Local Headlines Archives for 2015-02

Many line up in opposition to tolls, 1 local official favors them

There were hours of testimony given during a legislative hearing held this week on a proposed bill that would create tolls at the state's borders.  Hundreds of people also submitted written testimony.  Danbury Senator Mike McLachlan says there is one big outstanding question in the proposal.  The bill doesn't say how much it would be.  Danbury Senator Mike McLachlan says it would have to be $3 minimum, but even that is unrealistic.

 

Not all of the testimony was in opposition ot the proposal.  Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi's testimony is titled How barrier-free tolls can save Connecticut.  He supports tolling for three reasons, two of which he says will attract new businesses to Connecticut. 

 

He says tolls would reduce congestion on the highways.  By charging higher tolls during peak hours, commuters will move to alternative schedules, and public transportation.  Marconi says tolls would be a good way to fund transportation projects.  He says revenue from tolls will allow the state to add capacity, most importantly on the rails.  His explanation is that improved commuter train service will foster business growth along transportation corridors and protect rural areas from sprawl. 

 

Marconi also said tolls in Connecticut is about fairness. While no one likes to pay a toll, he says drivers do so in the neighboring states of Massachusetts and New York.

 

In his testimony, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton said tolls should not be used "as a thoughtless stopgap measure simply to try to fill a budget hole".  Boughton said installation of a toll system is very permanent and a perennially costly undertaking that remains in place, potentially forever.

 

Among those submitting testimony is opposition are Danbury Registrar of Voters Mary Ann Doran, Danbury State Representative David Arconti, Probate court Judge Dianne Yamin, Danbury City Councilman Tom Saadi, former Bethel Board of Education chairman Larry Craybas and Ridgefield businessman Bill Starbuck.

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UConn Foundation says open records would hurt fundraising

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) The University of Connecticut Foundation has told state lawmakers any law forcing records to be opened to the public would make it harder to raise money.

Representatives of the fundraising organization of the state's flagship university said at a legislative meeting Thursday that negative consequences of requiring open records would apply even if donors' names are excluded.

Josh Newton, president and chief executive of the foundation, said if its records become public, donors may fear the state will rely on foundation money to replace state funding.

Kent state Representative Roberta Willis said the foundation is the same as a public agency and should be subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

The foundation drew criticism for certain spending such as $250,000 to Hillary Clinton for a lecture and $300,000 toward UConn President Susan Herbst's compensation.

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Danbury continues search for Veteran Affairs Director

Danbury is still searching for a new Director of Veteran Affairs.  Longtime Director Patrick Walrdon passed away in October at the age of 81.  Since that time, Mayor Mark Boughton's Chief of Staff has been filling the role.

 

Boughton says Waldron did such a great job and had so many procedures that he just knew about, it's going to be a big learning curve for the next person coming in. 

 

The City will work closely with the state and federal VA departments to provide a seamless approach to services offered to veterans.  He wants to work with the next Director to streamline the services provided and make delivery of those services more efficient.

 

Boughton says the City suffered a major loss with the passing of the 37-year Director.  He said Waldron fought relentlessly to help veterans, serving generations of veterans.  Waldron help generations of veterans, their widows and dependents.

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Border communities balk at Connecticut tolls proposal

State lawmakers to business representatives appeared Wednesday before the legislature's Transportation Committee to oppose bills resurrecting tolls.  Among them was Danbury Senator Mike McLachlan who talked about shifting the burden of road repairs from over usage--to the municipalities.  He says it's similar to truckers, who go as far north as Route 55 in Sherman, to avoid the weigh station.

 

Greater Danbury Chamber of Commerce president Steve Bull says Interstate 684's hairpin turn to I-84 is one of the most dangerous areas and would have to be fixed.  Bull says it's not surprising that people try to go through Ridgefield or other areas to avoid highway congestion, and more would do so in an effort to avoid a toll.

 

Bull says tolls along the state's borders would discourage out-of-state shoppers from coming to Connecticut. He said Danbury stores generate more than $5 billion in retail sales annually. The region reports $8 billion.  He says it's not just the mall that draws shoppers, it's the people coming to the big box stores like Walmart and Target or the wholesale stores like Costco and BJs, which aren't located in nearby Putnam County.

 

Bull says the bill an unsound effort to make someone else pay, in this case out of state travellers.  He says it unfairly catches Greater Danbury residents and businesses who must use the road on a daily basis.

 

Some lawmakers called border tolls an unfair burden on local taxpayers. One bill would provide them an income tax credit.

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Area legsialtor questions drone use bill for law enforcement

A legislative committee is considering a bill on the use of drones by law enforcement.  A public hearing Wednesday drew mixed reviews.  Committee member New Fairfield State Representative Richard Smith says he understands that reasonable suspicion has been clearly defined by the courts, but is concerned that it's not defined in the bill.

 

He says sometimes reasonable suspicion comes after the fact, from information gained during an investigation.  Smith says he's concerned with these devices being used for the wrong purposes and eroding privacy rights.

 

Smith says today's technology makes you ask "how far do we go?" because the privacy laws developed in the 60s, 70s, and 80s are outdated.

 

The Connecticut Police Chiefs Association expressed concerns with only be allowed to operate the unmanned aerial vehicle for a total of 24 hours within a 30 day period under reasonable suspicion.  They requested 30 hours in 30 days.  The group also opposed destroying the information within a 48 hour period.  They instead want the 48 hours to start after 30 days is up so the material could be reviewed.

 

The American Civil Liberties Union called on the committee to amend the bill to require police to obtain a search warrant before using a drone for surveillance purposes, except in emergency situations.

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Classroom Excellence Grants awarded to 7 Dabnury programs

A new round of grants has been awarded by Danbury Education Foundation.  The Classroom Excellence Grants were presented to seven Danbury public school programs and projects during the Board of Education meeting Wednesday night. 

 

Grants were awarded to applicants who requested funding for projects that are unable to be funded in the regular education budget.  At the beginning of the 2014 – 2015 school year all teachers were provided the opportunity to apply for funding.

 

Five grants of $1,500 each were awarded.  They included a Backyard Biodiversity Program at Rogers Park Middle School, a Strengthening our Students Math Base program at King Street Campus and From Egg to Chick program at Shelter Rock School.  An up to $5,000 grant was awarded for an Accessible Theater program at Park Avenue School. 

 

A supplemental grant went to the DHS Hockey Booster & Blueliner Clubs at Danbury High School. 

 

Mayor Mark Boughton says the number and variety of applications received shows that Danbury teachers are enthusiastic about diversifying the programs their students participate in.

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Ridgefield pursues museum honoring Maurice Sendak

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Three years after Maurice Sendak's death, his western Connecticut hometown of Ridgefield is pursuing a museum honoring the author of "Where the Wild Things Are."

 

The town has its sights on a vacant modernist building in walking distance from the village center, a glass structure designed by acclaimed architect Philip Johnson as corporate offices for an oil exploration company that left in 2006.

 

A panel of local arts figures recently received endorsement from the town and Sendak's foundation to explore the proposal. Members say they have found overwhelming support for the idea to honor a man whose influence went far beyond that of a children's book author.

 

"The fact is, he loved the community, and the legacy of supporting all the arts was and is important to him and all those around him," said Lloyd Taft, a local architect.

 

The 45-acre campus of the energy services company Schlumberger, including the proposed museum site, was acquired by Ridgefield in 2012 for $7 million. On Tuesday, town voters approved the sale of 10 of the acres for residential construction, returning $4.3 million to the town. The first selectman, Rudy Marconi, said the sale could help the museum proposal by giving planners flexibility on decisions regarding the rest of the property.

 

Sendak, who died in May 2012 at the age of 83, was born in New York City but spent the last four decades of his life in rural Ridgefield. Best known for the tale of naughty Max in "Wild Things," his work included other standard volumes in children's bedrooms such as "Chicken Soup With Rice," a book about the different months in a year, and "Brundibar," a folk tale about two children who need to earn enough money to buy milk for their sick mother. He also illustrated his own work, created costumes for ballets and staged operas, including the Czech opera "Brundibar."

 

His 18th-century farmhouse is being preserved as Sendak left it.

 

"That is going to stay just the way it is and be a study center and a place for scholars, artists and others to see how Sendak worked during his lifetime," said Donald Hamburg, a New York attorney who is a member of the Maurice Sendak Foundation's board.

 

Some of Sendak's works were housed at the Rosenbach museum and library in Philadelphia. The artwork has been reclaimed based on instructions in Sendak's will, but the request has become tangled in litigation that Hamburg declined to discuss.

 

Given the location of Sendak's home in a wooded area, the foundation has sought a more accessible place for the public display of his artwork, manuscripts and other ephemera.

 

Marconi said the town knew all along it wanted to preserve the Philip Johnson building and an adjoining auditorium, and after Sendak's death, many in the affluent town of 25,000 people on the New York line had the same idea to use it as a Sendak museum. The building has skylights over main circulation areas and despite a few roof leaks is considered to be in decent shape despite being vacant for so long.

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Lawmakers testify on behalf of Heritage Village residents

Representative Arthur O’Neill and Senator Rob Kane have testified in favor of legislation aimed at providing relief to the residents of Heritage Village in Southbury.  The proposal would amend state law to establish a partial property tax exemption for the installation or improvement of public service company infrastructure.

 

Heritage Village residents face a rate increase of 73-percent. 

 

They say many residents are on fixed incomes and the increase would result in annual payment increases of nearly $300 for each resident. O'Neill says the goal of the legislation is to encourage public service company infrastructure upgrades while reducing the costs passed on to ratepayers. 

 

The bill awaits a vote by the committee.

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UPDATED: Steve Harding wins Special Election in 107th District

Unofficial returns show Republican Steve Harding as the next state Representative in the 107th District of Brookfield, Bethel and Danbury.  Harding, a 27-year old, is an attorney at Dean L. Lewis Law Offices in Danbury.  He is currently serving his first term as a member of the Brookfield Board of Education. 

