Area entrepreneurs find success designing and selling eco-friendly fashions

 

 

When last we encountered Kate Harrison, she recounted how difficult it had been to find environmentally conscious vendors to service her wedding back in 2007. That led Harrison to publish her own manual to help like-minded brides-to-be seeking to plan a “green” wedding.

 

Harrison’s saga (BNH, June 2013) is not unlike those of others who have a personal commitment to a sustainable lifestyle, but at times find the marketplace affords too few choices. Their solution is to establish their own green enterprises. When it comes to fashion and accessories, that commitment can evolve into a business for some.

 

Take the husband-and-wife owners of Funkoos organic baby clothes, for instance. The pair started the business when they sought organic clothes for their children, but found no stores selling them.

 

“We started Funkoos in 2009, after we had our twin boys,” says co-owner Chandra Sittiraju. “We were looking for good-quality organic clothing with cute designs that was difficult to find. Many of the big-store brands were organic but not of high quality. This inspired us to create our own brand.”

 

Once the decision was made to start their own business, the couple sought out high-quality materials and suppliers, says Sittiraju.

 

“All our products are created from 100-percent certified organic cotton, and all the manufacturing processes adhere to Global Organic Textile Standards,” says Sittiraju, adding, “We only work with suppliers who carry GOTS certification. All suppliers are not equipped to deliver the high quality we mandate. Over a period of time we have identified strong suppliers we work with, who understand our quality needs and are able to deliver what we need.”

 

For Cara Stimmel, proprietor of Fern Street Designs by Cara Stimmel, committing to quality also entails committing to local artisans who (re)create the eco-friendly jewelry she sells.

 

“I work with people in my Hartford area — at colleges or mothers who have children, for instance,” Stimmel says. Stimmel specializes in “recycled, repurposed and reused” fashion pieces. When she looks at old watch pieces, for example, she can see a brand new object.

 

“A gear from a watch, or something that has beautiful angles, I repurpose it into more of a contemporary feel,” Stimmel explains. Stimmel’s pieces are of the “Steampunk” genre, a category of vintage jewelry that evokes the look of jewelry popular during the industrial revolution of the 19th century.

 

Stimmel turned to creating her own repurposed jewelry after working in the traditional  jewelry manufacturing industry. She became dismayed by some of the industry practices, such as the use of toxic materials and off-shore manufacturing. In addition to dealing with local artisans, Stimmel goes to area flea markets and tag sales to find items that she then repurposes.

 

“It’s fun just trying to repurpose [an item] into something else,” she says. For example, she notes, an old watch can be turned into a charm bracelet.  “It has to strike the person looking at the object to say, ‘I appreciate the beauty for what it is as opposed to what it was.’”

 

Similarly, items that MaryLynne Boisvert  carries through her business, Bethany Homecrafts, are repurposed — or, as she prefers to describe them, “upcycled.”

 

“My concentration is on repurposing,” says Boisvert of her Bristol-based company. “I try to use natural, breathable fibers.

 

“I repurpose wool sweaters and cotton knits and some silks” as well as other materials. “So, that’s what is already in existence, but they can have a whole new life. What I do is, I rescue things from thrift stores.”

 

Boisvert’s commitment also extends to the care, as wells as the “afterlife” of her products.

 

“Everything goes through the wash,” she says. “I use all-natural laundry detergent. I don’t use the dryer. Everything is hung on a clothesline.

 

“All [material] scraps,” Boisvert adds, “get saved. They get donated [to animal shelters and dog-training facilities] for dog beds.”

 

 

 

 Mercedes Zarate takes a global approach to her five-year-old eco-friendly business, Ink Arts. Products include children’s apparel, purses and handbags, and sweaters made of alpaca.

 

“At the beginning we started introducing Peruvian products, eco-friendly jewelry, natural 100-percent cotton clothing and alpaca sweaters and accessories,” explains Zarate, who is based in Simsbury.

 

“I buy items that I like, that are different, unique and not easy to find — a conversation piece. So far people like what I am selling and they compliment them. Of course, I have items that only sell in craft shows, not at the store, which are the eco-friendly jewelry. They are made out of seed, fish scales, coconut and bull’s horn.”

