BERLIN — Connecticut Light Power (CL&P) will pay $27 million to customers in atonement for the late October/early November power outage that left more than 800,000 customers without electricity for more than a week. CL&P parent Northeast Utilities had set up a $30 million fund to provide bill credits for customers who lost power in the wake of a freak October 29 snowstorm that interrupted electricity service throughout much of the state. CL&P's preparation for and response to the storm and subsequent power outage was met with public outrage and led to condemnations from local and state officials, including Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. The furor over the storm response led to the resignation of CL&P President Jeffrey Butler.
NU initially offered $10 million in bill credits to customers. But after Malloy said that figure was too low, the company increased the damages pool to $30 million.
Limo firm has lived the Hy life for more than six decades
Like father, like son?
Matthew Levine joined the family business, Hy’s Limousine Worldwide Transportation, almost four years ago. But he didn’t take a direct route. Before settling in as a third-generation proprietor of the West Haven company, Levine made a slight detour.
“I worked in marketing for a media company in New York after graduating [from college],” says Levine. “It was a great experience. I would recommend to anyone, if they’re thinking about [joining] a family business, to do something prior, get a different experience, before you go into it.”
Levine is now comfortably settled into the limousine-service business that his grandfather started in the 1940s and his father, Bob, steered into a thriving company considered among the tops in the industry, according to Limousine Digest.
“I guess growing up with it in the background, I guess I always had it in the back of my mind to give it a shot at some point,” says Levine, who was named a 2009 Business New Haven Rising Star. Among the factors that influenced his decision to join the family business was a desire to continue the legacy, he says.
“I have a lot of pride in what my grandfather and father started,” Levine says. “It’s rewarding, the sense of being able to continue that.”
The current fleet consists of about 100 vehicles. The company’s corporate clientele is its largest single group of customers. Transportation also is provided on a regular basis for events and venues such casinos, weddings, proms, funerals, cruises and other special occasions.
Last year the company just celebrated its 60th year of operation. It has come a long way from its humble beginnings, when Levine’s grandfather, Hyman (Hy) Levine, started it as a weekend business. Hy Levine had been operating a small used-car business in New Haven and also worked for the New Haven Register making newspaper deliveries. After tire-stripping a Register-owned limousine to help with the war effort, the newspaper asked Hy if he could use the vehicle. It became the first of his eventual fleet. The Levine family’s limousine company was established in 1951 as Hy’s Livery Service.
“We operated the business originally from our home in Hamden. We only had two vehicles,” recalls Bob Levine, Hy’s son and Matthew Levine’s father. “Originally,” adds Bob, “clients were entirely the funeral business, and occasionally a wedding.” Proms later became a significant part of the business.
Like that of his son, the family limo business has been a consistent part of Bob Levine’s life. He and the company were born in the same year.
“The family business has always been there,” Bob Levine says. He contemplated pursuing a law degree after studying political science in college. However, after his father became ill Bob, an only child, decided to return home.
“I came to the business in ’73” after graduating from college,” he recalls. By then the fleet had grown to eight vehicles. He helped grow that number to 28 over the subsequent seven years.
One of the biggest developments affecting the industry was the construction of I-95, he says.
“It was a chance for transportation to take an entirely different turn. Route 1 took forever to get anywhere.” With the highway (which opened in 1958 as the Connecticut Turnpike) came, among other things, increased demand for airport transportation.
While Connecticut Limousine originally took the lead in that service area, “that opened up the door for the rest of us,” says Bob Levine.
Following Hy’s death in 1982, Bob assumed full control of the business. All the while, his family was growing up: Matt has a sister and two brothers, one of whom is his twin.
“I originally hoped both boys would come into the businesses,” Bob says of the twins, the older of the Levine siblings. But when Matt decided to take the New York marketing job, Bob considered that his desire to pass the business on to his children might not materialize.
It was that New York hiatus, however, that cemented Matt’s desire to join the company started by his grandfather and nurtured by his father.