 

Steve Harding received 1,320 votes in Brookfield, Howard Lasser garnered 1,174. 

 

There were two polling districts in Bethel for eligtible voters.  Comined, Harding received 244 votes.  Lasser received 164 votes. 

 

Harding garnered 36 votes in Danbury, Lasser received 12.  There were 655 eligible voters in Danbury.

 

 

Harding says while he backs improvements to the rails, there are more pressing needs in the districts.  He says it's important to note that Connecticut has no representation with the MTA board.  He urged caution with over bonding.

 

When it comes to fostering small business in the district, Harding says businesses should work with universities and vocational schools on better internship programs that could lead to job opportunities.  He wants to reduce regulations on small businesses.  He also backs elimination of the corporate entity tax.

 

Harding called the Education Cost Sharing formula patently unfair.  He says the gap needs to be funded, maybe through an incentive-based funding.

 

When it comes to the proposed tax on sugary drinks, Harding says it doesn’t fit in the big picture.  He says while Governor Malloy is proposing to keep liquor stores open longer with lower prices, this kind of tax doesn’t make sense.  Harding was asked if Connecticut needs to revise its gun laws.  He says right now the focus should not be on gun regulation, as opposed to mental health.  He says that’s the real serious issue facing the state at this time.

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Hearing today on bill that would implement border tolls

The Legislature's Transportation Committee is holding a public hearing this morning on a bill that would bring back tolls to the state, but only at the borders.  Nearly 300 people already sent in remarks to the committee via email.  Wilton State Senator Toni Boucher says the revenue generated by tolls does not outweigh the spending implementation and other related costs.

 

She says the Committee Chairman, who has been pushing this issue for some time, was asked about putting a toll in his District of Rocky Hill.  Antonio Guerrera backed away from that immediately.  Boucher says that seems to be a double standard, and at the end of the day hopes that her colleagues understand that tolls would be political suicide. 

 

Boucher says even the new electronic and high speed tolls can create safety problems.  A family member of those killed in the horrible fiery crash that prompted the removal of tolls from Connecticut roadways, will once again be testifying against the bill.

 

Boucher was travelling recently, and happened to be on city roads around where tolls were on the highway.  She witnessed first hand the massive tie ups that diversionary traffic would cause on local roads.

 

People who can't make it to today's public hearing can submit testimony via email.  The address is TRAtestimony@cga.ct.gov.

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Update on flood damage at CH Booth Library

Officials at CH Booth Library in Newtown say it could be weeks not months that the Children's Department is closed for renovations following a burst pipe that flooded part of the department.  The Newtown Bee reports that new carpet and ceiling tiles have been ordered and the books that were not damaged are being stored elsewhere while the repairs are made. 

 

About 10,000 books were destroyed when the sprinkler pipe burst last Tuesday.  The damage was in the children's non-fiction, biography and p-through-z sections. 

 

The last time there was a pipe burst, January of 2014, the Library was closed for nearly three months.

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Ridgefield residents approve Schlumberger land sale

Ridgefield residents have approved the sale of 10 acres of the town-owned former Schlumberger site off Sunset Lane for $4.3 million.  The sale was approved with 1,114 Yes votes, with 450 residents voting in opposition.

 

Charter Group Partners LLC has proposed building up to 54 condo units. The so-called coach houses would cost around $450,000. Charter Group constructed the 120-unit Newbury Village in Brookfield and plans to create a similar development in Ridgefield. 

 

Ridgefield purchased the 45 acre property in 2012 for $7 million.

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Malloy speaks with Biden about tribal issues

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is continuing to voice concerns about proposed changes to rules granting federal recognition to American Indian tribes.

Malloy told The Associated Press Monday he met privately with Vice President Joe Biden about the issue for about 45 minutes during his four-day visit to Washington, D.C.

Malloy and other state officials are worried about making it easier for groups petitioning for federal recognition to gain acknowledgement.  Malloy said he wanted to ensure Biden "understood that our state is a state that could be adversely impacted.''  Some of the concerns are about the Kent-based faction of the Schaghticoke Indian Tribe.

 

The existing federal regulations overseeing the federal recognition of tribes were originally adopted in 1978. They've been updated once in 20 years.

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Feds: Damage from NY train-car collision cost railroad $3.7M

NEW YORK (AP) Federal investigators say the fiery collision between a commuter train and an SUV that killed six people in the New York City suburbs cost the railroad about $3.7 million.

The National Transportation Safety Board's preliminary report into the accident was released Monday. It says about 480 feet of third rail was damaged in the crash, as well as the lead railcar.

The Metro-North train crashed into a Mercedes SUV on Feb. 3 at a grade crossing in Valhalla. The impact sparked an explosion and fire that burned out the first car of the train and sent pieces of third rail through the passenger area. The SUV driver and five men on the train, including one from Danbury, died.

Such preliminary reports from the NTSB rarely include major disclosures or conclusions. Those could be several months away.

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Special Election today in 107th state House District

Polls are open in Brookfield and parts of Bethel and Danbury to elect a new state Representative in the 107th House District to replace David Scribner.  The Democratic candidate is Howard Lasser.  The Republican is Steven Harding.

 

Lasser backs the widening of Interstate 84 in the region, expanding rail service up to New Milford and electrifying the existing line all the way down to Norwalk.  Lasser says analysis needs to be done to show the economic impact of these projects will be worth the investment.

 

Harding says while he backs improvements to the rails, there are more pressing needs in the districts.  He says it's important to note that Connecticut has no representation with the MTA board.  He urged caution with over bonding.

 

When it comes to fostering small business in the district, Harding says businesses should work with universities and vocational schools on better internship programs that could lead to job opportunities.  He wants to reduce regulations on small businesses.  He also backs elimination of the corporate entity tax.

 

Lasser says the biggest impediment to a small business in the state is the personal property tax.  Before someone even starts a business, there is a tax on the equipment.  He wants to eliminate or abate them for the first few years that a small business is open.  He says the state is essentially taxing the means of production rather than the results of production.

 

As for the state's new law raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2017, Lasser says the conversation should be about a living wage.  He says income hasn't kept up with the level of growth in corporate profits. 

 

Harding says the mandate could drive small businesses out of the state or could cause layoffs.  He called it a noble idea, but not a real job growth initiative.

 

The idea of legalizing marijuana for recreational use was discussed. Harding says he's probably the only 27 year old who doesn't support the idea.  He questions whether it's a gateway drug.  Lasser doesn't support the idea.  He wants to see how the three states where it is legal resolves the issues surrounding the legalization. 

 

Harding called the Education Cost Sharing formula patently unfair.  He says the gap needs to be funded, maybe through an incentive-based funding.  Lasser says ECS has never really been fully funded.  He says it was created to equalize spending in all municipalities.  He says high property values around the lakes could be throwing off the average.

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Former State Department diplomat to give talk at WCSU

Careers in Diplomacy and working at the Department of State is being discussed today at Western Connecticut State University.  The presenter is an adjunct professor who spent nearly 30 years serving in often volatile areas of the Middle East.  William Stewart retired from the U-S Department of State in 2013 as a career member of the Senior Foreign Service.  He started his career, and ended it, with a post in Sweden before moving to Redding.

 

Stewart will talk about internships and job opportunities at the State Department.  He is now teaching an undergraduate course at Western on world governments, economies and cultures.  Stewart hopes those students interested in political science or those who want to be engaged citizens will attend.  

 

The discussion will be held in Warner Hall Lyceum 102 on the university’s Midtown campus, 181 White St. in Danbury at noon on Wednesday.  It is free and open to the public.

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Monroe company receives forgiveable loan from state

A Monroe company is being helped by the state to grow their business.  State Representative JP Sredzinski says the state Bond Commission recently approved a loan to Northeast Laser Engraving, Inc. to help them purchase new machinery and expand their Monroe facility.  The loan is for $700,000.  Northeast Laser Engraving Inc. will pay back the loan at an interest rate of 2-percent for ten years.

 

The company will retain 85 jobs and create 20 new jobs within two years.  Northeast Laser Engraving will be eligible for $200,000 in loan forgiveness if it meets the job retention and creation goals.  Right now they have 110 people working for them in 3 shifts.

 

The company's president told Sredzinski during a recent tour of the facility that the state has is a good talent pool coming out of the tech-schools and is working with Fairfield University and Housatonic Community College to bring in talented engineers.

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Special election tomorrow in Brookfield, Bethel, Danbury for state Representative

A special legislative election is being held tomorrow in the 107th House district of Brookfield and parts of Danbury and Bethel to fill the vacancy left when David Scribner took a job elsewhere in state Government.  State law prohibits a lawmaker from holding a job in the Executive or Judicial branch, so the Republican resigned before being sworn in.  That allowed him to accept the new job.  

 

Secretary of the State spokesman Av Harris says if it snows, balloting will still take place.

 

Polls will be open tomorrow from 6am to 8pm for residents to decide between Republican Steve Harding and Democrat Howard Lasser.

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Ridgefielders to vote Tuesday on Sunset Lane sale

A referendum is being held in Ridgefield tomorrow for residents to decide on a land sale.  The proposal is to sell 10 acres of the former Schlumberger site off Sunset Lane for $4.3 million. 

 

Charter Group Partners LLC has proposed building up to 54 condo units. The so-called coach houses would cost around $450,000. Charter Group constructed the 120-unit Newbury Village in Brookfield and plans to create a similar development in Ridgefield. 

 

The second part of the ballot question says that this sale is to offset the cost of purchase.  That refers to Ridgefield's 2012, $7 million purchase of the 45 acre property.  Polls are open tomorrow from 6am to 8pm.

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Company with 'Made in America' toys shows off product to Congresswoman

What started out on the crowd-funding website Kickstarter, is now a reality in Danbury for two fathers and two sons.  Luke's Toy Factory on East Liberty Street manufactures wooden toys. 