 

Peruvian native Zarate was inspired to open her business after taking a trip to her native land in 2008.

 

“My admiration for the Incan culture made me realize that Peru has a lot to offer, with its diverse historical culture and diverse natural resources found with the three regions -- the Coast with the Pacific Ocean, the Highlands with its beautiful landscape and natural fruits and vegetables, and the jungle, with the Amazon River that is considered the jewelry box [of the region] because of the native primitive tribes and the amazing fauna.

 

“One of our popular products,” adds Zarate, “is the Alpaca sweaters and accessories. Therefore, our best-selling time of the year is winter. The alpaca fiber is soft and it is strong. It lasts longer than cashmere and it is an eco-friendly material. It was recycled and it is environmentally safe.”

 

Like many green enterprises, Zarate endeavors to give and/or give back to communities and environments through her products.

 

“I have preferences and guidelines when purchasing new items,” she says. “I like to give a chance to all non-profit organizations, like [fair-trade organization] SERRV and Call to Care Uganda. Their products are handmade from renewable materials and they help groups in need of financial help for food or school supplies. I prefer to work with third-world countries because I know what poverty is.”

 

So, is eco-friendly fashion an easy sell?

 

“Through these [past] five years I have built a small group of eco-friendly customers,” says Zarete. “This year we are adding more novelties and local handcrafted items. Customers like to support local artists/crafters. I learned that word of mouth is what is keeping me alive — but it takes a long time for the word to spread out.

 

“People are getting more conscious in protecting the environment and looking for products that are sustainable and environment-friendly,” Zarate adds. “But we are still far to get everybody involved in this lifestyle. That is why [it] is hard to sell some eco-friendly products. [Many consumers] are accustomed to mass-production items a way of living since the industrial revolution.”

 

For some, says Chandra Sittiraju, it’s a matter of going with convenience.

 

“Our personal belief is that these products are better for us consumers, as well as our environment. I think when it comes to apparel, it’s a harder sell than organic food,” she says. “Lots of times, organic is just a ‘nice-to-have’ and not a ‘must-have’ for most customers. [Therefore] we have to make sure our eco-friendly products have appealing designs, superior quality and are in the right price range.

 

“There is a segment of eco-friendly parents that is growing,” she adds. “These parents are happy to go the organic route for their babies, but it’s always not the case when they buy clothing for themselves.”

 

Being an online business has essentially helped business, says Sittiraju.

 

“We have evolved consistently [over the past five years],” she says. “We have invested smartly in technology and are perhaps one of the few apparel brands that have automated most aspects of our business.”

 

The automation has helped the company fulfill orders, an operational function that was sluggish and a “time killer” in the beginning, she acknowledges.

 

“In order to turn this weakness into strength, we smartly automated our distribution by partnering with Amazon,” she explains. “This distribution strategy helped us deliver unmatched customer experience by leveraging on Amazon’s core competency. This allowed us to focus on aspects of the business that we needed to focus on. Our co-founder, Sameer Joshi, is a strong believer in technology and was instrumental in getting this implemented.

 

"This distribution model also helped the us enter the European Union market by sitting here in Southbury, Connecticut,” adds Sittiraju. “For EU markets, our products are warehoused in Amazon’s United Kingdom warehouse, from where we service 26 European Union countries. In U.S., our products are warehoused across Amazon U.S. warehouses.”

 

With the online model, the company broke even “very quickly,” asserts Sittiraju. “This allowed us to run our business as a real start-up with very little overhead. Through the online model, we were able to sell our products across all major continents.”

 

But there was a downside to the online model. Large numbers of customers placed small orders — as opposed to the store model, where a small number of stores place large orders, Sittiraju explains. But she says the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. And she foresees even more growth for the company and its eco-friendly products  in the near future.

 

“One solid advantage that online sales model provided was the confidence in our strategy, our product and our thinking,” says Sittiraju. “We know if we enter retail chains, as we are planning to do in next 12 months, we will be able to make Funkoos a household name in this segment.”

