Editorial: Strategy, Liability, and Planning for Sewers in Old Lyme

in Editorials

Now that the votes are counted, and the referendum to borrow up to $9.5 million approved, I guess it’s too late for the relatively tiny neighborhood of Sound View to reconsider a strategy which, when you think about it, amounted to convincing the vast majority of residents what a fantastic deal they’d be getting by approving the plan.

Whether that deal holds up remains to be seen — Sound View residents have hired a lawyer and are mounting a well-funded legal challenge — and the actual text of the resolution (you did read the full text of the resolution, didn’t you?) gives the Board of Selectmen almost unlimited flexibility down the road “to determine the scope and particulars of the Project … reduce or modify the scope of the Project,” even to rejiggering funding obligations to “any combination” of either the Town or Sound View revenues.

That said, I’m guessing that the First Selectwoman has no intention of shifting the burden back onto the town.

I also remain unconvinced that collectively Sound View has much of a case. By my best reckoning, forcing neighborhoods like Sound View to shoulder the entire burden of a sewer project may not be nearly as ubiquitous as town officials would have you believe, but still the formula is hardly unprecedented. At least until the late 1990s, the most recent data we’ve been able to obtain, roughly a third of projects received some or all of their project dollars from the general fund.

We’ve yet to hear anyone suggest that Mystic users shoulder the entire two-million-dollar cost of hooking into Stonington Borough sewers, a proposal now in the planning stages with the Town of Stonington Water Pollution Control Authority (WPCA).

But it’s not all bad news for opponents in Sound View (and to be sure not everyone is opposed). On a case-by-case individual level — there are hundreds of potential appeals — it would appear that many property owners could make a fair case that the fees charged fail to meet the required threshold of a cost-benefit analysis. In each and every case, these appeals — by forcing the town to pay the difference — present a significant potential financial liability to the town.

Whether the end result gives way to greater parity on the back end that was unobtainable on the front end, we’ll just have to wait and see.

If this all sounds like a sticky wicket or a can of worms — how many residents are still wondering whether a more cautious approach could have avoided the cost of sewers altogether — you have to wonder what the town is thinking with its ideas for Halls Road, which appear in every case to require another sewer system to be installed.

This time before we get very far down that road, shouldn’t we clarify exactly how we’ll pay for that project? And wouldn’t it be wise to at least conduct an engineering and feasibility study of the sewer options?

If — very reasonably — we are reluctant to spend the money or make the funding commitments up-front for sewering Halls Road, aren’t we planning a mansion of sorts without even considering its foundation?


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