 

On Friday 5th District Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty toured the facility to see their computer design and their models created by 3D printers.  The owners say they opened their store following a number of recalls from major toy manufacturers.  Esty touted the eco-safe plastics.  Luke’s Toy Factory designs and sells wooden toys with all materials and tools made in America.

 

The owners talked with Esty about a Small Business Administration loan they are applying for, and their interactions with the U.S. Patents office.

 

Esty also visited with a research clinic of Western Connecticut Health Network on Friday to learn more about their efforts to combat Lyme Disease and cancer.

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More details about plans to raze Newtown house

The company that has offered to raze the Newtown home of the man who carried out the shootings at Sandy Hook School is the same company that demolished the Petit house in Cheshire after that tragedy. 

 

First Selectman Pat Llodra said at a Legislative Council meeting this week that Manafort Brothers will meet with town officials to discuss details and timing for the work.   The company has offered to demolish the Yogananda Street house at no cost to the town.  Manafort's offer would save about $30,000 that Newtown planned to spend, using money from an insurance fund set aside for costs associated with the shootings.

 

In response to concerns about people taking items or debris for personal use, Llodra says a similar process will likely be put in place as to when the school was demolished.  Every contractor and vendor had to sign a separate non-disclosure contract.  There was strict oversight of the process in 2013, where the school pieces were either crushed on site or were closely tracked to another location where they were destroyed.  

 

The property, which is surrounded by a wooded area, will be allowed to return to its natural state. 

 

Some of the work is weather dependent.  Llodra says there is also some on-site preparation that has to be done, but she is confident that the project will be completed flawlessly.

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Most of CH Booth library reopens in Newtown following burst pipe

CH Booth Library in Newtown reopened Thursday, following a burst pipe that flooded the Children's Department on Tuesday.  The Children's Department remains closed while the remediation work is done.  The carpeting needs to be replaced and the ceiling repaired.  This is the second time in 13 months that a pipe burst.  But unlike last January, the library was open at the time.  In 2014, the Library was closed for about three months.

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Towns could soon have to pay full cost for Resident State Troopers

The state Legislature has been tasked with coming up with funding sources for transportation infrastructure improvements proposed by Governor Malloy.  Deputy House Speaker Bob Godfrey of Danbury says he wants to find a way to ease the burden on municipalities and taxpayers across the board.

 

Governor Malloy's budget proposals increases overall spending by 3.3 percent in the first year and 3.1 percent in the second year.  It also delays a planned increase in the personal income tax exemption for single filers.  The proposal also delays an increase in Earned Income Tax Credit program. 

 

Funding for 25 new clients annually is included in Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services young adult services program.

 

One proposal made by Governor Malloy this week in his budget calls for municipalities to bear the full cost of the resident state trooper program.  Currently, the state pays about 30-percent of the costs.  New Fairfield is among the towns with a Resident State Trooper.  Kent, Sherman, Southbury and Washington also have Resident State Troopers. Roxbury and Bridgewater have a shared Trooper.

 

Governor Malloy's budget proposals eliminates the $250 biennial business entity tax, limits the use of tax credits by hospitals and corporations and reduces  the monthly personal needs allowance for nursing home residents from $60 to 50. 

 

Governor Malloy's budget proposals would close the Department of Social Services office in Torrington as part of consolidation effort, moves adults on HUSKY A health insurance program with income at 138 percent above federal poverty level to state's health insurance exchange and provides funding to add about 1,800 more seats in magnet schools and 1,250 seats in charter schools.

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Danbury Senator Mike Mclachlan Wants Residents To Help Him Say No To Tolls

Danbury State Senator Mike Mclachlan wants residents  to help him say no to tolls.

State legislators will hold a Public Hearing on a proposal to put up tolls on Connecticut's borders this Wednesday, Feb. 25th .

Danbury State Senator Mike Mclachlan says border tolls would discriminate against Connecticut residents who live near a state line, including thousands of Greater Danbury residents.

Senator Mclachlin says  In addition, tolls are taxes, and we are overtaxed already.
The Senator says residents can help  say "No" to Border Tolls.

He advises resident to send an email in opposition to this proposal as soon as you can to the legislature's Transportation Committee at TRAtestimony@cga.ct.gov . 

The Senator  says to include your name and town.
and  Copy or CC him on the email at Michael.McLachlan@cga.ct.gov .

Senator Mclachlan says Wednesday's hearing begins at 10:30 a.m. at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford and should last all day.

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Newtown moves forward on new Community Center project

The Newtown Board of Selectmen will vote next month on a date for a referendum for the Newtown Community Center project.  The Legislative Council voted Wednesday night to authorize sending the $9.5 million request for design and construction costs back to the Board. 

 

The proposed facility has a senior center and an aquatics center.  The funding comes from a $15 million grant donated by General Election last year.  The grant is to be used for the development, construction and operation of a new community center. 

 

The aquatics center would have a multi-lane pool with a diving component .  The other pool would be for lessons, therapy and a play area for kids.  The pools would be different temperatures.  Men's and women's locker rooms and separate family facilities would be built into the center.  A room for team meetings and events, a cafe, vending machines and lobby are also in the plans.

 

First Selectman Pat Llodra said at the meeting that projected revenue would go up even though there is no plan to increase the fee to belong to the senior center, based on new programming and more members.

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107th state House District candidates face off in debate

The two men seeking to be the next state Representative in the 107th District of Brookfield, Bethel and Danbury have participated in a debate just days before the election.  At Whisconier Middle School last night, Democrat Howard Lasser and Republican Steve Harding addressed topics including transportation improvements, how to grow business in the district and reforms to the Education Cost Sharing formula.  Both agreed that recreational marijuana should not be legalized, that improvements are needed to local transportation infrastructure and that bonding should not be used to pay for operational expenses. 

 

 

 

Lasser weighed in on the Governor’s proposal to lower the sales tax while eliminating the tax exemption on clothing items under $50.  He suggested starting to lower the sales tax, while keeping the exemptions in place.  Then in two or three years, the exemption could be eliminated.  Harding says the math on the Governor’s plan doesn’t add up.  He calls it a $69 million tax increase.  He is in favor of reducing taxes across the board, but the Governor’s plan is not as good as he is portraying it to be.

 

When it comes to the proposed tax on sugary drinks, Harding says it doesn’t fit in the big picture.  He says while Governor Malloy is proposing to keep liquor stores open longer with lower prices, this kind of tax doesn’t make sense.  Lasser says he’s not sure what to make of the proposal, whether it’s a “sin tax” to encourage different behavior or if it’s just a revenue enhancement kind of thing.

 

There were some differences between the candidates.  Harding was asked if Connecticut needs to revise its gun laws.  He says right now the focus should not be on gun regulation, as opposed to mental health.  He says that’s the real serious issue facing the state at this time.  Lasser says focusing only on one solution is not going to fix the problem.  He says something must be done about the culture of gun violence in this country.  More must be done to improve mental health access and to reduce the stigma of treatment.  But he says that doesn’t relieve the obligation to do more on gun safety.

 

The pair also talked about common core education standards, affordable housing and increases in the minimum wage. 

 

Harding, a 27-year old, is an attorney at Dean L. Lewis Law Offices in Danbury.  He is currently servinc his first term as a member of the Brookfield Board of Education.  Lasser, a 59-year old retired chief financial officers, lost the 2013 First Selectman election to Bill Tinsley by fewer than 100 votes. He is former Board of Finacne and Selectmen member.

 

The special election is on Tuesday.

 

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State, municipalities consider using police body cameras

The legislature's Public Safety Committee has heard testimony on a bill which calls for a one year pilot program on the use of police body cameras.  Attorney David McGuire of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut says they support the use.

 

The use of body cameras by Ridgefield Police will be discussed by a committee of the Department.  The committee formation was prompted by recent incidents across the country involving use of force by police.  The discussion would include cost, how long to store footage and when the cameras would be used.

 

Danbury Police traffic units use body-style cameras that are attached over the ear at eye level to see exactly what the officer is looking at.  Patrol officers have cameras mounted in the cars that are forward facing. The officers have microphones that are attached to their shirts.

 

Wilton Police recently received a donation to purchase five body cameras for patrol officers.  The Department currently has in-car video capability.

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Area lawmakers weigh in on Governor's proposals

There's mixed reaction to Governor Dannel Malloy's budget and transportation proposals. 

 

Democratic Deputy House Speaker Bob Godfrey of Danbury says they have a lot of work to do to figure out how to pay for the proposed road and rail upgrades.  He says the vision is a good one, and there's a lot of catching up to do.  Godfrey says he wants to look at the social services cuts that are being proposed.  Godfrey says one-third of his district has someone 60 or older living in each household. He's skeptical of the transportation "lock box" idea.  He says the gas tax alone is not enough money right now, and will be even less in the future  as gas milage improves and electric car usage rises.

 

Wilton Republican Senator Toni Boucher says lowering the sales tax while getting rid of items exempt from tax is contradictory.  She is also concerned with cuts to education.  Priority School District Grants are slated to be cut, that would mean less money fro Danbury.

 

Danbury Republican Representative Jan Giegler is skeptical of the sales tax reduction proposal.  She says the Governor has announce similarly lofty goals in the past, including a $55 tax rebate that never materialized.  But Giegler remained cautiously optimistic on transportation proposals.  She says they could be beneficial as long as they don’t add undue burdens on already struggling taxpayers.

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Connecticut governor says budget filled with 'tough choices'

Governor. Dannel Malloy unveiled a two-year, nearly $40 billion state budget Wednesday that he said is "filled with tough choices" but includes a major overhaul of the state's aging transportation system.

 

While acknowledging the state's economy continues to recover, Malloy told a joint session of the General Assembly that "significant investment" is still needed to improve highways, bridges and rail over the next three decades to improve economic development and quality of life.