After receiving a degree in management from Syracuse University, Matt went to work for Wenner Media. He worked in marketing for that company, best known for its flagship publication, Rolling Stone magazine. The younger Levine spent about five years there, then decided to put his skills to use for the family business.
“His working for Rolling Stone and Wenner Media opened up a lot of doors,” allows Bob, who adds that the time away also helped his son grow in a way he might not have had he not taken the New York position.
“It helped his maturity level and gave him a chance to interact with a variety of people,” says Bob, adding that Matt has been a great asset to the business since returning.
“He began to take over a number of duties I was involved with on a day-to-day basis.”
Among the expansion projects Matt introduced and/or helped develop is its affiliate network, which connects Hy’s Limousine clients with limousine service at locations throughout the world.
“We want to expand our presence even greater than what it is,” Matt explains. “We view our business on a national and international level.”
That resourceful business connection is made possible through the kind of technology that was unimaginable when the company began, Bob notes.
“All over the country we have a new affiliate network that gives us business over the telephone or over the Internet,” he says, adding that some companies are reluctant to update their business plans to include extensive online interaction. “I think we have to embrace [the Internet] in some ways,” he says.
Hy’s Limousine embraces technology inside its vehicles as well, utilizing GPS devices and fleet tracking technology to enhance safety. Chauffeurs, the company touts, have “impeccable” driving records. In addition to being completely licensed, they are subjected to extensive background checks before becoming employed with the company. Their driving records are checked on an ongoing basis, and they are tested periodically for alcohol and drugs.
The fleet is varied. Since that first World War II-era limousine was secured, the selection has grown to include SUVs, passenger vans, mini-coaches, super-stretch limos, and coach and luxury buses.
With weddings, especially, Bob Levine has seen a change in taste over the years.
“It’s a case of multiples,” he says noting that “party buses” are largely preferred by wedding parties these days. “You’re putting eight people into a vehicle.”
Included among the SUV choices are Chevrolet Suburbans, Cadillac Escalade ESVs and GMC Denali XLs. The luxury limo buses can carry up to 25, and amenities include leather seats, a 42-inch LCD TV with DVD player and iPod adapter. Mini-coaches, as well as other vehicle choices, have equivalent offerings.
Many of those vehicle additions were initiated by Matt, who also upgraded the website when he joined the family firm. While he could foresee and make fairly accurate predictions about some aspects of the industry — such as the popularity of SUVs — with others he has to take a wait-and-see approach.
For example, the standard vehicle for most reputable limousine companies has been Ford’s Lincoln Town Car luxury sedan.
“That’s the majority of what we have and what we most use,” notes Matt. “Most people have come to expect the Lincoln Town Car. That’s the majority of what they see.” But that era is coming to an end.
“They’re not making it anymore,” Matt notes, adding that no decision on a replacement has been made yet.
“We have Cadillacs as well, and we may choose to take that route. It’ll be interesting to see what we go with.” That decision will likely be made within the next four or five months, after the auto industry’s new vehicles and 2013 models have been introduced, he says.
One aspect of owning a longtime business to which the Levines pay considerable attention is their responsibility to the community. Events and programs that benefit children are especially important to them, and they routinely make donations to school- and youth-oriented causes. They’ve also helped children realize their aspirations through the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
It’s just a way to give back to a community that has welcomed the business, says Bob Levine.
“Where we came from to where we are today, without question we’re very, very fortunate to be located in the greater New Haven area. That has been very good to us,” Bob says, citing clients such as Yale University and Yale-New Haven Hospital that have supported the businesses for many years.
By the same token, Hy’s Limousine has been repeatedly cited for its business successes. In 2009, for example, Limousine, Charter & Tour magazine listed it at No. 23 in its “100 Largest Fleets” issue. The company also has been on the magazine’s “Top 50 Limousine Companies” in the nation list.
As for what else is on the horizon for Hy’s Limousine, the company just might expand its corporate footprint.
Headquartered in West Haven, the company also has affiliate offices in New Britain and Fairfield. The Fairfield base was established after the company acquired Fairfield Executive Livery — another savvy business decision Bob credits Matt with making.