 

$20 million deal advances diversification of Elm City energy firm

 

NEW HAVEN — UIL Holdings Corp., parent of the United Illuminating Co., has purchased a 14.6-million gallon liquefied natural gas (LNG) storage facility and related assets in Milford from subsidiaries of Iberdrola USA, Inc. for approximately $20 million.

UIL consummated the purchase through its subsidiary on July 31. The Milford facility is operated by the Southern Connecticut Gas Co., which UIL acquired from Iberdrola in 2010 as part of a larger deal that also included Connecticut Natural Gas Corp. and the Berkshire Gas Co.

“Our natural-gas supply system is designed to provide gas to firm customers under all weather conditions, and it works,” said James P. Torgerson, UIL Holdings’ president and CEO. “This transaction is another prudent investment we are making to ensure we meet customers’ demands now but is inclusive of our growing customer base.”

The UIL Holdings’ gas-supply portfolio now includes three liquefied natural gas plants.  Besides the plant in Milford, the other two facilities are in Rocky Hill and Whately, Mass. Combined, these two other facilities have a storage capacity of more than 14.6 million gallons for liquefied natural gas.  This LNG diversification presents another supply option that can be utilized in times of high demand.

Liquefied natural gas traditionally is used to supplement natural gas supplies, particularly during the peak periods of winter. Liquefied natural gas is stored in specially designed facilities. When it is needed, the liquefied gas is heated, converted to vapor and injected into distribution pipelines.

 In Stratford, a long-dormant industrial property may finally have found a savior

 

 

Think of it as the ultimate white elephant.

The Stratford Army Engine Plant (SAEP) occupies 77 acres of eminently developable property near the mouth of the Housatonic River, across Main Street from Sikorsky Airport.

The reason the property is developable, but not developed, is what renders it a white elephant — the product of decades of contamination from industrial waste that all parties agree will take many millions of dollars to remediate. And therein lies the rub.

Previous redevelopment schemes over the past two decades — and there have been many — have foundered on the issue of the cost of environmental remediation. The U.S. Army is happy to be rid of the property for little or no remuneration, but has made it clear it will not fund a cleanup. And the town of Stratford, which would eagerly like to see the site returned to productive use, faces its own fiscal challenges that preclude even partial funding of a cleanup.

Now, however, a new potential developer has emerged. Last October Point Stratford Renewal (PSR) forged an agreement with the Army to acquire the vacant property and pursue a mixed-use development for residential. commercial, retail and recreational applications.

PSR is in fact a partnership of three Connecticut companies: Loureiro Properties, LLC, Development Resources, LLC and Sedgwick Partners, LLC. The principals had hoped to close the property transfer from the Army by the end of 2014, but now acknowledge that the deal may not be consummated before 2015.

What lends this latest proposal hope for success where previous efforts have faltered is state legislation, passed in May and taking effect July 1, to create a new, special tax district — or “infrastructure improvement district,” in Hartford bureaucratese — that would help to pay for the environmental cleanup of the site, as well as the roads, utilities, sewers and other improvements essential to breathing new life into the long-dormant property.

Under the law, the newly created district would be empowered to levy taxes and issue bonds to pay for infrastructure improvements and cleanup, certain to run into the millions of dollars.

“With a clear plan to financing infrastructure improvements we can move forward with remediation, redevelopment and progress,” said Stratford State Sen. Kevin C. Kelly (R-21) “This will grow a new neighborhood, complete with residential areas and space for recreation and commerce. It is time to bring jobs to Stratford and transform unused space into a center for business, entertainment and growth for years to come.”

“Stratford has waited 20 years to see this property return to productive use and this is another positive step in that direction,” added Stratford State Rep. Terry Backer (D-121). “This bill helps in the redevelopment of these 80 acres and hopefully employment, housing and grand list expansion.”

Perhaps. One remaining obstacle is posed by the state’s Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP), which must reach agreement with the Army regarding the extent to which the Housatonic riverbed adjacent to the property must be cleaned up before redevelopment can commence. A DEEP analysis is in process and results are expected to be announce by the end of this month.

Sited on what before 1927 was farmland, the SAEP was originally built in 1929 as Sikorsky Aero Engineering Corp.'s manufacturing facility. Later Sikorsky would consolidate its manufacturing operations to the present-day plant a few miles up the Housatonic River near the Shelton town line.