 

Malloy has submitted a 75 page transportation plan for improvements.  He is calling for a fix to the bottleneck on Interstate 84 through Danbury, and for continuous 3 lanes between Danbury and Waterbury.  That includes adding a lane between the New York state line and exit 3.  By alleviating what he calls "unacceptable congestion" through Danbury, air pollution will be reduced, traffic will decrease and make the Danbury region more attractive for commerce.  His plan calls for fixing the exit 3 to 8 corridor with additional lanes and reconfigured access points.

 

Malloy has also proposed extending the Route 7 expressway north to the interchange of Routes 7 and 33 in Wilton.  He is suggesting that the Stevenson Dam Bridge on Route 34 over the Housatonic River in Monroe and Oxford be replaced.  He says that would address substandard, deteriorating conditions while improving road geometry.

 

Malloy is also proposing an upgrade to provide full connectivity and service to the New Haven line, the Danbury and Waterbury branches and to freight lines.  Electrification of the Danbury Branch Line between South Norwalk and Danbury would allow for extended one-seat ride service on the New Haven Line.  Malloy is also backing a proposal to extend rail service from Danbury to New Milford, and electrifying the service.

 

Malloy is calling on Connecticut lawmakers to create a secure transportation “lock box” to ensure that every penny assigned to transportation will be spent on transportation only.

 

Malloy's budget plan contains more than $590 million in cuts to the current services budget. 

 

His proposal maintains current ECS funding for public schools.  Malloy says he wants to build on education reforms that have been implemented in the last several years.  The budget proposal would help ensure that by the fall of 2017, every child in Connecticut will receive a full-day kindergarten experience.

 

The Budget also continues to fund municipal aid to help hold down local property taxes.  Malloy says lowering the state's sales tax can be accomplished by simplifying the tax code, removing some exemptions and reigning in loopholes and corporate taxes.  One of the proposed exemptions to be eliminated is the one on clothing items under $50.

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Construction firm offers to demolish shooter's home for free

NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) Newtown's first selectwoman says a construction company with ties to the town has offered to demolish at no cost the home of Sandy Hook school shooter Adam Lanza.

First Selectman Pat Llodra said Tuesday that representatives of Manafort Brothers are expected to meet with town officials this week to discuss the details and possibly set a date to demolish the house where Lanza and his mother lived.

He killed her on Dec. 14, 2012, before heading to Sandy Hook Elementary School where he fatally shot 20 students and six educators and then committed suicide.

Manafort's offer would save about $30,000 Newtown planned to spend with money from an insurance fund set aside for costs associated with the shootings. The fund was used to demolish the Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2013.

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Transportation Committee ready to hear Gov.'s proposals

Governor Dannel Malloy is scheduled to present his budget plan for the next two years this afternoon to a joint session of the General Assembly.  His administration is also expected to unveil details of the proposed overhaul of Connecticut's transportation system. 

 

Wilton Senator Toni Boucher is a leader of the Transportation Committee and says they will have their work cut out for them.  She notes that the two ranking members are from the Greater Danbury area.  She is one of them.  The other is Representative Tom O'Dea of Wilton.  Local members of the committee also include Representative Jan Giegler of Danbury, Gail Lavielle of Wilton and David Labriola, whose district includes Oxford and Southbury. 

 

Boucher expects a lot of work will be done this session to improve train safety, particularly along the Danbury Branch of Metro North.

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Newtown families: Send suit against gun maker to state court

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) The families of nine children and adults killed in the 2012 Newtown school shooting are asking a federal judge to return their lawsuit against gun maker Remington to state court, where legal experts say it may have a better chance of succeeding.

The families and shooting survivor Natalie Hammond say Remington's Bushmaster AR-15 rifle is too deadly to sell to civilians. That rifle was used to kill 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The plaintiffs filed a motion Friday saying North Carolina-based Remington improperly moved the case out of state court. Remington and other defendants say federal court is the proper jurisdiction because they aren't located in Connecticut.

Legal experts say the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has consistently dismissed lawsuits against gun makers.

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Library in Newtown closed due to burst pipe

C.H. Booth Library in Newtown is closed due to a burst pipe.  Due dates have been extended for items due this week.  The library will be closed until further notice to dry out the Children's department and to repair the ceiling where it collapsed.  No word yet on the full extent of the damage.  Booth Library was closed for about three months at the beginning of last year because of a burst sprinkler pipe in January 2014.

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Special Town Meeting on razing Yogananda Street home

A special town meeting is being held in Newtown tonight about tearing down a Yogananda Street home.  According to minutes of the most recent Board of Finance meeting, First Selectman Pat Llodra said that the meeting will be held the 15 minutes before the Board of Selectmen's meeting on the 17th , which is set for 7:30pm. 

 

The property is where the Sandy Hook School gunman lived with his mother and took her life. 

 

The Legislative Council previously gave approval to raze the home, which was given to the town for a dollar by the bank holding the mortgage.  The property, which is surrounded by a wooded area, will be allowed to return to its natural state.

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Brookfield man sets sights on 3rd congressional campaign

A man who has run for Congress in the past is gearing up for another campaign. 

 

John Pistone of Brookfield ran as an Independent write-in candidate in 2012 and petitioned his way onto the ballot in 2014 in the 5th Congressional District.  He has since registered with the Republican Party. 

 

Pistone says he's received emails and letters from voters saying he should consider another run in 2016.  He says he will take that challenge. 

 

Pistone says even though his party affiliation has changed, his platforms have not.  He is calling for common sense policies that move the country forward.  Among the topics he proposed during past elections were energy independence, tax reform, and fair trade agreements.

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WCSU hosts Hazard Mitigation Plan forum

A Multi-campus Hazard Mitigation Plan forum is being held in Danbury this afternoon.  The Forum is being hosted by Western Connecticut State University and the Connecticut State Colleges & Universities to identify natural hazards and vulnerabilities.  The plan would also come up with steps that can be taken to reduce the risks they pose. 

 

The plan would cover the four Connecticut State Universities, 12 Community Colleges and Charter Oak State College. 

 

The goal is to help the campuses identify and reduce risks from natural hazards, identify actions that can be taken to prevent loss of life and damage to property, and prioritize funding for mitigation efforts.  The Hazard Mitigation Plan will describe the vulnerability at each campus to various natural hazards, along with projects that can be undertaken to reduce risks.

 

The forum is at 2pm at the Midtown Student Center.

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Northwest Connecticut lawmakers seek improved rail service

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) Officials from northwestern Connecticut say improvements to the Housatonic Railroad Line should be part of any statewide transportation overhaul.

Both state and local officials are supporting a bill that would fix up the existing freight rail line to prevent derailments. The bill also calls for resurrecting passenger rail service from New York City, through northwestern Connecticut and on to Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

The legislation comes as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is set to unveil his 30-year, statewide plan on Wednesday to overhaul Connecticut's transportation system.

 

Kent Rep. Roberta Willis last week told the General Assembly's Transportation Committee about how the state of Massachusetts is committing millions of dollars to rebuild the section of tracks in that state, to bring them up to modern standards and to accommodate passenger rail.

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Senators propose more funding for grade-crossing safety

NEW YORK (AP) Two U.S. senators want an increase in federal funds to lessen the dangers of railroad grade crossings.

Sens. Charles Schumer of New York and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut say they will introduce a bill that would improve safety at accident-prone crossings.

The Democrats' announcement comes 12 days after a Metro-North commuter train collided with an SUV at a crossing in Valhalla, killing six people including a Danbury man.

The cause of the collision has not been determined. But the lawmakers say more than 200 people died in grade-crossing accidents in 2013.

The senators say that if the bill is enacted, funds would go to the Federal Railroad Administration and to states and localities for new lights and signals as well as education materials.

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Liability concerns discussed about proposed dog park

Some concerns with liability are being looked into when it comes to the proposed off-leash dog park in Danbury.  The park has been proposed for a piece of land off Miry Brook Road and would not be staffed by City employees.  Council President Joe Cavo says most dog parks have signs up for municipal protection that aggressive dogs are not allowed in the park.

 

Cavo says that posting, along with other rules, makes it known that people enter the park at their own risk.  But he says most dog park patrons know they're responsible for the actions of their dogs including biting people or other dogs.

 

The City's attorney says it limits Danbury's liability, especially since there is no plan to staff the park.

 

Mayor Mark Boughton says if the City will only incur liability if something happens that the City is responsible for.  Boughton says it's a calculated risk.  He's spoken with the City's insurance carrier and says they underwrite other cities with dog parks--and that there are very few claims.

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Danbury Library marks Black History month

Danbury Library is celebrating Black History Month with a variety of programs in February.  On Friday, February 20th from 3:30-4:15pm, students in grades 5-12 will have fun playing a version of Bingo that utilizes questions about African-American history. 


A story time, highlighting singer and former Danbury resident Marian Anderson, will be held for children ages five and older Saturday, February 21 from 11:00 to 11:30a.m.  Brigid Guertin, Director of the Danbury Museum and Historical Society will read “When Marian Sang” and answer questions about her life.  Registration is not required.


Musicians Alika Hope and Ray Morant will present the music and stories of 19th century African-Americans and abolitionists on Sunday, February 22 from 2-3pm.  Hope and Morant will incorporate African-American spirituals with live guitar music, utilizing historical accounts of successful African-Americans in New England and primary source readings by New England-based abolitionists to teach about slavery in 19th Century America.  Their stories and songs will include people like Prudance Crandall, John Brown and Mary Eliza Mahoney.  The program is open to students in grades 4 and above and adults.  Registration is requested.

 

Patrons can register for the events online at danburylibrary.org, click on “Events” or call 203-797-4527.

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President signs bill introduced by local lawmaker

The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act has been signed into law by the President.  It was introduced by 5th District Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty and Senator Richard Blumenthal to help veterans struggling with post traumatic stress disorder. 

 

Blumenthal says on average, 22 veterans commit suicide daily, which totals more than 8,000 deaths every year.  In 2014, over 1.4 million veterans with a mental health diagnosis enrolled in Veterans Affairs (VA) health services—an increase of 60% over the past ten years.

