WALLINGFORD — The Town Council on Tuesday approved a $19,640 agreement with the State Historic Preservation Office after the town removed a section of the Center Street Cemetery wall last year.
As mitigation for removing a 15-foot-section of the wall, the town has agreed to pay a local firm, Epic Masonry, to repair other deteriorated parts of the 106-year-old wall, according to a memorandum of understanding between the town and the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). The town will not have to replace the section of the wall it removed.
The town cut the wall toward the rear of the cemetery last year to allow equipment to move between the cemetery and a new cemetery garage constructed last year at 60 Prince St.
Todd Levine, an architectural historian with SHPO, said the town violated Connecticut's Environmental Policy Act by not notifying SHPO about its plans to cut the wall, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997 and is protected by the National Historic Preservation Act.
"Because a state grant was used for (the new garage), the wall's removal should have been reviewed by the SHPO," Corporation Counsel Janis Small wrote in a memo to the mayor and Town Council last week.
The Connecticut Environmental Policy Act requires that state and municipal agencies undergo a review process for state-funded projects that could alter or disrupt historical resources.
“I think this one was missed,” Small told the council Tuesday about getting the review by SHPO before cutting the wall. “I’m sure we all contributed to (it).”
While SHPO said the wall section removal was an “adverse effect to historic resources,” it agreed with the town that there “are no prudent alternatives” to cutting the wall, the agreement stated, therefore SHPO did not require Wallingford replace the removed wall section.
The town received a $275,000 grant for the garage project through a program sponsored by the state Department of Economic and Community Development. The department said earlier this year that it would withhold remaining funds for the grant until the town meets requirements put forth by SHPO. Roughly $133,000 in remaining funds was being withheld, Small said Tuesday.
According to the memorandum of understanding, Epic Masonry, located at 110 N. Plains Industrial Road in town, will have 12 months to complete the work, which will include repairs to structural issues and concrete cracking. The town does not have to pay more than $19,640 for the repairs, the agreement stated.
Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said he didn’t have any objections to the town’s agreement with SHPO, adding that Small did a good job on the agreement.
The repairs will “protect the life of the wall for the foreseeable future,” Small said.
The Town Council voted 7-1 to approve the agreement with SHPO Tuesday, and also voted 7-1 to approve a bid waiver for the repair project. The council needed to approve the bid waiver for Epic Masonry before approving the agreement because the agreement specifically mentioned Epic Masonry and the $19,640 cost figure.
“Epic Masonry has a great deal of experience with historical structures and the SHPO agrees that they are qualified to do the work,” Small wrote in the memo.
Resident Jaime Hine urged the council not to approve the bid waiver during a public comment period, saying there is “no basis” for the bid waiver.
Republican Town Councilor Craig Fishbein, the only councilor who voted against approving the agreement and bid waiver, raised issues about a past bid process for maintenance to the cemetery wall.
Fishbein alleged the town put a project for cleaning and restoration of the cemetery walls out to bid in 2012 and received submissions from three companies, however, another company that didn’t submit a bid was ultimately selected for the project. Fishbein criticized the bid process and argued the company chosen did not properly maintain the wall, necessitating the present repairs.
The council also approved a new managerial contract with the Center Street Cemetery Association to manage and maintain the cemetery. Small said the contract was last updated in 1911 and needed to be brought up to ‘modern times.” The cemetery was established in 1670.