The property later was operated by the Lycoming division of Avco Corp., which manufactured engine components there. At its height in 1968 the facility employed 10,000 workers.

In 1976, the plant was acquired by the U.S. Army and renamed the Stratford Army Engine Plant. In 1987 Avco was purchased by Textron to become Textron Lycoming and in 1995, Allied Signal acquired the Lycoming Turbine Engine Division in Stratford. By this time, employment in the plant had declined to 2,900 workers.

In July 1995 the Base Realignment and Closure initiative of the Department of Defense recommended shuttering the plant. Later that year Allied Signal announced that production would be shifted to its facility in Phoenix, Az. Three years later Allied Signal concluded operations in the plant and returned it to the U.S. Army. It has been idle ever since — a silent sentinel along the Housatonic sitting atop seven decades’ worth of industrial contamination including waste oil, fuels, solvents and paints.

Stratford occupies an odd enough socioeconomic niche among southern Connecticut communities that even town residents don’t always agree on what exactly it is. In Fairfield County but not of it, the town of 50,000 is walled off from tony Gold Coast communities such as Westport by the state’s largest city — Bridgeport — one of the poorest American cities in one of the nation’s wealthiest counties.

Residents of working-class neighborhoods such as the South End argue — not without a measure of pride — that Stratford is a “blue-collar town” (the town’s largest employer is Sikorsky Aircraft). On the other hand, the gracious 18th-century Colonials of the town’s historic district house college professors, lawyers and other professionals who lend the neighborhood a decided white-collar feel.

Fish or fowl? Residents don’t always, or even often, agree. But today, hope springs eternal — even in Stratford, where a plucky band of starry-eyed neighborhood activists have been working tirelessly to resurrect the hulking Shakespeare Festival Theater, which went dark a quarter-century ago. This, despite tepid enthusiasm and even outright opposition from those in Town Hall who would prefer to see the 60-year-old wooden structure razed and the 15-acre riverfront property sold to a private developer and returned to the tax rolls.

Some Stratford residents ponder their town’s “post-Sikorsky future” — whether as a Shelton-like condominium nest, or as a cultural attraction anchored by the Shakespeare theater and buttressed by a beautiful historic district and gracious boutiques and restaurants.

In Stratford Town Hall, at least, officials are optimistic an SAEP deal will get done. “The developers for the Stratford Army Engine Plant site continue to be encouraged by the interest of both potential users and tenants, as well as local, state and federal officials in getting the site cleaned up and redeveloped,” says Marc Dillon, chief of staff to Stratford Mayor John Harkins.

“The focus on cleanup and reuse of contaminated properties by Mayor John Harkins and his administration has led to significant grants from the state and federal governments for assessment and cleanup of brownfield sites,” adds Dillon. “This has increased interest in economic development throughout Stratford.”

Perhaps. But Stratford residents who have been through the redevelopment wars will believe it when they see it.

 

 Area companies make protecting the environment a core part of their missions. But at what cost to the bottom line?

 

 What are Connecticut companies doing to make sustainability part of their core mission? And what happens when sustainability clashes with the imperative to maximize profits? Those are the questions we asked some companies that continue to lead the way in sustainability and “green” practices. Their answers all have a common thread: doing the greatest good at the lowest cost to benefit both customers and employees.

“Sustainability has different meanings to many people,” says Tony Marone, senior vice president for customer and business services at UIL Holdings Corp., parent company of the United Illuminating Co., Southern Connecticut Gas Co., Connecticut Natural Gas and Berkshire Gas Co. “If you start with how we’ve looked at sustainability, it has to do with things that make sense both from an environmental and a societal impact as well as a business impact. From a long time ago we’ve been involved in energy-efficiency programs and we’ve promoted them very heavily to our customers.

“There was a time back in the late 1980s where it didn’t make any sense, necessarily, for us to do conservation programs,” he adds. “But we knew it was a good thing for customers, and so it was something that we promoted.”

Marone says his company continues with its original conservation programs but employs different mechanisms that don’t have a negative impact on the bottom line.

“It doesn’t hurt us financially as a business to be in the business of conservation,” he explains. “But, aside from that, we still do it and we always have because we feel that there’s no sense in customers using more of our product than they need to.