 

The Clay Hunt SAV Act seeks to increase access to mental health care and support through the VA health system by:

 

  • Requiring the VA to create a one-stop, interactive website to serve as a centralized source of information regarding all department mental health services.

 

  • Establishing collaborations with the VA and nonprofit mental health organizations to improve suicide prevention resources.

 

  • Authorizing the VA to conduct a student loan repayment pilot program aimed at recruiting and retaining mental health care professionals to address the current shortage.

 

  • Evaluating all VA mental health care and suicide prevention programs on a yearly basis and making recommendations to improve care.

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'Prom' held in New Milford for people with special needs

There were limos parked outside Faith Church and police patrols along Route 7 in New Milford last night.  It was all for a prom that was sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation.  The event for people with special needs included cameras, lights and a red carpet.  More than 200 people from across the region took part in the event.  There were 49 other similar proms that took place across the country called Night to Shine.  Hair and makeup was provided by area salons, there was dancing, food and more.

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Sandy Hook report to be presented next month

The Sandy Hook Advisory Commission is hoping to present their final report to the Governor on March 3rd.  The panel met Friday morning to go over any changes to the draft report released Thursday. 

 

Chairman Scott Jackson says while some great progress has already been made, it's imperative lawmakers remember the way they felt on 12-14.  He wants them to be part of the solution, because there is no enforcement mechanism included in the report.  Jackson says it's going to take the will of the state legislature.

 

Former Newtown state Representative Chris Lyddy told his fellow commissioners that they have made an incredible contribution to the Town of Newtown, and to the United States.  He notes that while the panel's work is done, this journey does not come to an end for many people.  The Town, families, teachers and the country still have milestones to come.

 

Lyddy says this was an academic process and an emotional one.  He says their work was accomplished with integrity, honesty and care for the Newtown community.

 

Although the Commission has chosen to conclude the description of the events of 12-14 at the time of the gunman's death, it acknowledges that, in many ways, the event continues to this day for many of those involved.

 

The Commission sought to create an industry best practice document that set standards and recommendations to be used moving forward in the design and operation of schools from a safety and security perspective.

 

The Commission noted that it was not set up to look into one individual's interaction with the mental health system, but rather at how those systems can better serve the state's children.  The Commission says they are not claiming that better treatment will prevent future acts of mass violence, or reduce violence generally, but might diminish many of the risk factors for violence.  The Commission wants a more family-focused care, more to be learned about social isolation and how to bring social-emotional learning into all schools.

 

School safety infrastructure planning should be based on an "all hazards" assessment.  School designs must provide the means for students, teachers, and staff to maintain visual control over their environment and close off sight lines once a perceived threat is identified.

 

In setting forth the recommendations on firearms, the Commission says it does not seek to deprive citizens of their right to hunt, engage in target practice or own a firearm for self-defense.  The Commission expressed concerned about the proliferation, throughout the civilian population, of weapons that were specifically designed for military use.

 

The Commission says its work is complementary to that of Connecticut's Child Advocate and incorporates by reference the findings and recommendations advanced in hers.  Mental health extends significantly beyond the management of mental illness. Yet for much of the past century, the Commission says mental health care has remained largely reactive instead of proactive.

 

For many children, schools offer the only real possibility of accessing services. The Commission is recommending that school districts increase the availability of school guidance counselors, social workers, psychologists, and other school health and behavioral health professionals during and after the school day as well as potentially on Saturdays.

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Fundraiser to benefit Bethel teen fighting brain cancer

A fundraiser is being held this weekend for a Bethel teen fighting brain cancer.  14-year old Jaxxon Reed was diagnosed eight years ago with Neuroblastoma, a form of childhood brain cancer.  In order to help his family with ongoing medical bills, Champion All Star Gym is holding their 8th annual Jaxxon Reed Fundraiser at the PAL center in Danbury. 

 

Champion Owner Michele Mastrianni says the community support each year is outstanding.  She met Jaxxon's mother around the time of his diagnosis because her daughter was in a car accident, and suffers from traumatic brain injury.

 

Mastrianni is calling Jaxxon a miracle. 

 

At the event, all Champion teams as well as several local school teams will perform in exhibition.  Gift baskets will be raffled off and all the money raised will go directly to the Jaxxon Reed Fund.  Each athlete wears a tee shirt with Jaxxon’s image on it to show their support of him.

 

Admission is $10 and $5 for children at the door.  $8 and $5 for advance purchase.  It's being held at the PAL center in Danbury on Sunday from 10:30am to 1:30pm.  Doors open at 9:30am.

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Underground power lines will continue to be inspected

A safety situation has been resolved in Bethel.

 

Eversource Energy buried 22 miles of high-voltage power lines between Bethel and Norwalk nearly a decade ago.  Since then, the company has conducted annual inspection reports on the system. In December, then Northeast Utilities said the annual inspections were no longer necessary.  The company asked the Connecticut Siting Council to discontinue the requirement. 

 

Some of the power lines are buried through the educational park, a concern for many if the inspections were to be discontinued.

 

A letter was sent to Bethel activist Geraldine Mills, who is an intervenor in the case.  Mills says there's an earthquake fault that runs below the middle school, and the inspections should continue.  She called the First Selectmen in the towns where underground power lines run through their municipalities to alert them about the utility's plans.

 

None of the leaders of area towns were alerted by Eversource or the Siting Council to the potential change.  The response from Bethel residents and officials swayed Eversource Energy this week to withdraw its request.

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Sandy Hook Advisory Commission issues recommendations

A draft report of recommendations by the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission has been released.  The group is set to meet Friday to make final modifications to the 256 page report.  12 safe school design recommendations were outlined, in addition to the 22 proposed in an interim report.  They include having a standardized policy for issuing classroom keys to substitutes, doors that can be locked from the inside and creation of a school safety committee in each municipality. 

 

The draft report included 15 public safety recommendations in addition to the 15 in the interim report.  Many of the original proposals were adopted in 2013 by the state legislature. 

 

The biggest part of the report was 53 mental health care recommendations.  They include reducing barriers to service, streamlining fragmented service, expanding the workforce, providing more comprehensive care, and reducing the stigma of receiving mental health treatment.  The group also talked about balancing privacy and safety under HIPPA laws.

 

Among the new law enforcement recommendations was a proposal to have all shell casings sold in Connecticut have IDs laser etched on the.  The group also wants more screening for licenses, and stricter restraining order confiscation rules.  The panel has proposed extending rights to police officers in other towns when responding to similar events, creating a unified command structure, and holding regional response exercises.

 

The Commission gathered input over more than two years from experts and others, including victims' family members.  Early in the report, commission members concede "no school can be totally free of the risk of violence," short of transforming them into gated, prison-like facilities. But the group recommends safe school design and operation strategies and closer coordination with law enforcement, mental health experts and security professionals as a way to help make safer school environments possible.

 

The group is recommending the state build a system that goes beyond treating mental illness and fosters healthy families and individuals.

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Local lawmakers backing bills to improve rail service

Several bills to improve rail lines in Western Connecticut are being considered by the legislature's Transportation Committee.  Some area lawmakers were among those testifying in support of the bills this week. 

 

Danbury Senator Mike McLachlan says Housatonic Railroad has already done a private study about extending passenger service from Danbury to New Milford and up to Massachusetts.  A Department of Transportation study would cost $350,000.  McLachlan says it would also look at restoring service from Brewster to Danbury.

 

McLachlan says a private company is willing to share some of the cost of extending the line from Danbury to Massachusetts because of the potential tourism dollars that would come in.  Massachusetts has already committed more than $12 million to improve its lines near the state border.

 

The study would look into the engineering feasibility, including a review of the cost estimates provided by the Housatonic Railroad to replace tracks and provide stations.  It would also test the market feasibility, including a financial analysis to analyze whether projected ridership numbers are reasonable.  The proposed bill also calls for inclusion of the economic impact study commissioned by the Housatonic Railroad to independently determine the economic impact for northwestern Connecticut.

 

An additional bill being considered would restore the Housatonic Railroad freight service to Massachusetts.

 

Wilton Senator Toni Boucher wants to electrify the line from Norwalk to Wilton, and then to Danbury.  It was de-electrified in 1969.

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State lawmakers mull measure seeking to replace Metro-North

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- State Transportation Commissioner James Redeker cautioned legislators against replacing Metro-North Railroad as the operator of the New Haven line linking Connecticut to New York City.

 

Sens. Toni Boucher of Wilton and Tony Hwang of Fairfield, both Republicans, have introduced legislation that would force the state Department of Transportation to put the contract out for competitive bids. Connecticut or Metro-North may seek changes this year, Boucher said.

 

Several legislators from southwestern Connecticut say their constituents are unhappy with slow, unreliable rail service and want a different contractor.

 

The Hartford Courant reports that Redeker told the General Assembly's Transportation Committee on Wednesday that replacing Metro-North isn't practical.

 

Metro-North employs conductors, engineers, track maintainers, electricians, supervisors and senior managers to oversee operations of the New Haven Line and the Danbury, New Canaan and Waterbury branches, he said. There's no company in the country with the staffing and technical skills to take over that operation, he said.

 

"The New Haven Line is the busiest rail line in the country," Redeker said. "It's probably the most complex service in the whole country. We have to be very cautious and careful."

 

Boucher said she's concerned that state transportation officials have "been afraid to touch this."

 

"That's a very defensive position to take," she said.

 

Redeker said Connecticut officials and Metro-North President Joseph Giulietti have a good relationship and that Metro-North is making progress toward reliable on-time performance.

 

Competitive bidding to operate the new Springfield-to-New Haven commuter service will give state transportation officials a better understanding for possibly renegotiating sections of the Metro-North contract in the future, he said.

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Preliminary report on NY train-car collision due this month

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) -- Federal investigators said Thursday that they expect to issue a preliminary report in about two weeks on the fiery collision between a commuter train and an SUV that killed six people in the New York City suburbs.

 

Eric Weiss, spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, said the report should be out the week of Feb. 23.

