Hearing held on sewer plant upgrade

By SHERIDAN CYR

STAFF WRITER

A public hearing was held at Plainville’s Dec. 4 Town Council meeting regarding the Water Pollution Control Facility Phosphorus Upgrade Project.

The project is mandated by the state through the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection DEEP. Phosphorus is a nutrient that poses a serious threat to water quality in Connecticut. It contributes to cultural eutrophication, a human-caused acceleration of aquatic plant growth through excess nutrients, which can cause detrimental shifts in biological communities, fish kills, and reduction of oxygen and pH values.

Phosphorus enters the waterways through water treatment facilities, lawn fertilizers, storm water runoff and agriculture. DEEP requires municipalities with water treatment facilities to update their facilities in order to reduce phosphorus in water bodies.

For Plainville, the price tag on the required upgrades comes out to $15,761,000. This covers design, construction, acquisition, installation, furnishing and equipping of upgrades and related improvements to the town’s facility, located at 90 Cronk Rd. It includes a 6,500 square foot building and associated internal basins, tanks, pumps, and upgraded effluent treatment facilities.

During the hearing, John Kisluk said, “I’m convinced that we really have to do this.” He said a presentation on the project in November was informative. Kisluk did mention the state “went overboard” in mandate and thought the state should pay for the project in entirety.

The town is eligible for a grant from the state at about $6.5 million, but that still leaves the town with a cost of $9 million. The state loan that would finance the remaining share of the project would carry an interest rate of 2 percent.

In response to a sewer rate study conducted by Tighe and Bond in 2014, the council last year approved a 4.8 percent increase in the new sewer user rate. This increase was set in anticipation of the phosphorus upgrades that DEEP required. The increase would last through fiscal year 2023.

Kisluk also asked about the cost of design, which comes out to about $1,192,000. Town Manager Robert Lee responded and said it will be eligible for reimbursement.

“The DEEP looks over the contract of the consultant [Tighe and Bond] because their money is going into this project as well and they compare that to what they feel it takes to design these types of improvements,” said Lee. “They determined it is a reasonable number given their understanding of the project source.”

Kisluk also addressed the sewer rates that residents pay. “Over seven years, we are having an average increase of $17.57 a year. At the end of seven years, the minimum charge is going to be $510 a year, and that’s high,” he said. Kisluk asked if the project comes out to a lower cost, would the yearly increase be lowered as well. Lee said they redo the figures on a yearly basis and nothing is carved in stone.

Joel Edmond asked if surrounding areas had to undergo this project. The council responded that Bristol has completed their project, and Southington is in the process. There are altogether 11 waste water treatment facilities in the state that were given this upgrade requirement.

Joanne Edmond expressed concern over the cost of the project and the increased sewer rates at the citizens’ level. “People are being squeezed. It’s getting impossible to live in a house for some, especially with families.”

Arthur Screen shared Edmond’s concerns at the high cost of monthly payments. He added that he pays the same rate, as an individual, as a family of five due to the minimum charge.

“We spent $25.5 million for that plant that went online just eight years ago, and now the state’s mandating we do upgrades for phosphorus,” said Screen. “We don’t want to have to touch this plant for 30 years and now we’re looking at a project for $15 million less than 10 years later.”

Screen called the list of upgrades a “wish list” by the operators, saying that many of the specific upgrades are unrelated to what the state is mandating. “This project is bloated, in my opinion.”

The project is scheduled to go to referendum on Jan. 30, 2018, but before that could happen, the town needed to adopt the ordinance. They did so at the Dec. 4 meeting in a 7-0 vote.

Comments? Email scyr@SouthingtonObserver.com.