WALLINGFORD — The town and State Historic Preservation Office have settled a dispute over the town’s removal of a portion of the stone wall surrounding Center Street Cemetery last year.
Todd Levine, an architectural historian with the State Historic Preservation Office, alleged earlier this year that Wallingford violated Connecticut's Environmental Policy Act by not notifying SHPO about its plans to cut an opening in the historic wall, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997 and is protected by the National Historic Preservation Act.
The town cut a roughly 15-foot section out of the wall toward the rear of the cemetery last year to allow equipment to move between the cemetery and a new garage constructed at 60 Prince St. The wall needed to be cut so that workers could drive machines from the garage into the cemetery without driving on public roads, Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said earlier this year.
The town has agreed to pay $19,640 to a local masonry firm for various repairs to the cemetery wall as part of an agreement with SHPO, according to a draft memorandum of understanding between the town and SHPO. The cut portion of the wall will not be repaired but the firm, Epic Masonry, 101 N. Plains Industrial Road, will make repairs to other parts of the wall, including cracking and deteriorated concrete. The memorandum still needs approval from the Town Council.
The town was required to consult with SHPO before cutting the wall because the town received a state grant to construct the garage, Corporation Counsel Janis Small said in a memo to Dickinson and town councilors 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.
“Because a state grant was used for this project, the wall’s removal should have been reviewed by the SHPO,” Small wrote.
"The Town of Wallingford did not follow the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act in their removal of a part of the demarcating wall," Levine wrote in an email in November 2016. "Whether the lack of consultation with the State Historic Preservation Office was willful or an oversight from the municipality, the result is the same; an adverse effect must be resolved through mitigation."
Dickinson doesn’t believe the town did anything wrong by cutting the wall.
“Everyone was trying to do the right thing,” he said.
Small said that by approving the agreement to make repairs, the town is “not admitting any wrongdoing.” She wouldn’t go into detail about whether the town failed to contact SHPO before demolishing the wall.
“We’re not looking to get into any of that because we resolved it,” Small said.
Levine could not be reached for comment Monday.
The town’s Center Street Cemetery Association received a $275,000 grant for the garage project through a program sponsored by the Department of Economic and Community Development, which SHPO is a part of. DECD spokesman David Treadwell said earlier this year that the agency would withhold remaining funds for the grant until the town meets requirements put forth by the State Historic Preservation Office.
Since learning about the violation in November, SHPO worked with the town to reach a resolution.
“SHPO determined that the removal is an adverse effect to historic properties, but they have agreed that there are no prudent alternatives to the removal of the section of the wall,” Small wrote in the memo to the mayor and Town Council.
Wallingford agreed to hire Epic Masonry to review the wall’s current condition and make necessary repairs, Small wrote.
“As part of the evaluation of the work and in order to negotiate with SHPO, I requested a quotation from Epic Masonry for the work,” Small wrote. “The quote is $19,640. Epic Masonry has a great deal of experience with historical structures and the SHPO agrees that they are qualified to do the work.”
Had the town consulted with SHPO before cutting the wall, Small said, it’s possible that SHPO would have required the same action.
“It could have gone the exact same way had it been done beforehand,” Small said Monday.
The Town Council is expected to vote on whether to approve a bid waiver for the repairs Tuesday.
Dickinson said the $19,640 for the repairs will come out of Public Works’ buildings and maintenance account in this year’s budget.