 

Such preliminary reports from the NTSB rarely include major disclosures or conclusions. Those could be several months away.

 

A Metro-North Railroad train that had just left Grand Central Terminal crashed into a Mercedes SUV on Feb. 3 at a grade crossing in Valhalla, sparking an explosion and fire that burned out the first car of the train and sent pieces of third rail stabbing through the passenger area. The woman driving the SUV and five men on the train, including one from Danbury, were killed.

 

NTSB investigators began arriving the next day and stayed until Wednesday, Weiss said. At times there were more than a dozen investigators at the scene, he said.

 

The NTSB held three briefings near the scene last week. Weiss said they do not plan to comment again on any findings before issuing the preliminary report.

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Danbury moves forward on dog park creation

Danbury has taken another step forward in creating an off leash dog park.  The City Council has approved a committee recommendation to repurpose four acres of land off Miry Brook Road into a fenced in area for dogs.  Mayor Mark Boughton was asked by a Council member about making the park open to Danbury residents only.Dogs must be licensed, but there will be no other restrictions.  Boughton says no one will be staffing the park, so there's no real way to enforce a residency restriction. 

 

An ordinance still needs to be amended before the park can become a reality.

 

The proposed park would be fenced in, for daytime use only and have limited parking.  Planning and Zoning approvals are required as well as rules being adopted by the Director of Recreation.

 

A sign would be posted saying that aggressive dogs are not allowed.

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Monroe Police Department has new K9 officer

There's a new police officer in Monroe.  K9 Murphy has officially joined the ranks.  The German Shepherd is partnered with Officer John McCaulay and completed training on January 30th.  The funds to purchase the 18 month old police dog were donated to Monroe by the AKC Reunite program and the Trap Falls Kennel Club.  Murphy is certified in narcotics detection, tracking, evidence retrieval, apprehension, building searches and protection.

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Sister of Sandy Hook Victim Getting Trademark For Her Name

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) The family of a Sandy Hook shooting victim has applied to trademark her name in an attempt to stop others from misusing it on social media.

Victoria Soto was a first-grade teacher and one of 26 people shot to death inside the Newtown school . .

Jillian Soto says people have set up fake social media accounts using her sister's name, many of which promote conspiracy theories about the massacre.

She says the misuse of her sister's name also makes it harder for people to find links to the Vicki Soto Memorial Fund, which raises money for scholarships for aspiring teachers.

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Progress being made at Sandy Hook School site

Progress is being made at the site of the new Sandy Hook School.  Construction efforts are moving along in Newtown despite the winter weather.  In January, building footprint compaction work was completed.  Storm drainage pipe, catch basins and the underground detention system were installed.  A new water main pipe across the project site was also installed. 

 

(Photo Courtesy: sandyhook2016.com)

 

This month, retaining wall number 4 will be installed, foundation excavation is slated to begin and more storm drainage pipe and structure installation will be done.  Activities for the Building Phase will begin this month and next. 

 

The project will be completed and ready for use by the 2016-2017 school year.

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Local lawmaker supports ban on open containers in cars

A local lawmaker is proposing a ban on open containers of alcohol in the passenger areas of motor vehicles.  Newtown State Representative Mitch Bolinsky says the main goal is to reduce the number of crashes and fatalities resulting from drivers operating under the influence of alcohol. 

 

Connecticut is one of just 11 states without an open container law.  Bolinsky says without a federally-supported prohibition, the state has had to divert more than $90 million in federal funds away from infrastructure and highway maintenance programs since 2000--putting that money into “lower priority safety programs” such as DUI education and prevention. 

 

While important, Bolinsky says these programs can instead be funded by DMV and have highway dollars used for much-needed highway projects. 

 

Bolinsky says an open container of alcohol in a vehicle can clearly lead to an intoxicated motorist, which can lead to death.   When a designated-driver is totally unimpaired, he says there is always an increased risk of heightened distraction when that driver is hosting a carload of intoxicated friends.  Bolinsky says this proposed legislation is not focused on people at tailgating parties or vehicles-for-hire, such as party buses and limos.

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Candidate debate ahead of Brookfield Special Election

A candidate debate is being held next week in Brookfield for the special election that's coming up on the 24th.  The two candidates looking to fill the vacancy in the state's 107th House District will be at Whisconier Middle School on the 19th.  Democrat Howard Lasser and Republican Steve Harding are looking to represent Brookfield and parts of Bethel and Danbury in the General Assembly.  The debate on the 19th is being sponsored by the Bethel and Brookfield Chambers of Commerce.  The debate will be at 7pm.

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Fire officials warn drivers about railroad crossing dangers

Last week's fatal Metro North crash in Valhalla has prompted the Wilton Fire Department to offer some advice to drivers who encounter similar railroad crossings along the Danbury Branch. 

 

Before crossing tracks, the Fire Department says you should assume that there is a train coming.  That means never driving around lowered crossing gates, whether you're in a car, on a bike or motorcycle.  When you're stuck in traffic, Wilton Fire officials say you should wait until there's enough room past the crossing gates before moving forward across the tracks. 

 

If your car gets stuck on the tracks or in between crossing gates, leave your car and get to safety.

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Danbury RadioShack among 1,800 on closure list

RadioShack is planning to close half of its stores nationwide, including one location in Danbury.  The company filed bankruptcy last week.  24 stores in Connecticut are on the closure list and will be shuttered by the end of March.  The Danbury store is the one on Newtown Road.  No word on the fate of the Padanaram Road RadioShack.  There are nearly 1,800 stores nationwide slated for closure this spring.

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3D laser scans done to make model of Metro North train for investigation

3D laser scanned models of the Metro North train involved in last week's fiery crash are being made to help with the investigation.  The scans will create virtual models of the train car.  The models are being created to help investigators to continue to take measurements and look at things from different view points.  Six people including a Danbury man were killed Tuesday night in Valhalla. 

 

At least a dozen pieces of third rail pierced the rail car.  National Transportation Safety Board vice chairman Robert Sumwalt was asked if anyone was killed or maimed by the third rail spears.  Sumwalt says there's extensive fire damage, and pieces of the third rail are scattered through out the first car.  Some are stacked up.  Some go all the way up to the ceiling.  One exited the first car, and penetrated rail car number two. 

 

Investigators will create a diagram of where people were and collect information on their injuries to determine whether anyone was killed or maimed by the third rail spears. 

 

The agency is looking at why the rare and unusually fiery instance of passenger deaths happened last week, among the thousands of train-auto collisions each year.  To transportation lawyer Andrew Maloney, the third rail "is probably the most important issue in the accident." The design could have caused the shoe to act like a crowbar, said Maloney, who represents victims of a 2013 Metro-North derailment.

 

A railroad expert noted that the "under-running" design has been used for decades because it's a way to avoid problems with ice building up on top of the third rail.  It also reduces the possibility of inadvertent, and possibly fatal, contact with the third rail. 

 

The railroad crossing had undergone a number of upgrades in recent years to reduce the risk of accidents, including the installation of brighter LED lights, "Do Not Stop on the Tracks" signs and new traffic signal control equipment.  A 2009 plan to install a third set of flashing lights 100 to 200 feet up the road to give motorists a few seconds' extra warning was never carried out, for reasons officials were unable to explain.

 

The train engineer, whose name was not released, pulled the emergency brake four seconds before the collision, slowing the train from 58 mph to 48 mph when it hit the SUV. Then, in the smoke and flames, he carried to safety an injured passenger who couldn't walk.  Sumwalt says the engineer was "very professional" during the disaster and is now "very traumatized."

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Local lawmaker wants emergency operation training for rail passengers

A local lawmaker is a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the U.S. House and part of the rails subcommittee.  5th District Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty says she will work to make train travel safer in the future, but there needs to be proper funding in place.  She says the bill fails to include adequate levels of funding to implement technology known as positive train control. 

 

The deadline for all commuter rail to have that in place is by the end of the calendar year.  But she says estimates are only 20-percent will be able to comply with that.

 

Esty wants passengers to be trained in what to do in case of an emergency or accident, and how to operate the windows as an escape route.

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Regional planning agency names new Executive Director

The newly formed regional planning group for the Greater Danbury area has chosen a new executive director.  The Western Connecticut Council of Governments has named Francis Pickering to the position.  He replaces Craig Leiner who resigned after about a month on the job.  Pickering had worked for a different regional planning agency, but that was before a state mandate that several group merge together.  The newly formed group is made up of the 18 towns spanning from Sherman down to Greenwich.  Bethel First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker is the group's chairman.

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Tinsley delivers 'State of the Town' address for Brookfield

Brookfield First Selectman Bill Tinsley has delivered his State of the Town address.  Tinsley started out his half hour address by acknowledging what he called an obstacle, unnecessary and  in Brookfield's way of achieving full potential and completely within local control to resolve. 

 

"Some of the experiences and surfaced surprises of the past several years have served to magnify divisions and create trust issues among us.  These must be attended to. While we must work to rebuild trust, I don't believe it is possible to do so without thoughtful, serious and respectful dialogue."

 

Tinsley says he wants to engage in respectful, face to face dialogue.

 

He says the town is set to meet budgetary needs for next year without increasing the property tax rate.  Tinsley says the budget setting season has only begun, and a few significant unknowns still exist.  He says that includes the level of funding that will come from the state.

 

Tinsley says decline in age demographic across the state must be solved.  He says part of that can be tax mandate relief for young people.  With the aging population, Brookfield has to evaluate and possibly expand programs and operating hours of the Senior Center.

 

Tinsley said this week that the Board of Education will soon conduct Phase 2 of a demographic study aimed at guiding decisions about school facilities.  He is concerned with the condition of Huckleberry Hill Elementary School. 

 

When it comes to traffic on Federal Road, Tinsley says it's a good news bad news scenario.  Yes, the traffic is bad.  But he says that means people are out and spending money to help the local economy.

 

He says there needs to be consensus about the future of the library.  Among the questions are: if the town needs a new library, what functions should it serve, the best location, and how it would it be paid for. 

