Q&A: Holly Cheeseman

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 Mr. McKenney’s answers here.

A Brief Biography

State Representative Holly Cheeseman was elected to serve the 37th district of East Lyme and Salem in November 2016. After being sworn into office in January 2017, Rep. Cheeseman is serving her first legislative term. She works on the Finance, Revenue & Bonding, Energy & Technology and Higher Education & Employment Advancement General Assembly Committees.

A New London, CT native, Rep. Cheeseman has been a resident of East Lyme for 25 years. She currently works as the Executive Director for the Southeastern CT Children’s Museum. In the past, she partnered with her late husband, Ian, in LVA Corporate Communications in Niantic, CT. Between 1977 and 1988, she was also employed as a publishing executive in the United Kingdom. There, she was involved in the launch and publication of nine magazines relating to the computer industry, in both the general consumer and trade and technical markets.

Rep. Cheeseman received a Bachelor of Arts from Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA with a major in German and minors in Physics and History. She also attended and graduated from the Williams School in New London CT.

In the community, Rep. Cheeseman has served on the East Lyme Board of Selectmen since 2011, is the current President of the East Lyme Library Board, the Vice Chair and past Chair of the East Lyme Republican Town Committee and a member of the East Lyme Board of Assessment Appeals. She also served as President and Vice-President of the Creative Playschool, President of the Mount Holyoke Club of Southeastern CT, member of the Curriculum Council of the East Lyme School system and member of the Board of Trustees of the East Lyme Public Library.

Rep. Cheeseman enjoys spending time with her two sons, David (age 29) and Douglas (age 27), as well as her three stepdaughters, Victoria, Abigail and Sarah; her four grandchildren, Emma, Kieran, Ethan and Zoe; and her two Chesapeake Bay retrievers, Belle and Madducks.

You can find out more about Rep. Cheeseman here.

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Question: Do you support the reintroduction of tolling in Connecticut? How do you weigh the potential positives and negatives for residents of southeastern Connecticut?

I am opposed to the imposition of tolls.It can certainly be argued that Connecticut made a big mistake when it removed tolls in 1985 following the horrific accident at the toll plaza. Having done that, Connecticut’s ability to impose them again is highly constrained.

The current agreement regarding highway funding with the federal government precludes Border tolls. Trucks-only tolls, as recently implemented in Rhode Island, are already subject to lawsuits at the federal level and will most likely be ruled illegal as a violation of laws governing interstate commerce. Trucks currently contribute $25 to $35 million to the state each year, through a combination of diesel fuel tax, truck registration fees, a $550 annual “heavy vehicle use tax and a 12 percent sales tax on new trucks. These last two are paid to the federal government and are apportioned to each state. Truck miles driven in the state make up only 5% of total motor vehicle miles driven. Such tolls would disproportionately affect smaller truckers and in the end, the cost of such tolls will just be passed on to the consumer. They would also cause trucks to divert to local roads to bypass the toll gantries.

The remaining option is congestion pricing. Proposals by the DOT suggest a total of more than seventy gantries on routes 95, 84, 91, 15, 9 and 2. No funds would actually be available to spend on road or other infrastructure until all the costs of the toll design, construction, bonding, etc., had been paid off, making it several years before any funds were available for actual road improvements. It could be many years after that that there would be money available for other infrastructure improvements like rail and bus.

The effect in SECT would be damaging to consumers and particularly businesses that use I-95 on a regular basis during rush hour. It could add many hundreds of dollars to a business’s costs, if, in fact, they do not all divert to alternative roads like Route 1. The effects in areas of the state like Fairfield County would be even more severe.

I do support the Republican Prioritize Progress Plan, “Key components of the plan would require the state to: 1) Reserve a set amount of General Obligation Bonds to be used solely for transportation priorities. 2) Preserve Special Tax Obligation bonds dedicated to transportation. 3) Re-establish the Transportation Strategy Board (TSB) to work alongside CTDOT to assess proposed projects and identify community needs. Benefits of the plan include: · An annual transportation funding mechanism guaranteeing over $1 billion annually over the next 30 years · No tax increases · No tolls · A reduction in state bonding compared to recent practices · Flexibility in setting transportation priorities · A sustainable and predictable funding plan to support future generations.”

