Minutes before the state Bond Commission’s Friday meeting, Rep. Chris Caruso, D-Bridgeport, talked about how plans to build a girls detention and treatment facility in a residential neighborhood came as a complete surprise to him and Virginia Avenue residents.
But he was just as surprised when the Bond Commission, chaired Friday by Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele, withdrew the $15 million bond allocation for the project.
Caruso called Friday’s decision a “victory” for the City of Bridgeport.
Earlier this week, Caruso, who is a veteran legislator known for his candid observations, asked Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell to remove the detention center from the Bond Commission’s agenda citing a number of unanswered questions about the location and the need for the new facility. He said her response was “No.”
So why did the Bond Commission that Rell chairs change its mind?
Fedele, who sat in for Rell at Friday’s meeting, said the agenda is something that’s fluid. He said there were talks throughout the week and this morning about the girls detention facility.
“So we thought the best thing at this point was to withdraw the item and answer those questions so we can move forward,” Fedele said Friday at the end of the meeting.
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal who had sent a letter to Rell’s Budget Secretary Robert Genuario Thursday said he supports the development of a detention facility for girls, but has serious questions about how this project was allowed to move forward without an environmental study. Blumenthal said he had reviewed the related documents and found they lacked consideration for significant watercourses, aquifers, and endangered species.
And while it’s not a legal requirement, Blumenthal and Caruso wondered why community forums or other outreach efforts to residents in the area weren’t made.
Caruso said he learned about the project when Rell traveled to Bridgeport 10 days ago to make the announcement.
“Why should Bridgeport shoulder the lion’s share of social responsibility in the region,” Caruso said.
And while the state Department of Children and Families planned to build the new facility on a now vacant lot, Caruso said it’s in the middle of a residential neighborhood. He said one women who lives in a condominium complex behind the site said if it was built she could walk right out her backdoor into the detention center.
The last secure facility for girls was the Long Lane School in Middletown which closed in 2002.
House Majority Denise Merrill, who wrote a letter to Rell on behalf of Caruso, wondered why the state needs a new facility.
“At a time when your administration is planning the closure of another facility for juvenile boys at High Meadows, it does raise the questions of why we are contemplating building a new facility and simultaneously closing another,” Merrill said.
In addition to withdrawing the girls detention facility, the Bond Commission also revised its agenda to withdraw $26 million in funding for the New Haven-Springfield high-speed rail line.
Department of Transportation Commissioner Joseph Marie told the commission that he thinks they do have a little bit more time before they have to pull the trigger on this project.
He said he is working with Amtrak and the Federal Rail Administration to apply for the federal funds needed for the project. He said the state’s commitment to the project doesn’t have to be made until December or January at the latest.
The final 62-mile line isn’t expected to be completed until 2016. When it’s completed the New Haven-Springfield line is expected to improve commuter service along the I-91 corridor.
The next Bond Commission meeting is scheduled for Dec. 11.