 

Tinsley says a town center at the Four Corners is coming to fruition.  By the early part of May, residents will see demolition of several buildings to make way for a private, $22 million mixed use development there.  By 2016, the first two buildings of eight should be completed.  Also during that time, there will be roadways, sidewalks and street scaping done in the Four Corners area.  STEAP grant and LOCIP funding will help pay for the $1.5 million project.

 

During that time, Tinsley says he hopes to start and finish construction on the Still River Greenway.  20 percent local funding is matched by a federal DOT grant for a total $2.2 million.  The Greenway will extend from Junction Road to Route 202 by the Newtown Center.

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Train crossings on Danbury branch being monitored

Department of Transportation Commissioner James Redecker says crews continue to monitor the street-track crossings on the Danbury Branch where there had been signal issues that prompted a so-called Stop and Warn procedure to be put in place.  He says there's additional work to be done not on the gates themselves, but on the actual crossings.  A few need to be rebuilt because it was the crossings that were substandard, not the technology.

 

But he says the gates have been operating reliably, many times the branch has had 100 percent on time performance.

 

In February of 2014, the DOT announced that the issues of crossing gates and lights activating on occasion when no train was in the area--were with new technology implemented at certain crossings in late 2013 as part of the Danbury Signalization Project. 

 

11 street-level railroad crossings that experienced the issues were corrected.  About 2,200 commuters use the Danbury branch on an average weekday. In addition to Danbury and South Norwalk, there are stations at Bethel, Redding, Branchville, Cannondale, Wilton and Merritt 7.

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First phase of civilians at Danbury Police Department in place

By next month, the new Western Connecticut 911 dispatch center will go live.  Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton says Phase One was completed this week at the Police Station.  Boughton says two civilians were manning the front desk when he walked into the Station on Monday.

 

Boughton says civilian dispatching represents a $1 million-per-year increase of proactive policing for the community. He says residents will see quicker response times by police, more traffic enforcement, and a greater emphasis on quality-of-life enforcement.   Danbury Police foot patrols on Main Street were also brought back.

 

Financially, after an initial two-to three-year up-front investment, Boughton says taxpayers will see a significant savings.  That will be driven by a reduction in overtime, and a reduction of staffing through attrition.

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Newtown Police Commission studying flagpole traffic

The Newtown Police Commission is reviewing traffic data about accidents at the 5-way intersection at the flagpole.  The Newtown Bee reports that during the six years between 2009 and 2014, there were 94 accidents at the intersection of Main Street, Church Hill Road and West Street. 

 

Two of the streets are state roads.  The 100-foot flagpole is an officially designated historical landmark, according to state records. 

 

Of the nearly 100 accidents over six years, 18 cars collided with the flagpole.  The Bee reports that a quarter of the accidents involved drivers not granting the right of way from a stop sign and another quarter of the accidents involved failure to drive a reasonable distance apart.

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Congresswoman attends Prayer Breakfast, meets with Newtowners

New gun violence prevention efforts in Congress are being discussed Thursday by 5th District Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty.  She, along with Connecticut's two U.S. Senators and other members of the House have met with new members of Congress to discuss reforms. 

 

Members of the Newtown Action Alliance were on Capitol Hill to talk about limiting high-capacity magazines,  and feeding devices of more than 10 rounds of ammunition that they say are designed for shooting in mass.

 

A Danbury pastor was in Washington D.C. Thursday for the 62nd annual National Prayer Breakfast.  Reverend Leroy Parker of New Hope Baptist Church in Danbury was a guest of Esty at the event headlined by the President. 

 

Esty says Reverend Parker is passionate about his faith and the community.  He said that the day was a time of coming together, not to discuss politics but rather to connect with like-minded community leaders.

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Ex-Connecticut governor says he deserves new trial

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) A dispute over evidence in the federal conspiracy case against former Connecticut Gov. John Rowland has already led to a month-long delay in his sentencing and Rowland's lawyers say it should lead to a new trial.

Judge Janet Bond Arterton is going over written arguments to decide whether the prosecutors' failure to disclose statements made by former 5th congressionaldistrict candidate Lisa Wilson-Foley constitutes a harmless error by the government or a miscarriage of justice.

Defense attorney Reid Weingarten says Rowland's trial would have been significantly different if prosecutors had disclosed that Wilson-Foley told them she initially believed her husband had a legitimate business relationship with Rowland.

Prosecutors argue there was overwhelming evidence that Wilson-Foley was involved in the conspiracy to hide campaign consulting payments to Rowland through Brian Foley's business.

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Connecticut student meets Obama to back immigration stance

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) Three months after Maria Praeli heckled President Barack Obama in Bridgeport over immigration issues, the Quinnipiac University student met the president in the Oval Office to discuss immigration.

The 21-year-old from New Milford and about six others who have benefited from Obama's executive order shielding from deportation 4 million people in the U.S. without legal status were asked to tell their stories to the president. Obama is trying to organize support in his fight with Republicans who oppose his immigration policies.

The 21-year-old student talked about her mother and the sacrifices she made for her and her older sister. They came from Peru when her parents sought medical care for her sister.

Praeli was escorted out of a November campaign rally in Bridgeport for heckling Obama before he issued the immigration order.

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Danbury Town Clerk, a City Councilwoman both leaving positions

There will soon be an opening on the Danbury City Council.  Councilwoman Colleen Stanley is moving out of the City and therefore is resigning.  She said at the Council meeting Tuesday that she was presented with another opportunity and will be leaving.  She hopes that her replacement will also be focused on small businesses. 

 

Several Council members spoke highly of Stanley's 12 years of service to the City.

 

The Danbury Republican Town Committee will meet soon to make candidate recommendations.

 

It was also announced Tuesday night that longtime Town Clerk Lori Kaback will be leaving for the same position in Wilton.  Mayor Mark Boughton said that she too would be sorely missed.

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Tax deferral approved by Danbury officials for Praxair

A tax deferral has been approved by the Danbury City Council for the new headquarters being built by Praxair.  The company announced in October that it would maintain its world headquarters in the Berkshire Corporate Park.  Praxair is receiving a 7 year deferral of 100-percent of the assessment increases for the property. 

 

Councilman Warren Levy says the City will be allowed to review if Praxair is meeting provisions in the state incentive contract.  The state is providing incentives to Praxair to add up to 120 new jobs over the next five years.  The Department of Economic and Community Development is providing a $10 million forgivable loan, with the company eligible for up to $20 million in tax credits.

 

Councilman Tom Saadi says this contract is different from previous proposals in that Praxair plans to be a tenant in the facility, with a holding company being the owner of the property.

 

Praxair hopes to break ground on the three story building with an attached garage this summer, and move in by 2017.  Danbury has done tax deferrals in the past, including for Mankind and for a facility that's about to open on Kenosia Avenue.

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Passengers, driver killed in Metro North crash identified

The Medical Examiner's office is working to identify the six people killed Tuesday night in a Metro North train versus car crash in Valhalla.

 

A Danbury resident was among the passengers killed.  Tomar Aditya, 41, died in the crash.  Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton says he has offered condolences to Aditya’s family. He says the family is asking that their privacy be respected at this time.

 

The driver of the SUV has reportedly been identified as 49-year old Ellen Brody of Edgemont, New York by Greenburgh Town Superviros Paul Feiner. 

 

A financial services firm is mourning the loss of an executive.  Mesirow Financial said Wednesday that 53-year-old Eric Vandercar was one of six people killed in Tuesday's Metro-North crash in Valhalla.  The Bedford Hills resident was senior managing director for institutional sales and trading in the firm's New York office.  The firm called Vandercar's death "a huge loss, personally and professionally.''

 

The other Bedford Hills resident was 69-year-old Walter Liedtke, who was a curator and historian at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan.  The other victims have been identified as 36-year-old Robert Dirks of Chappaqua, N.Y.; and 42-year-old Joseph Nadol of Ossining, N.Y.

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Metro North sets alternate service plan for commuters in Brewster area

Because of the accident at Valhalla, Metro-North is providing alternate service for Harlem Line customers.  Metro-North train service will remain suspended between Pleasantville and North White Plains until further notice due to this incident.  Passengers should expect delays and crowding conditions.

 

Trains will operate from Wassaic to Southeast, where customers will be able to board a bus to Beacon on the Hudson Line. 

 

Electric train service will operate from Brewster to Goldens Bridge. Then customers will board a bus shuttle to North White Plains where they will get back on a train.  Train service will operate normally from North White Plains and all points south.  There will not be service at Valhalla or Hawthorne.

 

Metro-North will cross honor tickets on the Hudson and New Haven lines.  There will be free parking at Cortlandt.

 

Metro-North will make repairs once the National Transportation Safety Board clears the train from the tracks.  Once repairs are made, regular service through the area will resume.

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Commuter train slams into SUV on tracks, killing 6 people

Transit officials say a commuter train smashed into an SUV stopped on the tracks at a crossing in Valhalla, New York, killing five train riders and the car's driver.  Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino says a few injured people were treated and released from hospitals.

Hundreds of passengers scrambled to escape the smoky wreck.  The train was headed from Grand Central Terminal to the Brewster area.

Officials initially said the SUV was a Jeep Cherokee. But MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said Wednesday authorities have since realized the vehicle was a Mercedes.  Astorino said it appeared that the woman got out to lift the crossing gate off her vehicle.  All railroad grade crossings have gate arms that are designed to lift automatically if they strike something like a car on the way down.

 

Witness Devon Champagne of Brookfield describes the moments after the collision.  He says there was a passenger who ran past him with blood on his face.  Champagne saw people pulling the windows off the train cars, trying to get out through the emergency windows.

 

There were 12 patients brought to Westchester Medical Center from the accident.  Four have been discharged.  One remains critical, one is serious, four are fair and two are in good condition.  The injuries included fractures, lacerations, crush injuries and three burn patients.  There were also some people treated for smoke inhalation.

