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Sewer Project Moves Forward Over Objection of Residents

Every resident in attendance voted against the low-pressure system - already voted down at referendum.

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."

Next steps

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.

Jack R. June 17, 2012 at 02:56 PM
Sounds as if the residents prefer the "do nothing option." What's the problem? Why is the town council even considering this issue? The article isn't clear on who is pushing the system and who would benefit other than the contractors.
Peter R. Lepak June 20, 2012 at 09:30 PM
PRL The residents recognize the potential problems of down stream contamination end result in pollution of Wood Pond and well systems of the area. The WPCA offered no alternative or explanation as too their findings. The people one per household present voted by hand vote 30 to 2 against the project. When Mr. Foote called the vote,it was clear cut "Sewer System" only. The people asked the call to vote to be worded the proposed low pressure / grinding pump system, but were rejected. The people seemed willing to work with the town to correct the problem and in their own research offered data. Bottom line is the price tag to the town for a gravity system. Remember, this (low pressure / grinding pump system) was voted down once in a town vote and again by the home owners present at the last public WPCA meeting.
Paul Chotkowski June 24, 2012 at 04:33 PM
Throughout this process no one has ever clearly articulated the WHY! Is it the goal to replace all septic systems / leach fields in the town? or only those in certain areas? What is the criteria that is being used? the enabling legislation? the administrative order or rule? Failing a properly enacted requirement, where is the Data? the Analysis? Which nameless town / state / federal bureaucrat made which regulation(s) that this new sewer system is intended to address. Is this just another example of Green being the new RED [yes the Progressive / Socialist / Marxist bigger government, more regulatory authority, and higher taxes kind of RED]. WHY are we having this conversation? If a legally permitted and properly installed / maintained waste system on private property fails, WHY is it not the responsibility of the OWNER OF THE PROPERTY to fix the problem and remediate the damage [if any]. Which law / regulation is the status quo violating? WHY after voting down the project the last time is it still alive? WHY? WHY? WHY? So what if the WPCA recommended the plan [yet another reason for small government - commission get formed & think they have to spend money to prove how important they are!] A vague “if a septic system fails there might be environmental damage” tripe or chanting its modern, progressive, forward moving aren’t sufficient reasons to spend! You need to do a much better job of “Splain’en Lucy” otherwise come voting time, this project will be DOA again!
Paul Chotkowski June 24, 2012 at 05:02 PM
I rarely do two post back to back but this issue frosts me. How many septic systems are there in town? Over their lives how many millions of gallons of waste have they processed? How many have failed in the last 30 years? How many dozens of gallons of waste have contaminated how many square feet of land? How much did it cost the town / state to clean it up? What were the long term consequences [verifiable data only with cost estimates - no SWAGs]? Please provide details concerning drinking water wells, streams and standing bodies of water that were contaminated by these spills? How was that contamination determined [source, pollutants, costs to remediate] This data will help the taxpayers understand the history of the issue. Now for some projections. How many systems will fail in the next 30 years? How many gallons will be released and what are projected consequences and costs [verifiable estimates only no SWAGs] Now lets compare the legacy systems to the towns waste treatment plant. Detail the number and amount of unauthorized waste water discharges into the Farmington River over the last 30 years, cost and consequences and forecast forward 30 years [for fun toss in the number of days / people complaints from the stink wafting from the treatment plant and the same data for the individual septic systems]. The above is just of the top of my head and is the absolute minimum that a cogent, rational, and respectful presentation would have required before I asked for $2.5 M

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