeson

STRATFORD — There’s a glimmer of activity at the sprawling, mostly vacant Point Stratford development site in the town’s South End.

State officials have announced that the developer of what was the Avco-Lycoming plant — it went by several other names over the decades — is in line for a $500,000 grant from the state Bond Commission for “pre-development planning and environmental analysis.”

While the Bond Commission won’t officially approve the grant until it meets on Jan. 29, the placement of the Point Stratford request on the commission’s agenda all but guarantees its approval.

“We worked very well with the governor’s office and the DEEP (the stateDepartment of Energy and Environmental Protection) to make this grant a reality,” said state Rep. Laura Hoydick, who represents Stratford‘s 120th House district. “I know it’s been taking a long time, and it’s frustrating for everybody, but Stratford Point will be a huge economic driver for the region.”

In October 2013, Mayor John Harkins and several other state and local officials jointly announced the deed to the 77-acre site, most recently known as the Army Engine Plant, would be transferred to Point Stratford Renewal, selected in August 2012 as the prime developer.

At that time, the Point Stratford team announced plans to turn the hulking factory complex into a welcoming neighborhood of condominiums, shops, a marina and other attractions.

“It’s the next step,” said senator Sen. Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford. “And we were successful in establishing a special taxing district for Point Stratford, which was another important piece of the puzzle. It’s really a beautiful piece of property — seventy-seven acres on the water — a gorgeous location.”

“Let’s not forget that (the late) Terry Backer really pushed for this,” said Joe Gresko, the Democrat who’s running for Backer’s vacant House set in a Feb. 2 special election. Gresko was Backer’s aide for years. “It’s a vital step to seeing this through.”

Contamination aside, the old Avco plant sits on prime real estate.

At the mouth of the Housatonic River, it offers expansive views of the river and the Sound beyond, the marsh known as the Charles E. Wheeler Wildlife Area and the Connecticut Audubon preserve on the Milford Side of the river.
It has 4,512 feet of shoreline and a 3,115 feet of frontage along Main Street.

But first the plant, an industrial site since Sikorsky built his majestic flying boats there in the 1930s, will have to cleaned up, a daunting task, officials say.

The plant has a legacy of spilled lubricants, hydraulic fluids, paints, metal shavings, fuels, thinners and other toxic waste. It’s estimated the cost of cleaning up the mess will easily run into the millions of dollars, officials said.

“The big holdup, really, is how best to deal with contamination of the mud flats on the Housatonic River side,” said Marc Dillon, executive aide to Mayor Harkins. Dillon said that the parties involved in the projects, including DEEP and the EPA, have agreed to let the Army Corps of Engineer decide what best to do about the mud flat issue.

“It is our hope and belief that the agencies reviewing cleanup plans for the tidal flats adjacent to the the old Army Engine Plant are on the verge of reaching an agreement on the size and scope of the cleanup needed to move this project forward,” Mayor Harkins said.

Point Stratford Redevelopment got the site for free, with the cleanup cost being the de facto price tag. The previous owner was the federal General Services Administration.

The site has three main buildings and more than 45 smaller structures. It’s something of a shrine to aviation historians — somewhere on the site is whereIgor Sikorsky made his first successful helicopter flight. It’s also where the storied WWII Chance Vought Corsair F4U fighter-bomber was manufactured.

As recently as 1985, the plant employed 4,300. There’s still some aircraft work going on there. Two of the buildings are being used by the Connecticut Air & Space Center, a nonprofit group that’s restoring several historic aircraft, a Corsair included.