For more than 50 years, townspeople have swarmed to the center of town to watch the Newtown Labor Day Parade. Entertaining, free, and educational at times, the floats, bands, horses, dogs, music and more work an end-of-summer magic on the people that line the streets, from the top of Main Street to the judging stand on Queen Street. It is a tradition that pulls the entire town together, erasing the divisions that make people exult in their Dodgingtown, Botsford, Sandy Hook, Hawleyville, or borough residencies. For a few hours, the first Monday in September every year, we are simply residents of Newtown.
There is a strip of open space that runs from the south to the north and east, skirting behind the ball fields at Reed Intermediate School, along Old Farm Road by open fields toward the point near Commerce Road where the Pootatuck River joins Deep Brook. Conservation Commission Chair Ann Astarita told The Bee last week that she is particularly concerned about this tract, known as the Deep Brook Open Space. It is supposed to protect Deep Brook, one of just nine Class I trout streams in the state. Last year, however, a toxic substance drained into the brook from storm water discharge pipes emanating from the Fairfield Hills complex. After the contamination was discovered, only four small live fish were found in a quarter-mile stretch of Deep Brook. Scores of fish were killed. Last week, Ms Astarita called the fish kill a “real environmental hit,” and urged the community to be more protective of its natural resources.
Of all the tools at our disposal for realizing the aspirations of success and happiness we have for our children in this age of educational innovation, the humble playground seems to be little more than a curio from a simpler time — an old-school monument to… well, old schools. Viewed against the modern array of electronic smart boards, networked personal devices, and other springboards into a brimming ocean of information, playground equipment can look like nostalgic relics of downtime, which is anathema to the modern young family, right? Newtown, wisely, is betting that is wrong.
Two years ago, when the governor signed Public Act 12-152, An Act Concerning the State’s Open Space Plan, the new law was heralded as evidence of Connecticut’s enlightened approach to conservation. Not only was the initiative seen as an endorsement of the state’s goal of extending open space protections to 673,210 acres — 21 percent of the state’s area — by 2023, it was intended to foster the same kind of strategic planning to open space protection that is normally accorded to land development. Specifically, it called for integrating open space acquisitions with the critical environmental need for protected wildlife habitats and ecosystems. The idea was to facilitate the efficient flow and operation of natural systems just as we might for transportation systems. It is a great concept, which according to a report issued by the Connecticut Audubon Society last week, is not working out in practice.
It has been about nine months since the Board of Selectmen appointed 12 volunteers to the Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial Commission. We learned from the panel last week that in that time, the commission has begun an “outreach process” to various groups in the community that will last for several months. When they were first appointed, First Selectman Pat Llodra warned them that the process of forming some kind of consensus on a community memorial for those lost at the Sandy Hook School on 12/14 would take time. It is clear from the commission’s great caution and care in approaching their task that they took the first selectman’s words to heart. In fact, in the preface to a list of frequently asked questions released by the commission last week, we discovered that “it has yet to be determined if a memorial will be constructed in the community.”
Once a pushcart gets rolling, you never know where it is going to stop. That may be the essential lesson of the Reed Intermediate School’s Pushcart Day. The end-of-the-school-year event has raised thousands of dollars over the years for causes ranging from autism research to the Women’s Center in Danbury. In the past two years, however, the impact of this annual fundraising effort has been amplified and redirected to children in West Africa where their charitable giving is not just lending a helping hand but transforming lives
There is a certain subset of Newtown inhabitants who don’t need signs or maps to identify Church Hill Road. They see the churches from stone steps to spires, and their own heart rates and respiration tell them it is a hill. They are sidewalk walkers. We see them every day from our office perch on the eastern slope of Church Hill within earshot of the snap of the town’s famous flag — just below where the sidewalk ends. Unfortunately, it is not the magical and poetic place made famous in every child’s imagination by Shel Silverstein. In the final 300-foot stretch to the top of the hill, where vehicles crowd simultaneously left and right to negotiate the tricky and busy intersection, pedestrians must leave the curb, join the fray, and hope for the best.
At the end of next month, the highway account of the federal Highway Trust Fund is expected to run out of money. Another fund for mass transit is scheduled to meet the same fate in October. Governor Dannel P. Malloy warned last week that protracted partisan paralysis in Congress could imperil more than 80 state highway, bridge, and rail projects, valued at $650 million, scheduled to start in the next fiscal year. This comes at a time when the federal Department of Transportation rates three-quarters of Connecticut’s roads as being in poor or mediocre condition. US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told the governor July 3 that the continuing political stalemate in Washington “is not something you can afford.”
Almost as soon as the armed assault on Sandy Hook School abruptly ended on December 14, 2012, cascades of information flowed outward to the world — some of it false, some of it true, some of it useless, some of it essential. Concurrently, there was an emotional response that was beyond telling but which moved with such power and force that it perturbed the flow some of the most useful information at a critical time for those victims’ families at the center of the tragedy. That was one of the poignant insights shared last week with the governor’s appointed Sandy Hook Advisory Commission by David and Francine Wheeler, parents of Benjamin Wheeler, who died at the school that tragic morning.
Newtown’s congressional representatives announced ten days ago that the town had secured another federal grant — this one $7.1 million from the Department of Justice — for mental health services and school safety measures. It is the latest infusion of money from the government in the wake of the December 2012 tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, following earlier grants from the Office for Victims of Crime and the US Department of Education’s School Emergency Response to Violence program totaling $4.7 million. No one was prepared for the local horror of 12/14, and nothing seems to impel the flow of federal money like after-the-fact “precautions” in the wake of profound tragedy.