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.”
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.”