From these points Hy’s Limousine provides transportation throughout the state and to airports and other locations in the tri-state and New England areas. The affiliate network is utilized for additional clientele needs.
Regarding the Fairfield location, “Definitely a portion of our growth has come from acquisition,” Bob explains. He would like to expand more by bringing another company under the Hy’s Limousine umbrella.
“My greatest desire at this point is I’m hoping to have one more purchase — a sizable presence, one that would put us more statewide,” says Bob. “It’s the easiest, and probably the most viable means towards large growth. We hope for something from Fairfield County.”
An ideal candidate would be a business with about 20 to 25 vehicles that grosses more than $1 million in sales annually, he says.
“That would be a very substantial addition, something that provides growth.”
Nine Connecticut communities will receive $17 million in state loans and grants to restore toxic or abandoned former commercial and industrial sites to productive reuse.
The state’s Department of Economic & Community Development announced December 2 this opening round of brownfields funding paves way for a second round, for which the agency says it is now accepting applications. That deadline is February 3.
DECD Commissioner Catherine Smith said the $12.95 million in loans and $4.6 million in grants are meant for commercial and industrial redevelopment; affordable housing; and mixed-use developments with hotel, residential and retail space.
Bridgeport received $725,000 in a pair of grants, including $450,000 to clean up for 148 & 220 Waterview Avenue.
Waterbury got two grants totaling $600,000 for environmental investigation and cleanup of 44 Chapel Street and the Mill Street/South Main/River Street quadrant.
Middletown received a $500,000 grant to help with the purchase and redevelopment of property for the Community Health Center at 645 Main Street.
CHESHIRE — A company that makes metal parts for the aerospace industry has agreed to pay a penalty of $105,240 to settle claims by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the manufacturer violated federal Clean Air Act requirements meant to prevent chemical releases as well as federal community right-to-know laws.
According to EPA, Consolidated Industries Inc. violated the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act by failing to file chemical reporting forms for chromium and nickel in 2007 and 2008.
EPA also alleged that the company failed to put in place a required Risk Management Plan for hydrofluoric acid stored at the facility, in violation of the federal Clean Air Act. An accidental release of hydrofluoric acid could have severe consequences, due to its high toxicity and ability to travel significant distances downwind as a dense vapor. The complaint stemmed from an April 2010 inspection of the facility as well as follow-up letters seeking additional information.
Consolidated Industries cooperated with EPA throughout its investigation, and has since filed the required chemical reporting forms and certified that it is in compliance with community right-to-know reporting requirements. The facility also has reported to EPA that it stopped using hydrofluoric acid in concentrations that make it subject to the Risk Management Plan requirement.
Embattled Connecticut Light & Power incurred nearly $163 million in cleanup and capital costs in the October 29 freak snowstorm, and the costs were "prudent," according to a document filed December 7 by CL&P's parent company, Hartford-based Northeast Utilities.
Utility companies are allowed to include prudent costs in customers' rates, so the $163 million could eventually end up in electric bills if state regulators agree with NU's assessment. But that is unlikely happen any time soon.
NU said last month the projected cleanup cost of Tropical Storm Irene would be about $92 million. Combined the two storms would costs ratepayers $255 million if NU seeks recovery of that amount in rates, and if regulators agree the costs were prudent.
An NU spokesperson said company executives have "discussed 2014" as a possible target for a rate case, which would include the storm costs.
Separately, NU established a $30 million fund to reimburse about 200,000 eligible CL&P customers who were without power after the October storm. That money, about $18 million, or 10 cents a share after taxes, will not be paid by customers, NU said in the document filed with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission.
Every community in Connecticut would have a select region safeguarded against power outages and containing shelters, public safety, groceries and other crucial services under a strategy outlined December 7 by the state's top environmental official.
In his first testimony on the recent storms that caused record-setting outages, Department of Energy & Environmental Protection Commissioner Daniel C. Esty also said officials should explore tougher design and construction requirements, rules to keep more line repair crews in-state, and utility performance guidelines — with penalties linked to executive pay.
