Denied a Town Meeting by Petition, Officials Provide No Legal Explanation

in Old Lyme/WPCA

OLD LYME — Without a clear legal basis, the town has denied a petition for a special meeting with the Water Pollution Control Authority submitted by a group of Sound View residents.

“We the residents/taxpayers of Old Lyme request a meeting with the Old Lyme WPCA, where we the people of Old Lyme will ask questions and receive answers to those questions regarding aspects of the WPCA actions to install sewers in Sound View and Area B,” stated the petition signed by 61 Sound View residents. 

On August 13, voters approved a $9.5 million bond for sewer construction in Sound View Beach and Miscellaneous Town Area B. Clean Water Funds will reduce the cost by about 25 percent, bringing the total to $7.4 million, to be paid for primarily by Sound View and Area B residents. 

Responding to the petition in an October 15 email, WPCA Chair Richard Prendergast declined to hold a special meeting. Prendergast wrote that the town was not legally obligated to hold a special meeting to answer Sound View residents’ questions and had made multiple prior efforts to explain the project details. 

“In consultation with the town attorney and the First Selectman’s office, your petition does not legally require the WPCA to hold a special meeting regarding the sewer project,” he wrote. “The WPCA has made numerous efforts to explain this project and answer questions over the years.”

Reached by phone Tuesday, town attorney Jack Collins, of Suisman Shapiro Attorneys-at-Law of New London, said he could not share the legal reason for the petition denial because of client-attorney confidentiality. 

Asked for the legal basis for the denial, First Selectman Bonnie Reemsnyder did not return a phone call Tuesday. 

New and old questions

At a October 8 meeting, the WPCA presented a new algorithm for the sewer project’s cost-sharing formula, based on what are called Equivalent Dwelling Units (EDUs).

When compared to the previous algorithm, presented prior to the town vote, the new formula appears to significantly narrow the cost differential between high and low assessments, in some cases altering costs for residents by several thousand dollars.

Sound View resident Dennis Melluzzo, reached by phone Tuesday, explained that the petition is the only way to “redress the problem with the WPCA board and chair” concerning the “non-conversations and lack of answering our questions,” particularly after a contentious WPCA meeting on September 10.

“We’re the client and we’re not getting the answers from our employees … all we’re asking is answers to questions that they posed via their meetings and that’s all we’re asking for,” Melluzzo said,

He said the WPCA should conduct a focused Q&A session for Sound View residents, post-referendum. 

“Why not have a special meeting for the affected area?” he asked. “We have questions we want answered and I don’t think we’re asking for anything that as taxpayers we shouldn’t be asking for.

Statutes governing town meetings

Seventy five towns in Connecticut, including Old Lyme, are General law municipalities, and are governed by state statutes rather than by a town charter.

According to CT Gen Stat § 7-1 (2012) “special town meetings may be convened when the selectmen deem it necessary, and they shall warn a special town meeting on application of twenty inhabitants qualified to vote in town meetings, such meeting to be held within twenty-one days after receiving such application.”

No current statutes provide a clear basis to deny the Sound View petition, however, prior language which has been cited as recently as 1995 in an unpublished opinion by a State of Connecticut Superior Court, states that a board of selectman is not bound to call a special meeting “unless the board is reasonably certain that the object of the petition is lawful, proper, and not frivolous.”

Prendergast, in his email October 15 email, wrote that the WPCA had already provided a number of public question-and-answer sessions as well as documents posted on the town website. 

“For example, the WPCA manned a question and answer booth at one Midsummer Festival.  We also hosted four public question and answer sessions where the residents asked and we provided answers to many of the questions you currently have,” he wrote. “One of these Q&A sessions was held at the Sound View Community Center. Lastly, there are materials readily available at the town Hall or on the Town’s website that may provide the answers you seek.”

Prendergast said a physical copy of the town’s Coastal Wastewater Plan is available at town hall and the town’s WPCA web page contains the Environmental Impact Evaluation (EIE) that summarizes the Coastal Wastewater Plan, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), and Recent Question and Answer Session slides. 

“Given the amount of information already available to the public, the WPCA declines to hold another special meeting to address many of the same questions. We plan to hold another special (public) meeting once the engineering design for the sewer project is complete,” he wrote. “I understand that there may be additional questions in the interim and the WPCA will answer them in writing (and post an updated FAQ list on our website) such that the entire Old Lyme community can have access to the information first hand.”