Late in 1998, the Trust started its “Project 2000” (so named by then Trust President Victoria Sansing), which was to bury all underground utilities serving the West Street commercial block. At that time, the utility lines ran southerly from Route 202, across the Green, and fed most of the commercial properties from the front of each building. The electric, telephone, cable lines and their various structures and appurtenances caused an unattractive jumble of wires over the Green leading to the commercial buildings.
The Trust’s first step was to evaluate the position of the various utility companies on this project. CL&P, SNET Co. and Cablevision were all contacted and were supportive of the project. However, each had separate costs for the removal of existing lines and installation of new underground utility lines. The first question was where the underground feed of all of these lines would come from. After much discussion, it was determined that the simplest approach would be to install a new underground utility service from South Street through the Litchfield Preservation Limited Partnership property housing the Post Office, and then westerly behind the commercial block to Meadow Street. That was deemed more efficient than feeding the buildings by underground service across the Green.
The utility companies provided their initial costs to install the main line housing all utilities in the amount of approximately $125,000.
The next question became how would the access for utilities change to the existing commercial property owners. The Trust had several meetings with the 14 different entities that own property on West Street. It generated support for the project from each of them and they all committed to a modest payment, which would represent their contribution to the project. They all agreed to release their existing service feeds and to have new service feeds installed from the rear of the buildings. The Trust would be responsible for raising the majority of the funds for the project and providing new easements to all the property owners for the underground service.
The two most significant property owners were approached first for permission, namely, the State of Connecticut, which owned the Courthouse and secondly, The Town of Litchfield, which owned a portion of the municipal parking lot. After several meetings, each agreed to participate and at that point in April 2000, the Trust commissioned a survey of the rear of the commercial block which CL&P needed in order to install its underground easement.
Each property owner was shown the survey and the Trust agreed to pay any additional hookup charges to each of those buildings in excess of the minimum contribution of each of the 14 property owners. The Trust met with a local electrician, Bantam Electric Company, and they agreed to undertake the installation of all of the new service feeds. They were very cooperative throughout the whole project and contributed more time than their billings showed. A local contractor, Arthur D. Deacon and Sons, was selected to do the underground trenching and conduit work.
With a survey completed, representatives of the Trust went to each of the 14 property owners and showed them the location of the primary underground feed and where their individual easements would be needed. All cooperated in agreeing to execute the easements and make a modest contribution to defray the individual connections. If the connections exceeded the individual fixed amount, then the Trust picked up the balance of that individual connection.
The key property owner whose commitment was most necessary was the State of Connecticut, which operates the Litchfield Judicial District Courthouse on West Street. After several meetings, they agreed to the terms of the project. Then an encroachment permit was needed from the Department of Transportation of the State Connecticut in order to do the underground installation starting within the highway right-of-way on South Street. Ultimately, the DOT approved the encroachment permit.
By the Spring of 2001, it appeared that all applicable approvals, surveying and planning had been done and two major property owners were committed. It then fell to the various board members of the Trust to contact the remaining 12 property owners in the commercial block. Several members of the Board volunteered to contact individual property owners to get their commitment based upon the final plans. Obtaining those final 12 easements took considerable time. First, because of the nature of the required explanation to each of the property owners and each property owner’s particular title issues, CL&P required a title search of each of the properties and a certificate of title to the power company that the easement obtained from each owner would be ahead of any financing on each property. The Trust commissioned the various title searches and had its counsel provide the necessary certificate of title to the utility. Several property owners raise concerns relative to cost overruns and liability issues which had to be negotiated.
All of this took time and it was therefore not until the spring of 2003 that all easements were in hand and CL&P was assured that its easements would have precedence for each property. By this time, the cost of the project had grown to $186,500. Thanks to a generous Grant of $86,500 from the Seherr-Thoss Foundation, the Trust’s fundraising efforts, and approximately $65,000 of the Trust’s own funds, the project was able to start.
Because of the cooperation of the owners of the commercial buildings, the State and Town, the utility companies and the contractors involved, this beneficial project was started and completed with little inconvenience to the property owners or the public. Switchovers of the electrical power were individually scheduled so that merchants, the Court, the Post Office and public were not inconvenienced.
Finally, Project 2000 was completed in the late spring of 2003.