 

For people who had loved ones who may have been affected by the February 3, 2015,  grade crossing  accident in Valhalla, Metro-North has established a family assistance center at the Mount Pleasant Town Hall, 1 Town Hall Plaza, Valhalla.   Information also is available at 1-800-METRO-INFO. (800-638-7646).

 

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton says his thoughts and prayers go out to families who lost loved ones in the accident, and he's monitoring similar crossings in the Greater Danbury area.  Boughton says he's concerned, though the crossing gates have been working well and functioning properly for the past seven or eight months.  The state Department of Transportation recently upgraded the Danbury Branch line, but there were signal issues with the crossings.

 

He doesn't know if the accident in Valhalla was caused by a faulty gate, but it could have been an issue of traffic that got stacked up at the crossing.  If there are recommendations made by the NTSB, he says they will be adopted.

 

Boughton says he did see an uptick in people who commute from Southeast taking the Danbury branch to Stamford and heading to New York from there.

 

National Transportation Safety Board officials were looking at the train's black-box-style recorders, seeking to learn how fast the train was going, whether its brakes were applied and whether its horn was sounded as it approached the crossing where it slammed into the SUV, NTSB vice chairman Robert Sumwalt said.

 

Investigators also planned to look at the track signals' recording devices, interview the Metro-North train's operators, peer into the wreckage with laser-scanning devices and seek aerial footage, he said.

 

Authorities said the impact was so powerful the electrified third rail came up and pierced the train, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the SUV's gas tank apparently exploded, starting a fire that consumed the SUV and the train's first car, which was left blackened and mangled, its roof twisted sideways. The SUV, pushed about 400 feet, looked as though it was stuck on the front of the train.

 

The five dead train passengers were all men, Astorino said. The SUV's female driver also was killed.  Meanwhile, officials were using dental records to identify the badly burned victims.

 

It was not the first deadly crash at the site: A truck driver died after a Metro-North train struck the vehicle at the same Commerce Street crossing in 1984, according to Federal Railroad Administration records. The driver didn't stop before the collision.

 

Metro-North has been criticized severely for accidents over the last couple of years. Late last year, the NTSB issued rulings on five accidents that occurred in New York and Connecticut in 2013 and 2014, repeatedly finding fault with the railroad while also noting that conditions have improved.

 

Among the accidents was a 2013 derailment that killed four people, the railroad's first passenger fatalities, in the Bronx. The NTSB said the engineer had fallen asleep at the controls because of a severe, undiagnosed case of sleep apnea.

 

Last March, the FRA issued a stinging report on Metro-North, saying it let safety concerns slip while pushing to keep trains on time. Railroad executives pledged to make safety their top priority.

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New fire truck now in service in Danbury

The Danbury Fire Department has a new tool in its arsenal for fire mitigation and rescue responses. Danbury received an aerial platform ladder truck last month and it has just gone into service. 

 

Department spokesman Steve Rogers says the ladder truck leverages safety features that protect firefighters hearing with communication headphone sets, electronic stability systems and on board computers.  Rogers says the truck includes state of the art radios and a truck I-PAD that allows for effective communications with other fire apparatus and Danbury's Emergency Communications Center.

 

Rogers says the Aerial platform is a mid-mount ladder with heavy steel framing which provides for exceptional firefighter safety as well as an extended service life.  The truck has enhanced safety features that also allow for proper deployment of ladder stabilization, a state of the art emissions system and strategically placed air bags and side curtains protection systems. The ladder truck has various on board cameras to assist driver with backing up and turning right while in operation.

 

The life span of this fire truck is expected to be 10 years and the final cost was $1.2 million.

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Memorial Commission hears from Newtown residents

The Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial Commission has held it's final of two scheduled public hearings on how to honor the 26 educators and children killed on 12-14.  There were just a handful of people in attendance at the meeting.  Faculty, parents, first responders and immediate family members of those killed have been given opportunities to weigh in.  The Commission will now go back to the 26 families for recommendations.  The group will likely recommend a handful of possible locations to town officials.  There is some funding already in place to create the memorial.

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Commuter train strikes vehicle on tracks, killing at least 6

VALHALLA, N.Y. (AP) — Officials say six people were killed and at least 12 people were injured when a commuter train struck a vehicle on the tracks north of New York City.

 

Metro-North Railroad spokesman Aaron Donovan says the northbound train struck a Jeep Cherokee at a railroad crossing in Valhalla on Tuesday evening.

 

Donovan says the fatalities consisted of the vehicle's female driver and five people aboard the train.

Donovan says the vehicles and the front of the train caught fire.

 

The rail passengers were moved to the rear of the train, which had left Grand Central Terminal about 45 minutes earlier.

 

Service on Metro-North's Harlem Line has been suspended between Pleasantville and North White Plains.


Smoke was seen pouring out of the scorched rail car, its windows blackened.  Stacey Eisner, a passenger in the rear of the train, told NBC News that she felt the train "jerk" and then a conductor walked through the train explaining what had happened. She said her car was evacuated about 10 minutes later using ladders to get people out.

 

Metro-North is the nation's second-busiest railroad, after the Long Island Rail Road. It was formed in 1983 and serves about 280,000 riders a day in New York and Connecticut.

 

Senator Richard Blumenthal says now is the time to ensure that all passengers and anyone else impacted by this horrific crash are safe and secure.  But he says he will be asking many questions in the days ahead about how this accident happened.  Blumenthal says he wants to ensure that safeguards are in place to ensure an event like this doesn't happen again.

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Environmental groups oppose proposed natural gas pipeline project

A natural gas pipeline expansion has been proposed by Algonquin Gas Transmission called The Atlantic Bridge Expansion.  Spectra Energy says the project is needed to bring additional natural gas to the region, as the New England states look to expand supply and usage.  The Project would run from the Brewster area, through Danbury and Oxford and eventually headed into Massachusetts.  The target in-service date is November 2017.  The company says the additional supply will keep natural gas prices lower overall, while also dampening future natural gas and electricity price volatility.

 

Environmental groups are lining up in opposition.  The Connecticut Sierra Club has an educational forum scheduled for tonight in Danbury on the project.  It will be held at Danbury Library at 5:30pm

 

 

The project would involve the construction and operation of about 37.6 miles of natural gas pipeline and associated equipment and facilities in New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. The majority of the pipeline facilities, about 26.3 miles or 70 percent of the total 37.6 miles, would replace existing infrastructure.  Algonquin would also modify 6 existing compressor stations and 24 existing metering and regulating stations. 

 

Algonquin would replace a 26-inch-diameter mainline pipeline segment with 42-inch-diameter pipeline located in Putnam and Fairfield Counties. This 4.5 mile-long replacement segment would begin at the Southeast Compressor Station and extend into Danbury.  Algonquin would install the new 42-inch-diameter pipeline beneath Interstate 84, the Still River, a railroad line, and Mill Plain Road.  The replacement segment would end at Algonquin’s existing MLV- 19 site located east of Clapboard Ridge Road.

 

The Project would cross the Hudson River in New York and the Still River in Connecticut using the horizontal directional drill method.

 

 

Algonquin’s proposed construction work areas would be located within 50 feet of 337 residential structures and 95 non-residential structure. To address impacts on residences, Algonquin developed Residential Construction Plans to inform affected landowners of proposed measures to minimize disruption and to maintain access to the residences during construction.

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New diseases considered for treatment with medical marijuana

The Medical Marijuana Board of Physicians has recommended adding new conditions to the list of medical conditions allowed to be treated with medical marijuana.  Connecticut's Consumer Protection Commissioner agreed, and will draft regulations. 

 

The conditions are sickle cell disease, severe psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, and post-laminectomy syndrome with chronic radiculopathy, which is recurring back pain after surgery.  The Board voted unanimously against adding Tourette's Syndrome, a disorder of the nervous system that produces involuntary tics and vocalizations, to the list of qualifying conditions.

 

The regulation review process will include a hearing and public comment period before the proposed regulation is sent to the Attorney General for review and then to a Legislative Committee. 

 

The original 11 medical conditions set forth in Public Act 12-55 include:

Cancer

Glaucoma

Parkinson's Disease

Multiple Sclerosis

Epilepsy

Cachexia

Damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity

Crohn's Disease

Positive status for HIV or AIDS

Wasting Syndrome

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

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Another push for Workers Comp to cover PTSD in first responders

A public hearing before the legislature's Labor Committee is drawing mixed views on a proposal that would expand workers compensation coverage to a person who suffers mental or emotional impairment under certain conditions.

 

Trumbull Police Detective Robert Capola, representing the Connecticut Council of Police Unions voiced support for the bill saying many first responders to Sandy Hook School on 12-14 suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  He says had those responders suffered a physical injury, they would have been covered under Worker's Comp.  State Police Union President Andrew Matthews says any injury arising from employment should be covered.

 

Connecticut Conference of Municipalities board member Steve Werbner says they oppose the bill, calling it an unfunded state mandate.  He says if the state deems this bill essential, the state should pay for it.  Werbner also called the bill vague.  He says the maiming definition is open to interpretation and that the diagnosis of metal impairment is highly subjective.  He notes that it could overlap with existing symptoms of depression, substance abuse or other anxiety disorders

 

CCM suggests lawmakers look at a number of alternatives.

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Local lawmakers wants changes to public campaign financing system

Reforms are being offered by Republican legislative leaders to the state's public financing system for campaigns.  They claim the system has been compromised by loopholes and politically motivated changes in the law. 

 

Republicans are proposing a reduction in all grants by 25-percent, denying grants to candidates running unopposed and enforcing rules barring contractors doing business with the state from donating to campaigns.  When it comes to reducing the grants, Danbury State Senator Mike McLachlan said that most people don't realize it's taxpayer money paying for the junk mail that comes to their mailbox during the campaign.

 

McLachlan says money has trumped sunlight in Connecticut -- a state which was once a model for clean elections.  He says the backdoor was opened wide to bring more money into the campaigns, regular donations that could be shifted into taxpayer funded campaigns.

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