Here are some recent news stories you may have missed from around Connecticut.
Up in smoke
The last puff of coal-fired smoke has been spewed from the red-and-white smokestack that stretches high into the sky of Bridgeport Harbor. As of June 1, Connecticut’s last coal-burning power plant has been shut down. PSEG Power retired its Bridgeport Harbor Station Unit 3 plant following 53 years of service.
The closure has been in the works for years, as a 485-megawatt natural gas plant that opened at the site in 2019 largely took over energy production from the coal plant. More than a decade ago, coal represented about 10 percent of the state’s utility-scale electricity. Today, nuclear and natural gas make up the bulk of production, with an increasing share from renewables, part of the state’s zero-carbon goals.
As for when the iconic smokestack will be torn down, that depends on when the industrial site is sold. City officials want to see the parcel redeveloped, and added to a burgeoning seaside destination, joining the new Hartford HealthCare Amphitheater, Bass Pro Shops, restaurants and boating businesses.
Of art, ants and Andy Warhol
It’s not every day that a scientist gets to name a new species. In the case of Strumigenys ayersthey, the Ecuadorian ant with trap jaw mandibles discovered by entomologist Phillip Hoenle, the honor went to Yale’s Douglas Booher.
Booher, who confirmed for Hoenle that the ant was a new species, called his friend, R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe, to discuss the decision, as Yale University reported. “I’m going to name it after Jeremy,” Booher told Stipe.
Booher and Stipe had known each other in Athens, Georgia, and both had been inspired by Charles “Jeremy” Ayers, who had worked with the artist Andy Warhol as the androgynous persona Silva Thin and founded a thriving artist community in Athens in the 1970s. Ayers actually wrote a few songs for R.E.M. Booher was in Georgia for an undergraduate degree, and was a DJ on the side.
And so Booher, when given the opportunity, wanted to honor his friend, the activist and artist who had so inspired him. (ayersthey is the first species name to end in -they, as opposed to the traditional practice of using a gendered Latin suffix.) As Booher said of Ayers, “He gave people the freedom to be who they wanted to be.”
So long Bantam Cinema, hello Bantam Cinema & Arts Center and a new life for Connecticut’s oldest, continuously running film center. The Bantam Cinema has had a storied, if difficult history. First opening in the late 1920s, the movie house had been on the selling block before it closed in March 2020.
Now, Litchfield resident Jodiann Tenney and a group of investors have plans to turn the classic cinema into an arts center, complete with “live performances, local musicians, local art; maybe a cabaret night or open-mic night,” Tenney said.
The goal is to open the center in September, but there is a lot of work to be done. “We need money, and we’ve applied for grants,” Tenney said. “We want to restore it; it needs a lot of work. To really sustain it for the next 100 years, we’re going to have to do a lot of fundraising.”
It’s ancient history
Earlier this year, Yale neuroscientist Xue Davis was planting dahlias in her Monroe backyard and found an ancient arrowhead. It’s estimated to be between 1,200 and 2,700 years old.
Arrowheads and other projectile points are actually not that uncommon to find in Connecticut, but the one Davis dug up is somewhat unique. It is a remnant of the Adena culture, originally from the Ohio River Valley. “Adena” is our name for them; we don’t know what they called themselves, as Sarah Sportman, the state archaeologist, explained. We know that they had extensive trade networks, so it’s possible the arrowhead was traded or that a member of the Adena culture was in the area for some reason.
Davis was excited about her discovery, but she does not think there are more antiquities to discover. Dirt gets moved around a lot, and the Pequonnock River runs through her neighborhood. It’s possible the arrowhead may have traveled downstream with the river. “Over the last 1,000 years, who knows? Maybe the course of it ran through my yard,” she said. “I don’t think I’m sitting on top of a deposit of arrowheads.”
The cheese stands apart
The ice cream at UConn’s Dairy Bar is iconic. The university has its own herd of cows providing the freshest milk possible. But at the height of the pandemic, the cows still produced milk but only a small portion of the ice cream could be sold.
This was not a problem for Dennis D’Amico, associate professor in UConn’s Department of Animal Science. The microbiologist and cheese expert found himself with a ready supply of fresh milk, and while there wasn’t enough space to age large amounts of cheese for a great length of time, there was enough to get creative. Combining two sets of cultures that would mature at different rates, D’Amico was able to create two distinct cheeses from one batch of milk.
The first is a jack-style cheese, which he says is “actually a new style of cheese I developed that doesn’t really fall into any current category.” That one is now being sold at the Dairy Bar as “Storrs Original Farmstead Jack.” Left to cure, that cheese becomes something like a gouda, which he named the “1881 Reserve.” That, and a fresh cheese similar to a queso blanco, with a few flavors, round out the Dairy Bar’s new cheese offering.
“We’re a farmstead cheese operation, which is a really big deal in the artisan cheese world,” D’Amico says.
A Sandy Hook memorial
Nearly a decade after 20 children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary, Newtown residents voted in favor of building a memorial to the tragedy.
Voters were not overwhelmingly in favor of the plan. A total of 963 votes in favor were cast, along with 748 against. Fewer than 9 percent of eligible voters cast ballots on the referendum, which included a vote on the annual budget.
“We’re disappointed about the numbers of people who turned out, but I don’t think it’s a statement about the tragedy at all,” said Francine Wheeler, whose son, Ben, died in the shooting. “If you asked every single person who lives in this town individually, you would find more people than not who are like, ‘Of course we remember, of course we never want to forget.’ ”
The final design, selected in 2018 from hundreds of submissions, includes a single tree at the center of a softly curved, spiral-armed path. As the design document says, it is intended to “communicate the limitless possibilities of the children’s imaginations but not be childlike. The memorial should not be physically imposing or ideologically overbearing, but through its simplicity should communicate the great depth of our loss.”
It’s expected to cost $3.7 million, and be built a short distance from the new Sandy Hook Elementary School, which was built after the massacre and opened for students in 2016.