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Farmington Council Moving Ahead With Sewer Project

$50 million project would do several things including deal with smell.

Town Council members on Tuesday night moved to go forward with a $50 million water treatment plant upgrade planned for 2015, saying the community may never know the benefits of doing the project but residents would certainly know if they didn’t do it.

The project is a planned upgrade of the facility on Route 4 that cleans and processes all the town’s wastewater before it is released into the Farmington River. The plant also services portions of the towns of Avon, Canton, Burlington and the UConn Health Center.

An issue of public safety, health, welfare

The plant, built in 1960, has been upgraded once in the 1970s and again in 1993, according to Public Works Director Russ Arnold. Original components still remain in some parts of the plant and need to be replaced. But beyond that, the upgrade is necessary for a number of reasons, officials said.

First, usage at the plant has reached 85 percent of its hydraulic capacity. When this occurs, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection mandates the plant be upgraded. In addition, Arnold said, should the plant not be upgraded between 2015-2018 (the timetable recommended by the Water Pollution Control Authority) the town would have to issue a moratorium on water hook-ups. That would mean no new businesses or homes in town.

Second, the plant currently falls short of new state standards of removing phosphorous and nitrogen from the water. While nitrogen is an issue mainly for the Long Island Sound, phosphorous is an issue for local water quality, affecting aquatic life in the Farmington River, according to Chris Pierce, project manager from Wright-Pierce Engineers. To meet the phosphorous limit in its current permit, the Farmington plant will have to use chemical treatments until the upgrade is done.

Pierce also said the upgrade would replace aging equipment with new energy efficient systems, resulting in a savings in both maintenance and energy costs.

Finally, according to the recommendation letter from WPCA Chairman James Foote, the upgrade would include implementation of a new odor control system.

“If we don’t do this, people will be screaming, they’ll be furious,” said councilor CJ Thomas. “There are certain points now that we hit capacity when there’s flooding or something… There are not too many questions about whether this is something we choose to do or should we be doing it now. It’s an issue of public safety, public health and public welfare.”

Chairman Jeff Hogan agreed.

“You’ve told us we need to do it and we need to do it now,” Hogan said to the WPCA members assembled for the meeting. “The role of government is public safety, roads, schools - we also provide clean water… People assume the water coming out of that facility is clean. There’s no question in my mind we need to do this.”

Funding

While counselors offered overwhelming support for the project, they had many questions about how it would be paid for and whether the town could afford to take on the substantial new debt. 

The approximately $50 million would be paid for by a federal Clean Water loan, which provides the town the money up front, with payment deferred until after the project is complete. Then, interest is at 2 percent, Finance Director Joseph Swetcky explained.

The town must bond the full amount in order to be eligible for state Clean Water Fund grants. The grants range between 20-25 percent of the cost of the project but are not guaranteed to the town of Farmington.

The state has a limited amount of money for the Clean Water projects and many communities vying for it, Pierce said. The best way to compete for the money is to get the project approved, funded and ready to go, he said. Projects at the top of the list are sometimes skipped over if they’re not ready, Arnold said, saying that scenario was the town’s best hope.

The plant’s member towns would also be assessed a fee for approximately 20 percent of the cost.

First, the plan would need approval at a referendum in November.

Town Manager Kathy Eagen said, if defeated, the project would likely go back on the next referendum and would eventually either be approved or the DEEP would force the town to go forward with it.

“I think the town is prepared to take on this obligation,” Hogan said. “Does anyone want to pay for it? No. Do taxpayers want to pay for it? No. But by law, we have to take on the obligation and do it appropriately… I think it’s very very clear right now speed is important.”

Farmington resident February 27, 2013 at 02:12 PM
Sounds like we have no choice so why insult us by placing it on a referendum?
Cornelius (Neil) Lynch February 27, 2013 at 02:37 PM
I believe local ordinance requires that such an expenditure be placed before the voters on a referendum; how can this be seen as an "insult"? I do have a concern regarding the "chemical treatments" to be used to combat the phosphorus levels. How long would that go on? We were also told before every upgrade in the past that it would deal with the offensive smell but that odor continues to be a problem. I hope that this time the problem will be effectively solved.
Farmington resident February 27, 2013 at 03:22 PM
When you're asked to vote on something that you have no options then I consider that an insult. Sort of like voting down the budget only to have it come back in the same form and be passed the second time. Doesn't make me want to vote when I don't feel like my vote counts for anything.
Bill Stanford February 27, 2013 at 03:48 PM
While many people complain about excessive government spending, infrastructure projects like this are exactly what government spending should be used on.
Brian Cunningham February 27, 2013 at 11:45 PM
Who is "Farmington Resident"? This person has no authority to speak for Farmington residents. Patch needs to enforce its policy that people posting need to use their real name. What are you afraid of? I support the Council's decision, and look forward to voting on the issue myself.
Matt Pogson February 28, 2013 at 01:48 AM
Most people know my stance on spending, but I am all for helping fix our infrastructure even if it does cost some money now and again. With that said I think it is only fair if the other towns that use this facility pay for their due share. I see from the article that they are going to provide 20% toward the upgrade but I find it hard to believe that they are only using 20% of the capacity of the plant......I also think it would be wise of the town to secure this 20% from the surrounding towns before building anything. I think the Jackson Labs pilot money and road infrastructure debacle is good enough reason for having this attitude. Sadly in today's day and age you just cant trust anyone who's says that "they'd gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today"
Kaitlin Glanzer (Editor) February 28, 2013 at 02:11 AM
Matt, the percentage the towns and UCHC pay is calculated based on their usage. And Russ Arnold said that their "flow" was monitored daily.
Matt Pogson February 28, 2013 at 12:20 PM
Ah that's good to hear Kaitlin, I figured they did something like that. So all they have to do is actually collect the money.... I just don't want to see us stuck holding the bill...

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