Recalling the public scramble to secure basic services after both the October 29 snowstorm and Tropical Storm Irene in late August, Esty asked Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's Two Storm Panel to envision "micro-grids" in each city and town where not only police stations and hospitals would have power, but sufficient shelters, grocery stores and gasoline stations to meet local needs.
More than 600,000 Connecticut businesses and residences lost power following Irene, which hit August 27-28, and more than 800,000 lost service after the October storm. The latter storm in particular led to prolonged gasoline lines in the days immediately afterward as many motorists had to travel beyond their own communities to find a station with electrical service.
"We're talking about a mission-critical site with a local source of power that would not go down" in the face of large-scale outages, Esty said.
These "mission critical" centers could be developed over time through several complementary policy changes.
The commissioner endorsed an expansion of tree-trimming efforts near power lines — an approach that has drawn near-universal support.
But Esty said that while this would protect Connecticut's electric grid as a whole, the state also should investigate moving select sections of its 17,000 miles of power lines underground.
This often has been criticized as too expensive, Esty said, citing "ballpark cost [estimates] of $1 billion per mile." But select burying of overhead line sections, as they wear out, might be a cost Connecticut ratepayers could bear if spread out over 20 or 30 years. He added that these line improvements could be focused on strategic locations in each community's "mission-critical" neighborhood.
"Think of that addition as an insurance premium against storm damage" and loss of services, Esty said. "This would reduce that burden in a way that would be measurable."
The story originally appeared in CTMirror.com.
FAIRFIELD — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy joined Fairfield First Selectman Michael C. Tetreau and other dignitaries December 2 to mark the opening of the new Fairfield Metro railroad station. The $90 million station, which opened for commuter service December 5, also includes 1,400 parking spaces.
Located midway between the Fairfield and Bridgeport stations, Fairfield Metro was built by the state’s Department of Transportation (DOT) and the town of Fairfield. The DOT owns the entire station facility — the town’s third Metro-North station, including Southport station — while the station and parking lot will be operated and maintained by Fusco Management Co. Connecticut train service is provided by Metro-North under contract to the DOT.
“This project will be an enormous advantage for Connecticut commuters — and state and local leaders should be congratulated for their efforts here,” said Malloy. “I have been clear that we need to continue to invest in our transit infrastructure — it is one way we strengthen our economy and improve regional competitiveness. This new station demonstrates the power of partnerships to benefit the town and the state.”
DOT Commissioner James P. Redeker noted that Fairfield Metro is fully ADA accessible with elevators on each platform. In addition, the station has two high-level platforms with full-length canopies that can accommodate 12 rail cars each. Other station amenities include ticket vending machines, benches, shelters and a fully enclosed pedestrian overpass for easy passage between platforms. Recycling centers also are available on the platforms.
Beginning in January, bus service to and from the station will be provided by Greater Bridgeport Transit. Taxi service will be available at the station, which is located at 61 Constant Comment Way.
The New Haven Line, the busiest single rail line in the U.S., carried 37.3 million people in 2010, a 2.8-percent increase over the previous year.
NEW HAVEN — In what it calls an effort to provide better and faster communications, the United Illuminating Co. (UI) has enhanced its social media presence. Customers, investors, stakeholders and members of the media can follow the company on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to learn the latest news from UI and get energy efficiency tips, storm center information, timetables for power outages and service restoration, financial filings by parent company UIL Holdings as well as updates on products and services, payment assistance programs, EnergyStar equipment recommendations, rebate offers and holiday closing reminders.
Customers can visit and click on the distinctive social media icons on the company’s home page; search Facebook for UIL Holdings Corp.; follow @UnitedIllum on Twitter for storm-related updates, alerts and safety tips; and follow @UILHoldings for information about the corporation and all its subsidiaries. New videos about electric, gas and energy-related topics are on YouTube channel .
The electric company asks that customers still use traditional customer care phone numbers to report outages or other issues.