Preston ― After two years of negotiations between town, state and Mohegan tribal officials over terms of the final cleanup and property transfer of the former Norwich Hospital property, the amended agreement is ready for a town vote.
The Board of Selectmen Thursday endorsed the amendment to the Property Disposition and Development Agreement between the town and Mohegan tribe and scheduled a town meeting and vote for 7 pm Thursday, Oct. 6 at Preston Plains Middle School. The Preston Redevelopment Agency approved the amendment Wednesday night.
Cleanup work has virtually halted at the 393-acre property for the past two years as the parties wrangled over the terms of the final cleanup, to be funded with a $7 million state grant approved in 2020 and a $2 million state loan to the town if necessary.
The amendment being put to voters calls for the town to use $5 million of the $7 million state grant to continue the cleanup to the point where the tribe would be able to take ownership of the property. Mohegan, which is the name of the tribe’s development entity, will then receive the remaining $2 million state grant money and use of the $2 million town loan money, if necessary, to complete the cleanup based on Mohegan’s proposed uses for the property.
While no specific development plans have been announced, tribal officials have proposed a mixed-use, non-gaming development, possibly including a sports complex, hotels, major sporting goods retail store, luxury campground, marina and artificial snow ski facility.
Preston Redevelopment Agency Chairman Sean Nugent said another substantial change eliminates the requirement for the town to clean up the property to the point where it is suitable for residential development. Instead, Nugent said, the language calls for getting the property clean enough to mitigate contamination to the point where work can be done such as erosion control and using clean fill in low-lying areas where water might pool up.
Kudos to the tribe. They never said, ‘That’s it we’re walking away,’” Nugent said of the change in cleanup standards. “Instead, they said, ‘How can we find a way to move forward?'”
Mohegan Tribal Council Chairman James Gessner said the tribe and the Preston Redevelopment Agency worked together on the amendment. He said the amendment “allows for a more realistic timeline” after the parties reached a better understanding of the environmental cleanup needed and the use of state funding.
“It is also the perfect example of our shared commitment to this project, which will be an incredible asset to Preston, the Mohegan Tribe, the state, and the region,” Gessner said in an email statement. “We look forward to its final approval.”
The amendment changes, and the original Property Disposition and Development agreement is updated throughout the lengthy document, with deletions in red and added language in blue. The documents will be available for viewing at the town clerk’s office and selectmen’s office at Preston Town Hall, at the Preston Public Library and will be posted on the town’s website, www.preston-ct.org.
Nugent said once the amendments are approved by the town and Mohegan Tribal Council, the parties will meet to iron out details on restarting the cleanup. Nugent hopes some work can be done later in the fall, but the big push will be next spring.
The delay started in 2019, when testing showed more extensive than expected coal ash contamination throughout the property. The state approved a $7 million grant to be used along with a previous $2 million loan the town had received from the state to finish the cleanup. Another delay occurred when state officials initially required the town to use the loan money first, before the $7 million grant. Legislative action in 2021 clarified that the grant money would be used first.
Another part of the agreement covers terms between the state and the tribe after the tribe takes ownership of the property, called a pass-through agreement.
The amended agreement also changes terms to the $2 million low-interest loan the town obtained several years ago. The original language called for the loan to be forgivable if Mohegan development creates 200 permanent jobs, and the amendment allows loan forgiveness for either the 200 jobs or $200 million in construction value of new buildings.
Once approved, the town will have two years from the restart of work to complete the cleanup and convey the property to Mohegan.