After six years of study, several engineering reports, two recent town-wide information meetings and a controversial anonymous effort to derail it, the town approved the building of a wastewater treatment plant for the village of West Cornwall.
The tally was not close with 302 votes in favor and 179 opposed. The entire project has been estimated to cost $6.23 million by WMC Engineering (WMC), with $3 million coming from a federal Community Project Funding (CPF) grant. The remainder of the project is expected to be financed through a loan and or grant from the USDA. Receipt of the USDA funding was dependent upon and subject to the town approving today’s referendum.
The referendum process was marred by emails and leaflets distributed anonymously by a person or persons calling themselves “Friends of Cornwall,” (FOC) which urged a no vote on the referendum. The communications from FOC frequently contained false and misleading statements seemingly designed to confuse and mislead readers into voting against the referendum. The town filed a complaint with the CT State Election Commission about this activity, a first in the long tenure of First Selectman Ridgway. “The town should not stand by and allow a covert, secretive entity to attempt to sway voters by twisting facts just enough to alarm people without actually proving any truth or transparency,” Ridgway stated. He added, “democracy is under attack all over the world and what is the future of Cornwall when public discourse has devolved the conversation to public attacks and attacks on the process?” He added that “while the town has always welcomed and fostered differences of opinion, the covert and potentially illegal behavior of ‘Friends of Cornwall’ has brought us to a new low.”
The State Election Commission observed the election and will adjudicate the town’s complaint after the election is over, which is their standard procedure.
According to Cornwall’s town attorney, Pearly Grimes, 1,500 anonymous flyers were mailed to Cornwall residents from FOC. In addition that same group appears to have set up a website and to have sent email blasts to various residents.
In Grimes’ opinion, FOC appears to have violated at least two provisions of the CT Statues on election campaign financing. Violation of these CT Statues provide for penalties of fines as well as imprisonment of a year or more.
Next steps according to Ridgway will be up to the Board of Selectman and will likely include the appointment of a construction committee to help steer the process going forward. “It’s important to continue to include input from the community and luckily we have a lot of talented people in town that can help us with this project.”
The Chronicle will continue to follow this story and provide updates as they become available.