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Advocate Encourages Use of Old Industrial Sites

WATERBURY — Steve Schrag knows that refurbishing the city’s abandoned factory sites and cleaning the contaminated soil won’t be easy or cheap.

But on Wednesday, the long time advocate for developing these contaminated sites urged an audience of more than 150 to remain hopeful and to help the Naugatuck Valley Project return these properties back to productivity and create some jobs in the process.

“When you’re handed a lemon, you have two choices: suck it and have a sour face, or find water and sugar and make some lemonade,” Schrag told the audience at the group’s spring community meeting at Our Lady of Fatima Parish Center.

The city’s political and economic leaders have long viewed brownfields, as these abandoned sites are commonly called, as one of the biggest obstacles to the city’s economic development. On Wednesday, the Naugatuck Valley Project, a coalition of religious, labor and community leaders from throughout the valley, urged state and local leaders to do whatever it takes to get these properties back on track.

Robert Halgreen of St. John of the Cross Church in Middlebury highlighted the problem by showing 1950s photos of the city’s bustling factories followed by contemporary images of desolate buildings surrounded by menacing gates.

“These buildings were what made Waterbury great,” Halgreen said. “We have to clean them up.”

Sheila O’Malley, former chief of staff to Mayor Michael J. Jarjura and current director of economic and community development at Derby, represented Jarjura at the meeting and assured the group that the mayor’s office will strive to get more resources for the cleanup effort from the state and federal government. She also promised to provide the group with an account of how much money the city received for the cleanup effort and where the money is.

Group members also spoke at great length about the need for medical interpreters at area hospitals. After several speakers talked about how they or people they knew were endangered by the fact that they didn’t understand English while at the hospital, officials from Griffin Hospital in Derby and Charlotte-Hungerford Hospital in Torrington pledged to continue meeting with organization members and to urge the Connecticut Hospital Association to put the item on its agenda.

Copyright (c) 2007 Republican-American 06/07/20