If the Town Council wasn’t sure whether residents were in favor of the proposed sewer project that failed during a November 2011 referendum vote, homeowners, who turned out in force Thursday night, were very clear.
About 50 residents of the Blue Ridge, Shady Lane, Helm Road, Woodruff Road, Woodpond, and Ridgeview area, under consideration for a $2.5 million low-pressure public sewer system, attended a public hearing on the project Thursday. Of those in attendance, every resident voted against the project.
They came with letters from real estate appraisers, health district officials and grinder pump repairmen attesting to the damage the systems reportedly have done to property values, water quality and homeowners’ wallets in other towns.
And they came with indignation that the same proposal was again being considered.
Concerns about costs, public health, property values and pump failure
“This has the potential of being a maintenance nightmare,” said resident Janet Tanner. “There’s the hassle of not being able to use the toilets in a power failure… and it could stigmatize our property when we go to sell it … I believe my potential loss could far exceed $20,000.”
And while Tanner said she wanted traditional sewers installed to reduce the environmental impact in the area, Pat Moores said she was concerned about the potential health risk of the proposed systems.
“I concur with the preference for gravity rather than grinder. It’s been a long hard road for past 15 years trying to get sewers into this area,” Moores said. “I’m concerned about E. Coli… All that water washes down into the lake and we have all those tributaries. All those houses are in the watershed that drains to the lake. …If it’s a matter of having it be a little more expensive I think we have to be creative in how we go about funding it and get this done in a healthier way – I don’t want the risk.”
“If this system backs up into my house - I’m a firefighter and I know check valves don’t work half the time – if that backs up into my house, now the town of Farmington, the Farmington Valley Health District have to come to my house, DEP is going to get called for hazardous waste at my house. That can’t happen,” said Pete Lepak, who lives in one of the 95 effected houses.
The problem is not with installing sewers, which residents said they have been fighting for over decades. The problem, as they see it, is with the low-pressure systems, versus a traditional gravity system, which the rest of town residents have.
“We want to put in sewer systems but the town wants to put in these grinder pump systems,” Lepak said. “We have the Cadillac of the valley - I don’t want to buy the Chevy.”
Why a low-pressure system?
The low-pressure system, which relies on individual pumps that would be installed, owned and maintained by each homeowner, is less expensive for the town by about half, Town Engineer Russ Arnold explained, particularly because the area’s rocky terrain would require large amounts of blasting to install a traditional system. And still, one out of six houses would need a grinder pump if a gravity system were install, Arnold said.
According to Kurt Mailman, of Fuss & O’Neil, the area has poor soil, shallow groundwater, small lots and lots of rock.
He indicated that while a low pressure system line could be installed 4 to 4 and a half feet below the ground – just under the frost line – a gravity system could require blasting up to 40 feet down.
“It’s just not economically feasible to put in a gravity system,” Arnold told the increasingly angry crowd. “We can’t put a sewer main in that’s 40 feet deep and expect everyone through town to pay for that.”
Though residents volunteered to pay more for the traditional system, town code allows only for homeowners to pay a $10,527 assessment for the sewers. Residents would have the option of not hooking into the system and payment could be deferred until residents either connect or the home is sold.
What’s a grinder pump?
Each home using the low-pressure system would have a grinder pump and approximately 60-gallon tank installed on the property. The pump uses cutter blades to grind the waste, then pump the slurry through a small line up to the street. Mailman said it works similarly to a garbage disposal.
The top of the pump sticks out of the ground somewhere around the house and is vented to the outside. A control system is mounted to the outside of the house and an alarm sounds if the system fails.
Because the pump operates on electricity, it cannot operate when the power is out – a concern many residents raised in light of the October snowstorm. And the standard 60-gallon tank holds about one day’s usage, Mailman said.
As a result, it’s recommended that homeowners maintain a generator for the system.
WPCA recommends the plan
Despite residents’ objections, a promise not to hook into the system if it's approved and a promise to return with a petition for a gravity system, the Water Pollution Control Authority voted 4-1 to recommend the project to the Town Council.
According to Chairman James Foote, the authority must vote in favor of the best option for public health. He also said that there was no choice between a gravity system and a low-pressure system: the choice was a low-pressure system or no system.
“Prior to meetings we held a year and a half ago, the WPCA solicited the Farmington Valley Health District to gauge their reaction and to assess what issues there were with waste water renovation in the area,” Mailman said. What they found was “at least two properties that needed variances, exceptions to the public health code to construct repairs. There is a historical record of letters written, saying it is a problem area and I think everyone here can agree that the subsurface waters out there aren’t optimal."
The WPCA will recommend the project to the Town Council, which is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the issue on July 10. Should the council choose to go forward with the project, a special town meeting would be held Oct. 27, and the issue would again be voted on by the town Nov. 6.