SOUTHINGTON — It was 1998 and longtime resident Michelle Allaire lived on Lazy Lane, directly across from a 73-acre site inhabited by woods and wildlife.
When she learned the town was considering letting AES Enterprises, a Massachusetts company, build a 720-megawatt gas-fired generating plant on the land, she jumped into action.
Her efforts, along with hundreds of other residents, ultimately contributed to blocking the plant, but not without almost a year of fighting.
Now 20 years later, she stands by the effort with pride.
“Our community wouldn’t be what it is today if it had been built,” Allaire said Wednesday. She said she still lives on Lazy Lane and enjoys being able to look out at the woods where the plant would have been.
Back in 1998, the Town Council unanimously approved the first step toward constructing the $200 million plant.
When it was first proposed, the economic development coordinator at the time, Michelle Stronz, estimated the plant would generate $6 million to $9 million a year in tax revenue after a five-year tax abatement period, though other estimates put the figure between $2 million and $3 million.
The plant was supported by town officials largely for its potential to generate tax revenue, which was appealing after losing substantial tax revenue from Pratt and Whitney not long before.
AES proposed to occupy 12 acres of the land, which officials said would leave much of the site undisturbed. But the project also included two 155-foot-tall exhaust stacks, which would have been visible from Interstate 84 and likely Route 10 nearby.
Hundreds of residents objected, citing disruption of their neighborhood, falling property values, traffic, noise, pollution, and the loss of woodlands.
Allaire said they held rallies on the Town Green. Some attended every relevant town meeting to voice opposition.
“The outrage was just unbelievable,” Allaire said. “The whole town pulled together to get this thing not here, except for town officials.”
Despite wide opposition from residents, the Town Council, Planning and Zoning Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals and other boards and commissions continued to approve construction.
The proposal was finally halted by the Connecticut Siting Council in 1999. One of the reasons was because the plant called for using up to 3.2 million gallons of water a day for cooling.
“We were just so ecstatic ... happy ... and exhausted at that point,” Allaire said.
The controversy ended up sparking the formation of an Independent Party in town that was credited for playing a large part in the 1999 town election.
Democrat Chris Murphy served on the Southington PZC when the power plant was proposed. As a freshman state lawmaker the next year, the first bill Murphy sponsored was to double the amount of time cities and towns have to consider power plant applications. "We should make sure towns have the complete opportunity to make a reasoned and informed recommendation,” said Murphy, now a U.S. Senator.