MONTVILLE — On Tuesday evening, the Montville Planning and Zoning Commission gave the green light to Gateway’s plans to expand its existing road salt business in eastern Connecticut by redeveloping a vacant property on the River Thames.
Gateway Terminal attorney Harry Heller told the commission that the New Haven-based port operator intended to get the road salt distribution facility up and running before winter. The new facility will fill a void left when road salt supplier DRVN was evicted from the New London State Pier to make way for its redevelopment as an offshore wind hub – leaving the area without a local salt supplier.
A road salt business is permitted “as of right” on properties in the industrial zone, and the commission voted 7-0 to approve Gateway’s site plan for the project.
Heller said the site had been used for industrial purposes for “well over 100 years” – most recently the AES Thames Cogeneration power station and WestRock corrugated packaging plant, both closed and demolished.
Montville city planner Liz Burdick told CT Examiner that this was the first property redevelopment effort she was aware of since those two businesses closed. Gateway leases properties from Uncasville, LLC, a Missouri-based holding company registered with St. Louis developer Tom Roberts.
“This is an intermodal facility, it is for the movement of goods within the region, and also potentially for the export of goods out of the region,” Heller said. “It has deep water access for barges. It has the old Central Vermont rail spur – I’m thinking Genesee & Wyoming now – that goes to Worcester and New London, and has the potential to improve the site to increase the intermodal capacity of the site.
The first phase of the project will excavate the area southwest of the intersection of Depot Road with the railway line to create a 2.3 acre concrete pad where up to approximately 120,000 tonnes of salt from roads will be stored.
Gateway co-chief operating officer Mark Augur said the size of the salt pile at the site would be roughly the size of the pile at New London State Pier.
Gateway’s plan is to retain a concrete pier that was previously built across the river to handle coal shipments for the power plant and to use the pier to deliver salt shipments, Heller said. The company will install a conveyor belt to unload the salt from the barges moored at the quay, and will then be loaded onto trucks that will transport the salt over the railway tracks to the storage area, he said.
Trucks will access the site via Depot Road, load up with road salt, drive through a set of scales, then return via Depot Road to Route 32 or Interstate 395, Heller said. According to a traffic study by Hesketh & Associates, the site would expect around 25 trips per hour during the morning and afternoon peaks in winter, and around 65 trips per hour at the peak in the days leading up to a winter storm.
Traffic Engineer Scott Hesketh said he expected almost all trucks to leave via I-395 and about 10% would use Route 32, mostly trucks serving Montville or nearby towns.
Heller said the second phase of site development will begin with the removal of materials excavated in the first phase which will be used to fill properties across the railway line next to the river.
The company should also provide additional backfill to upgrade the entire site and prepare for future commercial or industrial use, Heller said. Phase two also includes new rail spur lines to “accommodate the transfer of bulk construction materials from rail to barge and barge to rail,” Gateway’s proposal states.
Burdick said Gateway has not indicated what kinds of additional future uses it envisions for the site. Augur declined to answer questions from CT Examiner after Tuesday night’s meeting, and the company did not immediately respond to questions from CT Examiner on Wednesday morning.
The commission was originally scheduled to hear the application later this month, but Gateway called for the special meeting on Tuesday evening so it could start work earlier to be ready in time for the winter season.
“We have a tight schedule for this project to be ready to supply salt to the region,” Heller said. “So even if it’s only a few weeks, a few weeks makes a material difference in our build.”
Road salt will be needed in eastern Connecticut, where snow removal companies were forced to drive their trucks an hour to Providence or New Haven last winter, at a cost of hundreds of dollars a day.
Gateway was chosen in 2019 to be the operator of the New London State Pier for the redevelopment. DRVN distributed road salt on the pier from 2014 until it was pushed back last year to make way for pier redevelopment. Gateway is also the operator of the Port of New Haven, where it runs a major road salt distribution business.
Rick Whittle, owner of Mystic-based Allied Snow Removal, said he hoped bringing a road salt dispenser back to the area would solve some of the logistical and cost issues he had to deal with with DRVN in New London last winter. But he said it all comes down to cost and streamlining the line to Montville.
“If they charge more than what I can currently buy in Providence, that doesn’t help me,” Whittle said. “Providence, I can get in and out pretty quickly, so I need prices to be competitive with everyone else. And no one knows what that’s going to be since shipping rates are supposed to skyrocket.
The Montville location could potentially be a perfect fit for Allied Snow Removal, which does a lot of work in Montville, Norwich and surrounding towns, he said. But it all depends on cost and ease of access.
Contractors have complained about long lines and a slow pick-up process for salt from Gateway to New Haven in the past, and Whittle said he hopes the Montville location runs more smoothly.
“So I need competitive pricing and then good order flow to get the trucks in and out,” Whittle said. “But instead of racing in New Haven or Providence, it could potentially be a home run.”
The scheme comes as another major redevelopment is proposed almost directly across the Thames at Gales Ferry, where Cashman Dredging and Marine Contracting is proposing to redevelop the former Dow Chemical plant into a hub for its dredging in New York and Connecticut.
This project has caught the attention of residents of Gales Ferry, who are concerned about heavy truck traffic on Route 12 – the main thoroughfare through the community – and on the Thames River and the railway, with the contents of the dredged materials that would be handled at the proposed facility, and with potential additional uses on site.
An information meeting on the project had to be rescheduled from its original June date after residents overflowed from a meeting room at the Ledyard Public Library, and will now be held at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Ledyard Middle School.