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Town grants for 'green'ing, tourism

CORNWALL — Sure, we’ll take it and that’s no joke. Voters at a town meeting April 1 voted to accept two grants, aimed at bringing tourists and free electricity to town.

A full grant for a solar voltaic system to be installed at the Town Office Building — a system that should cover 100 percent of electric needs there — was approved, but did not get unanimous support.

While the green approach is to be commended, the accounting was a problem for at least two people in the small crowd in the Cornwall Consolidated School Gathering Room.

The system and installation will cost about $29,285, the amount for which the town is applying. Funding comes from a $9.6-million Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The annual electric bill for the office building is about $1,000.

“That’s not very cost-effective,” resident Marvin Ross commented.

“It’s not going to cost us anything,” First Selectman Gordon Ridgway replied, referring to the grant.

“It is going to cost us. We’re all citizens of the U.S.A,” Roberta Ross responded.

In other discussion on the agenda item, Ridgway said the town was lucky to get a portion of the limited funding, and credited the Cornwall Energy Task Force with having a project ready for funding.

Resident Jim LaPorta, who installs solar voltaic systems, said he researched power requirements for the building, which includes numerous computers. It uses an average of 5,359 kilowatt hours per year. The new system is predicted to produce 5,589 kilowatt hours per year.

It will not have batteries to store electricity, but is expected to “break even.”

Instances when the system is not producing enough to meet needs are expected to be offset by the times excess electricity will be sold back to the grid.  There is not much of a profit expected there, as those rates are far lower than what customers pay, but there seemed to be a consensus that coming out even a little ahead would be a good thing.

A 24-by-15-foot base will be installed on the ground off the northeast corner of the building. An array of panels will be mounted on that. Concern was expressed regarding the potential for vandalism or damage from falling tree limbs. Residents wanted to know why a roof mount was not planned.

LaPorta explained that the panels will get more sunlight in the open area on the lawn, as opposed to the intermittently shaded roof.

Ridgway explained further that a roof mount can compromise the roof itself, and makes maintenance difficult.

“There’s probably not enough roof space, anyway, that’s due south and not shaded,” he said.

As for vandalism, the panels will be partially blocked by the building and not very visible from the road, Ridgway said.

LaPorta said he has installed quite a few ground-mounted systems in Litchfield County with no incidences of vandalism.

Lost in the Cornwalls

A $4,150 grant, one that requires the town put up the same amount of funding, was unanimously approved. The grant comes from the Housatonic Heritage Partnership and is aimed at promoting tourism.

The Board of Selectmen, Cornwall Historical Society and local businesses have been working together on approaches  not only for attracting visitors, but also for helping them find their way around “the Cornwalls.”

Names of the town centers are confusing for the uninitiated. Many head for Cornwall Bridge to see the covered bridge, which is actually in West Cornwall. Ridgway called it a Bermuda Triangle.

The Heritage Trail extends from New Milford north through Massachusetts.

“The thrust is to get people out of their cars and enjoying the villages more,” Ridgway said.

In order to do that, people need to know where they are and what there is to see. The total $8,300 in funding will pay for eight brochure stands, two freestanding kiosks with tourist information, and the research and printing of brochures, maps and an illustrated local history.

Historical Society President Ginny Potter spoke to the efforts underway, that stem in large part from walking tour maps the society produced for grant-funded events the past two summers.

Another project in the works is the updating of a calendar the society printed in 1990 for Cornwall’s 250th birthday.

The calendar featured old photos and lots of highlighted dates of note in the town’s history, researched by Town Historian Michael Gannett, who catalogued many more photographs than the calendar could hold.

“Since it is only good as a calendar in 2018 and 2029, we want to publish a booklet of the photographs, and update historical events for the last 20 years,” Potter said.

A new tourist map will include businesses. Local merchants, and those from other areas, will be able to put their own brochures in the stands and kiosks.

The plan is to get this underway quickly, getting the information out ahead of this summer’s visitors.

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