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?

I would support the widening of I-95 and the continuing widening / improvements to Route 85 in Salem, as it looks as though Route 11 will not be completed in our lifetimes! The stretch of I-95 in East Lyme is among the most dangerous in the state in terms of accidents per mile. Route 85 as well has seen more than its fair share of fatal accidents. This part of the state certainly seems to get short shrift when it comes to infrastructure spending and that needs to be addressed. The DOT does have plans to replace the bridge over I-95 at exit 74 and make changes to the on and off ramps at that point; this is a step in the right direction. I refer again to the Prioritize Progress plan described above, which would provide a funding stream for the most critical projects.

East Lyme has been trying to bring sewer lines to many communities, particularly Pine Grove, and I would work to bring more state funding for that very worthwhile and necessary project. There are ways to make more federal dollars available for infrastructure projects. One quick way would be for the executive branch to request that Councils of Government be treated as county equivalents for federal grant purposes; that would make millions of dollars available to local communities through their COGs.

I also believe it is vital for communities in southeastern Connecticut to work together. East Lyme and Salem have a wonderful partnership, using East Lyme High School to educate students from both towns. We have seen what joint concerted action can do, when it comes to local issues of concern; a prime example is the successful effort to stop the AMTRAK high-speed rail proposal that would have laid waste to local communities (thank you, SECoast!)

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?

As we have seen from the effects of the storm surge flowing Super Storm Sandy, coastal areas are at great risk from extreme weather events. Residents who were affected adversely have made needed upgrades and repairs and new flood maps have been drawn. It is vital that municipalities are prepared for change and are made aware of all the help available.

I voted in favor of both PA 18-82, AN ACT CONCERNING CLIMATE CHANGE PLANNING AND RESILIENCY, which directs towns to take into consideration sea level change scenarios in planning and development and instructs the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to provide analysis and recommendations for meeting green house gas reduction goals. I also supported PA 18-50, AN ACT CONCERNING CONNECTICUT’S ENERGY FUTURE, which sets very aggressive climate change and greenhouse gas reduction goals, both in the Energy and Technology Committee on which I serve, and in the House.

“…The environmental bill – Public Act 18-82, An Act Concerning Climate Change Planning and Resiliency – contains a number of provisions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare the state for the ongoing effects of climate change and sea level rise, including:

* Implementing an interim target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 45 percent from a 2001 baseline by 2030 as recommended by the Governor’s Council on Climate Change;

* Updating current statutory references to sea level rise to reflect the Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation’s (CIRCA) planning recommendation of nearly two feet by 2050; and

* Requiring all future state projects located in the Coastal Boundary that are either undertaken by a state agency or funded by a state/federal grant or loan to meet CIRCA’s projections.

The energy bill – Public Act 18-50, An Act Concerning Connecticut’s Energy Future, takes bold action in the development and deployment of affordable clean energy by:

* Increasing the Renewable Portfolio Standard to 40 percent to deploy more renewables of all sizes for all customers;

* Creating “successor” programs for commercial, industrial and residential programs to provide sustainable growth of renewables in Connecticut with the expiration of programs such Low-Emission Renewable Energy Credits, Zero-Emission Renewable Energy Credits, and Solar Home Renewable Credits;

* Expanding opportunities for municipalities, state agencies, and agricultural customers to deploy renewables under an auction structure;

* Revising net metering so Connecticut pays a more affordable rate per kilowatt-hour basis; and

* Creating a statewide shared clean energy program that targets low moderate income customers…”

I also work to make sure my first selectmen are aware of all the federal help available, as outlined below. This information is taken from the CT DEEP website.

* Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration provides investments in public works and economic development facilities, planning grants and technical assistance grants that can help local governments achieve their climate adaptation goals.

* Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration has special federal aid funding available that includes emergency relief and discretionary programs that can be relevant to local governments. Additionally, the environment planning and realty program has several funding opportunities, such as Transportation, Community and System Preservation (TCSP), that can be used for climate change adaptation related work.

* The Environmental Protection Agency has a number of programs that provide funding to local governments, including Community Action for a Renewed Environment (CARE), Justice and Water Grants .

* The Federal Emergency Management Administration has a number of programs that can help local governments and individuals be better prepared for future floods and disasters. These include, but are not limited to Flood Mitigation Assistance Program (FMA), Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) and Pre-Disaster Mitigation Program (PDM).

* Department of Housing and Urban Development can help local governments achieve their climate change adaptation goals through its Capacity Building for Sustainable Communities Program, Choice Neighborhoods Initiative – Planning Grants and HUD Rehabilitation Mortgage Insurance.

* Department of Agriculture offers funding through several different branches including the Farm Services Agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Rural Development program.

* The new Consortium for Climate Risk in the Urban Northeast (CCRUN) is a part of the NOAA’s Regional Integrated Science Assessments and serves stakeholder needs in assessing and managing risks from climate variability and change.

* Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administrations’ training and resource center has tools and trainings to help.

* FEMA’s training division offers a variety of professional educational programs including ones focused on the Community Rating System.

* The Natural Resource Conservation Service, part of USDA has experts that can assist communities and data that communities can use to better understand climate change impacts to soils, water and air.

* The Sea Grant at University of Connecticut is part of the broader National Sea Grant Program and works with coastal communities to identify needs, and fund research, outreach, and educational activities that have special relevance to Connecticut and Long Island Sound.

* The NOAA Coastal Services Center has released a guide that helps inform climate adaptation practitioners about costs and benefits to adaptation initiatives.

In my work on the Energy and Technology committee, I am also active in efforts to promote distributed networks to avert large-scale power loss in case of natural disasters. East Lyme is currently investigating the acquisition of a fuel cell, which would provide power to the community center and town hall in case of wide scale power outage.

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?

I believe both towns have done a good job in retaining the features that residents appreciate and that caused them to move to the area in the first place. There is certainly a need to protect the natural environment; work continues in East Lyme to acquire the remaining property in Oswegatchie Hills to prevent the development of hundreds of condos in that pristine space at the head of the Niantic River.

One must recognize, however, that there does need to be some development in terms of business growth, to avoid burdening residents with all the cost of town government and education. For example, less than 4% of East Lyme is zoned commercial. Salem has very little commercial development and accordingly residents bar a greater burden in terms of property tax. I know the first selectmen of both towns are very conscious of the need for prudent business development to help offset some of the burden on homeowners. In East  Lyme there have been significant changes in how builders are required to design new housing developments; these changes include increased dedicated open space, plantings, rain gardens, a reduction in impermeable surfaces, and similar features to make the developments both more aesthetically pleasing and environmentally sound.

I will continue to meet regularly with the first selectmen of East Lyme and Salem, as I have done throughout my first term, to make sure I am up to date on their needs and concerns and to make sure they are made aware of opportunities open to them. I attend regular meetings of the Southeastern Connecticut Councils of Government, as well as the Eastern Workforce Investment Board, again in an effort to keep up to date with anything that can affect the two communities I serve.

Question: Briefly, list what you see as the 3 greatest strengths and 3 greatest concerns for East Lyme and Salem over the next decade.

Both towns have similar strengths – good quality of life, excellent school systems, abundant natural beauty. Both face challenges, among them the declining ability of citizens to remain in their homes. Salem in particular has seen the cost of the state trooper program increase dramatically. Such a cost increase was one factor that led East Lyme to abandon the state trooper program and install a chief in its own police department. The failure of the state to fulfill its financial commitments is another major challenge, along with the number of unfunded state mandates, both for town governments and boards of education. As a state representative, I have introduced legislation each year to require a two-thirds majority vote in the legislature in order to impose additional mandates on towns.