“We do a lot of things with customers that helps them, with home energy audits and all the various business programs that we have,” Marone says. “Right now, just on the electric side alone, we’re spending about $30 million a year in conservation. Between our two gas companies, it’s about another $20 million. Some of that is the kind of things you’d imagine like providing home energy audits and making sure that compact fluorescent bulbs (CFL) are cheaper. It’s also targeted at things that help customers make good investments in sustainability and have programs in place like we have here.”

Marone notes that his company has an initiative that helps customers identify ways that they can be more sustainable.

“We do it in a way that it’s not just from an environmental perspective, but it’s also good for business,” he says. “What we’ve migrated toward is that we work with the manufacturer of these low-cost CFLs or LED bulbs upstream and we buy down the cost of those. You used to have a rebate coupon that you’d have to mail in and get back a rebate on a bulb you purchased. What we try to do is make all that transparent to the customer so you see a lower price in the store due to our work behind the scenes so we can get the sales data on how many of those bulbs they sell from the incentives that we paid upstream. That’s been very successful.”

Marone adds that the company offers residential customers a program called home energy solutions, which utilizes a network of contractors that work for the program.

“They provide turnkey services where they perform a whole-home evaluation and look at not only light bulbs and shower heads but also the house’s weatherization,” explains Marone. “They usually spend somewhere between $600 and $800 worth of free services that they install in the home. There’s a small co-pay by the customer but the services they receive in exchange are really quite something.”

Marone says that, although the UI isn’t directly involved in solar and wind co-generation by its customers, they are offered statewide through the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund sponsored by the Clean Energy Finance & Investment Authority.

“They offer programs for people who want to install panels on their roofs,” says Marone.

Marone says that both of the company’s new buildings in Orange are Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certified Gold.

“We made a conscious decision when we were building both of these buildings to meet the LEED certification,” says Marone. “Our original design was to at least be Silver-certified and, if possible, try for the Gold level. Like anything in life, there’s always a trade-off. As you look at new technologies that may be more sustainable and more efficient, here’s a balance between the cost and the benefit of those technologies. In the end, we struck the right balance so that we were able to get the LEED Gold certification but, at the same time, we had to be sensitive about the fact that the cost of the building is something that the company and our customers are going to pay for over the next 30-plus years.”

Marone says UIL created a Business Enterprise Sustainability Team (BEST) some five years ago to focus on sustainability issues. There are about a dozen employees from different areas of the company who have volunteered their time.

“We formed the team to make sure that we as a company practice what we preach to customers,” says Marone. “Things like single-stream recycling is at all of our facilities. Simple things, like double-sided printing, is standard on all our printers. In our restrooms, we put in the hand dryers as opposed to using paper towels.

“There are a variety of initiatives that we’ve put in place,” adds Marone. “In 2009, we started a greenhouse gas carbon inventory report that does a full inventory of all our carbon-based emissions for us to track and monitor these items. The reports helped us put in some practices with regard to the fleet and fleet management that saved us some fuel. None of these things by themselves are knocking it out of the park but each of them starts to contribute a lot toward having a better overall sustainability and environmental footprint.” The company has some vehicles that are hybrid gasoline-electric and some that run on natural gas.

“We would be willing to sacrifice some profitability to make it work and do the right things,” says Marone. “In the case of our new buildings, we did what we thought were the types of measures that struck a balance between having a business payback and doing the right thing environmentally. There’s a common sense approach to it, but if your objective is to do the right thing, oftentimes doing the right thing also is going to produce good business results and good results for customers.”

“Years ago we tackled the low-hanging fruit and the ‘green team’ initiatives — recycled paper, single-stream recycling,” says Nora Rizzo, sustainability coordinator for the New Haven-based Fusco Corp. “We purchased plant-based cups and plates, eliminated single-use water bottles, performed LED lighting retrofits, implemented electronic waste recycling, hosted carpooling and public transportation campaigns, and purchased video-conferencing equipment.

Rizzo notes that Fusco’s sustainability program has achieved its goals but there is more work to do.

