We have invited the incumbent State Rep. Holly Cheeseman, and her challenger Hugh McKenney, to answer 5 questions which we believe are critical in the coming years for residents of Connecticut General Assembly District 37, East Lyme and Salem.
You can find Rep. Cheeseman’s answers here.
A Brief Biography
Hugh McKenney lives in Salem, a town he and his family have called home for the last 23 years. Hugh grew up in Dracut, Massachusetts and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Nuclear Engineering from the University of Massachusetts in 1984. He began his career with Yankee Atomic Electric Company at Rowe, MA as a reactor engineer. During this time, he met and married his best friend, Robyn Sullivan.
While raising three beautiful children, both Hugh and Robyn were dedicated to making a difference in Salem. Hugh was a member of Salem’s Planning & Zoning Commission for eight years, five as its Chairperson. He guided the Plan of Conservation and Development as well as the Open Space Plan. As Chairman, Hugh was instrumental in leading the Planning & Zoning Commission in an effort to get a quarry operator, with multiple zoning violations to discontinue operations. The Commission successfully brought a lawsuit against the quarry operator which resulted in a financial settlement for the town. Hugh was Chairman during the contentious issue of seasonal vs. year round residency in the Gardner Lake neighborhoods. Although it was an emotionally charged issue, Hugh ensured all residents were heard and a fair and equitable outcome was achieved. As Chairman, Hugh sought out the viewpoints of the Economic Development Commission, and business leaders. It was important to find a balance with Salem’s strong commitment to the environment. In 2017, Hugh was elected to the Salem Board of Selectmen, where he currently serves.
Meanwhile, Hugh’s late wife Robyn also devoted her time in Salem to public service. She was a member of the Board of Education, with several years as its Chairman. Robyn also served on the Board of Selectmen for eight years.
Hugh has been employed by Dominion Energy at Millstone Power Station for over 20 years, holding a number of leadership positions, including Fleet Reactor Engineering Supervisor, where he oversaw reactor engineering personnel at all four nuclear power stations. This long career in a supervisory capacity has been integral in honing his leadership skills.
Question: Do you support the reintroduction of tolling in Connecticut? How do you weigh the potential positives and negatives for residents of southeastern Connecticut?
Yes, I support the reintroduction of tolling in Connecticut, but only on large tractor trailer trucks entering and leaving the State on the major interstate highways. The EZ Pass Monitoring System should be set up on Interstates 95, 84, 91 and 395 ONLY at the Connecticut boundaries. Using this type of tolling and only on large tractor trailer trucks should have limited negative impact on the residents of our region. It will, however, provide a much needed revenue stream to support infrastructure improvements. I anticipate that the tolling cost to the majority of truckers would be passed along to large, big businesses.
Question: The CTDOT is currently revising and developing plans to widen I-95 between New Haven and the Rhode Island border. As State Representative, will you support this widening?
Briefly, what are your priorities for infrastructure spending to meet the needs of residents of Salem and East Lyme?
Yes, as a State Representative, I would support this widening. As I walk the streets of the District, I hear many complaints from people about the difficulty of navigating I-95 between the Gold Star Bridge and the Baldwin Bride. For many years the citizens of the eastern part of the state have suffered with this congested area. I further believe that we must strengthen the Shoreline East railway to provide more frequent and reliable mass transit for our region to connect with southwestern Connecticut. In the future, high speed railway within the state should be a goal, while protecting our shoreline’s natural resources.
I support the completion of Route 11 from its current terminus in Salem to East Lyme. The status of this plan appears to be closed, however if the connection of Route 11 to Interstate 95 were streamlined (rather than the multi-connections to Interstates 95 and 395), the completion of the road in the future may be economically feasible.
Our first priority, regarding infrastructure, must be to repair our region’s bridges. A recent study published in the CT News Junkie, on September 20, 2018 titled “Report: Hundreds of State Bridges Need Repair” indicates that over 300 bridges in the state are “structurally deficient.” Number 1 on the list is the Interstate 95 bridge that passes over Flanders Road in East Lyme.
Question: How well prepared is your district for possible impacts of climate change, including sea level rise, and increased storm activity? As State Representative how will you help local residents meet these challenges?
The state legislature recently passed a bill to support coastal resiliency studies. (Public Act 18-82.) East Lyme’s study is currently underway. In the future, town revisions to their Plans of Conservation and Development (POC&D), Zoning Regulations and other regulations (subdivision and inland / wetland regulations) must take into consideration predicted sea level rise in accordance with predicted NOAA data.
As a State Representative, I will secure funding / grants to support studies on predicted sea rise and other much needed climate studies as soon as possible. Once recommendations are provided, assessment and possible adoption of the recommendations occur, using the normal town-wide regulation change processes. I would further support acquisition of needed funds to protect our shorelines and coastal in-lands waterways from the effects of climate change, in accordance with any regulatory changes that are approved by the towns.
Question: How well have East Lyme and Salem balanced the needs for development, with concerns for the environment and a tourist economy? As State Representative, how will you help your district balance these needs?
Each towns’ needs are different, and I believe both have worked diligently to balance the needs of economic development with conservation of resources. East Lyme has experienced a significant increase in development over the last 20 years. Many citizens in East Lyme have expressed concerns to me regarding this rapid development. I have encouraged these residents to reach out to the town’s Planning Commission to make their voices heard, and influence the next revision of the town’s POC&D. Salem’s POC&D stresses both economic development and the need to maintain the Town’s rural character.
East Lyme and Salem have worked to preserve its natural resources, such as the Oswegatchie Hills, the Niantic River and the Eight Mile River, but often, saving this resources from development requires assistance from outside organizations and the State. I support these efforts.
Based upon the specific needs of the community, I will work within the legislature to secure funding in support of their POC&D initiatives. The citizens set the course of their Town’s future, while its up to the State Representative to work to support their requested funding.
Question: Briefly, list what you see as the 3 greatest strengths and 3 greatest concerns for East Lyme and Salem over the next decade.
The greatest strength that both towns have is their sense of community and working together for a common need, such as the creation of Volunteer Park in Salem and the Miracle League Field in East Lyme. The 13 mile Goodwin Trail connecting Salem and East Lyme with other towns is another example of our collaborative efforts. Further, I believe the two towns have a special bond between them. Salem has supported the major renovation of the East Lyme High School, (late 1990’s) and sends its children to that school. This sharing of resources makes for a better and stronger education for both towns.
Major challenges facing the region include the development of a coastal resiliency plan and then implementation of its recommendations. These actions are necessary to ensure that the next major hurricane to hit Connecticut, combined with our changing climate, will not leave our region decimated, as we have seen in recent major hurricanes that have hit the United States mainland.
Maintaining and improving the current funding for education cost sharing between the state and the towns is a significant challenge facing Salem and East Lyme. It is imperative that we fully fund our schools, and state funds are critical to maintaining and lowering town property taxes.
The Eight Mile River, Oswegatchie Hills and Niantic River are critical resources that must be protected from development. Further, both towns must develop their revised POC&Ds. Ensuring that these plans addresses the needs and concerns of the residence is vital to future planning.
Regarding the specific challenges facing Salem, their POC&D calls for: Protecting water quality and fulfilling Salem’s commitment to the Eight Mile River Watershed Management Plan and affordable housing that meets the needs of the land. The town has made good progress in these goals. Further, the diversification and balancing of the property tax base is of concern. Salem has had limited success in achieving some of these goals, and additional effort is needed.
Interested in learning more about Hugh McKenney? You can find him here.