“The connotation of the word ‘sustainability’ has changed drastically over the last decade,” says Rizzo. “It is no longer an option for companies to want to be sustainable; they have to be sustainable. In order to compete, all companies have to adopt the notion that they will need to do more with less.

“Sustainability is now an all-inclusive package,” she adds. “We have to incorporate energy efficiency, dematerialization, health and wellness, resource management, habitat protection and water conservation into every decision. This is the only way to ensure profitability. Companies that rely solely on coal, oil, natural gas, conventional vehicle transportation and municipal water supply will no longer be competitive in the very near future.”

Rizzo points out that builders such as Fusco are at a significant turning point in the construction industry regarding sustainability.

“Rating systems like LEED, Passive House and EPA EnergyStar helped propel green building to the mainstream,” Rizzo explains. “Remarkable organizations, like the International Living Future Institute, are pushing sustainability to the next level. I, along with other Living Future Ambassadors, believe that every building can be net-positive energy and water, and has the potential to restore the natural world. There are so many components that can’t be neatly inputted into a spreadsheet. Environmental restoration, employee satisfaction and productivity, occupant health, and a reconnection with nature are invaluable benefits of a truly sustainable company or building.”

“For our Seymour location, we’ve pretty much done everything from solar power to recycling,” says Karl Weidemann, manager of communication and sponsorships for the Thule Group’s Vehicle Solutions North America/Outdoor, Truck Accessory and Child Transport Systems. “We started a food-scrap recycling program as well as a low-voltage lighting program in all areas that doesn’t draw as much electricity. We have a solar array on our roof that uses 1,800 solar panels providing 30 percent of our electrical needs for the factory here in Seymour. We have our warehouse and factory here and our North American headquarters offices are located here as well, all benefiting from solar co-generation.”

Weidemann says the solar panels were installed about five years ago and immediately began contributing to the company’s electrical savings. He says that there are 50 employees in the Seymour office and about 250 more in warehouse and factory operations locally. The company’s employees take part in other recycling on premises including all excess raw materials, office paper, bottles and cans.

“We use knock-down pallets as a way to reduce plastic pallet wrap,” adds Weidemann. “In addition, we have a full locker room facility so that if employees wish to ride their bicycles to work, they can come in and use the separate showers facilities before work. The program pretty much manages itself. We have an online program that we look at to see what we’re producing on any given day. It’s been great for us.”

Weidemann says Thule’s retailers, many of whom themselves employ sustainable practices, are impressed with the company’s sustainability efforts and the feeling is passed down to consumers as well. The effect on Thule’s profitability isn’t a major factor.

“Most [consumers] want companies that are actively practicing sustainability, so it’s always been part of our mission but it’s also helping our customers to get outside more by protecting our environment,” says Weidemann. “We get that feedback from our website and also when we work with retailers and their customers when we visit stores that carry Thule products. We have a college intern here for the summer, who is taking sustainability studies at school, and he works for us solely on sustainability. He’s got different programs that he’s going to put into place before he leaves at the end of summer. We’re always looking for ways to maximize our efforts.”

 

 Mission to promote development of deep-water ports

 

NEW LONDON — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has signed into law legislation that creates the Connecticut Port Authority (CPA), which will act as a quasi-public agency to market and coordinate the development of the state’s ports and maritime economy. The legislation was passed by both chambers of the General Assembly in May.

 

Governed by a 15-member board, the CPA's primary role will be to coordinate port and maritime economic development, establish a statewide port marketing strategy and serve as the lead agency in seeking federal and state funding for such infrastructure improvements as dredging.

 

“Connecticut's three deep water ports in New London, New Haven and Bridgeport are important assets for attracting investment, expanding business development and creating jobs, all of which are keys to our economic recovery,” said Malloy at the signing ceremony. “With this new structure in place, a renewed focus at the State level and a comprehensive strategy that will be driven by the new Port Authority, I am more confident than ever that Connecticut's ports will be in a stronger position to attract more private investment and import and export business while also taking trucks off of our congested highways and driving job growth around the state.”

 

The new authority will be established October 1, 2015.

 

“With our new Port Authority structure in place, we can begin to turn our underutilized deep water ports into commercial hubs that will create new business markets along our coast and help spur economic growth throughout our state,” said House Speaker Brendan Sharkey (D-88) of Hamden. “Not only does our unique location between New York and Boston present new market opportunities, but more cargo on the water means less traffic on our highways.”

 

“Our ports are important intermodal gateways to Connecticut and New England highways and rail lines moving an array of consumer goods such as lumber, steel, salt and petroleum products,” said state Transportation Commissioner James P. Redeker. “With a smart, coordinated marketing and promotional plan, we will be in a position to attract more business and further boost the regional economy.”

 Seven employees disciplined for following doctors’ orders

 

 

 

BOSTON — Just chalk it up to more trouble for Metro-North.

 

 

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has determined that Metro-North Commuter Railroad
Co. violated Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) anti-discrimination provisions
 between 2011 and 2013 when it disciplined seven Connecticut employees for following their physicians' instructions.

 

OSHA's investigations found that employees working in New Haven and Stamford were issued written warnings under the railroad's attendance policy when they each followed the orders of their doctors to home from work. Five were carmen, one an electrician and one a foreman. (The Labor Department does not release the names of employees involved in whistleblower complains.)

 

The FRSA prohibits railroad carriers from disciplining or threatening to discipline employees who follow a physician's orders or treatment plan.

 

"Metro-North's policy of making employees ignore a treating physician's medical instructions or face discipline is unacceptable," said Robert B. Hooper, OSHA's acting regional administrator for New England. "While Metro-North says it has since changed this policy, this type of procedure, which endangers employees and the public and is illegal under the FRSA, should not exist."

 

The employees filed complaints with OSHA, which found merit to the complaints, and ordered Metro-North to pay each employee $1,000 in compensatory damages and reasonable attorneys' fees. The railroad must also expunge the written warnings from each employee's personnel record and post a workplace notice informing employees of their FRSA anti-discrimination rights. Either party in these cases can file an appeal with the department's Office of Administrative Law Judges.

 

Metro-North says that it took "swift action" to resolve the complaints this year and had expunged the warning letters before OSHA's ruling.

 

"Metro-North Railroad is committed to ensuring for all of its employees the protections established under the Federal Railway Safety Act," Metro-North spokesman Aaron Donovan said in a statement.

 

 Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has announced the creation of a $15 million Transit Oriented Development Pre-Development and Acquisition Fund to provide financing that will encourage developers to carry out transit oriented development (TOD) in communities with station stops along the CTFastrak and New Haven-Hartford-Springfield (NHHS) transit corridors.

 

The state and the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority (CHFA) will each contribute $1 million to the fund, which will be added to $13 million of private capital provided by the Local Initiatives Support Corp. of Connecticut, which will also serve as the fund manager.  Transit-Oriented Development prioritizes the development of a mix of uses — new housing, retail and commercial office space — near transit hubs to encourage the use of mass transit, reduce reliance on driving, and foster more dense, livable and walkable communities.

 

The TOD fund will be a $15 million fund comprised of $1 million from the Office of Policy and Management (OPM), $1 million from CHFA and $13 million from LISC. LISC was selected to serve as the TOD fund manager through a competitive process based on the organization’s experience funding and administering TOD projects as well as the group’s knowledge of the unique needs of Connecticut’s transit corridor towns.

 The engineering firm of Tighe & Bond has published the results of its 2013 Connecticut Water and Sewer Rate Surveys. The results indicate that residential users in Connecticut pay approximately $467 and $406 annually for water and sewer, respectively.  This represents increases of 11.6 and 10 percent, respectively above the 2011 averages.

Since 1998, Tighe & Bond has gathered and published Connecticut water and sewer rates data that municipal government, regional authorities and private water suppliers can use as a benchmarking tool for comparing their rates against other suppliers in the state. This can be particularly useful information when suppliers are considering adjustments to their current rates or rate structures. 

Tighe & Bond has calculated the annual average homeowner’s cost for water and sewer service based on the consumption of 72,000 gallons or 96 hundred cubic feet of water.  The survey – which includes typical annual homeowner water and sewer costs for systems throughout Connecticut – also provides information regarding rate structures and billing cycles.

Survey results are available at rates.tighebond.com.