Letter: How the Politics of Sewers Impacts One Old Lyme Family

in Letters/WPCA

Originally the scope of the sewer project in Old Lyme — as determined by the Old Lyme Water Pollution Control Authority and DEEP — included the public beaches of Sound View, White Sands Beach and Hawks Nest. The private beaches were already marching forward. 

At the October 2014 meeting of the Old Lyme WPCA, as a result of a motion raised by Mr. Prendergast, White Sands was removed from the project, citing cost. Area B (near the railroad tracks) was subsequently added. The estimated cost to sewer the three Sound View public streets – Portland Ave, Hartford Ave and Swan Ave — is $9.5 million.

Richard Prendergast was appointed Chairman of the Old Lyme WPCA in January, 2016. 

At the September 2019 Old Lyme WPCA meeting — when sewer discussions heated to a boil between board members — as chair, Prendergast three times warned a board member of “serious consequences” if a board member continued to raise concerns regarding White Sands. Mr. Prendergast also three times announced that he owned three properties, at least one we know is in White Sands.

We get it Mr. Prendergast. You own over $1 million in property and you don’t want your property sewered. It’s too expensive.

In 2005 a young couple from Rhode Island settled in Sound View. They purchased a small 1200-square-foot ranch on a 50 x 100 lot for $300,000.  Nothing fancy but close enough to walk to the beach in a quiet, safe neighborhood – a good place to raise a family.   

In 2015 citing irreconcilable differences, the couple divorced. The wife, now a grandmother actively caring for her granddaughter, still stands tall and proud, working long hours, 5 days a week, serving others as a nurse to provide for her family.  She had to refinance in 2016, and now carries a mortgage of $240,000 (about $1200 per month), pays taxes of $4300, plus health care, car expenses, utilities – the whole gamut we all pay, but she does it alone – all on one limited income.  

If Old Lyme’s proposal to install sewers in Sound View goes forward as Chairman Prendergast and the WPCA would have it, this woman even though she has a compliant septic and deep well, will be assessed a ‘betterment’ fee of at least $26,000 plus a $6,000 hook up fee, plus $100 per linear foot (about $5000) to run a line on her property, plus whatever it costs to dig up her septic, close her well, reseed her yard, maybe rebuild her decks if they have to be removed.  Whew! That’s a lot! 

She will also be charged a yearly usage fee, that won’t be based on usage since it won’t be metered. Remember – she has a compliant working system – a 1000-gallon septic tank, leach field, drilled well.  Her property is more than 1,000 feet from the shoreline. She doesn’t need or want a sewer.

She’s scared.  She’s worried she will lose her family’s home and she doesn’t know where she and her family will live if they are ultimately forced out. So, she attends every WPCA meeting, listens to every word, and prays. She sat nervously at the September 2019 WPCA meeting that was monopolized by a long consultant discussion on how the town should quickly move forward with the survey and design phase, and she sat quietly through a long discussion about mailing postcards vs letters – a debate over a twenty-cent difference. 

And finally, when the public was allowed to speak and she listened while neighbor after neighbor seemed to be dismissed with indifference, she lost it.  “Look at me! Look at us!” she yelled to Chairman Prendergast, who shot back, “Ok, I’m looking at you.” He raised his eyes, crossed his arms and batted his eyes. When she tried to explain how much this project would cost her, Prendergast responded, “Well if you own a million-dollar home you should be able to afford $100,000 assessment”.  She doesn’t own a million-dollar property, Mr. Prendergast.  None of us do.  Yup – she lost it.  She was out of control, but so is this chairman. As is this whole project.

Not one word of this exchange was recorded in the minutes but the fifty or so who attended this meeting will never forget it.  It set the tone for everything that was yet to come – the subsequent comments by Chairman Prendergast at the October 2019 WPCA meeting, where he informed everyone that he really did not have to answer questions or even allow public comments.  And then the recent denial by the Old Lyme WPCA, and First Selectman Bonnie Reemsnyder, of the Sound View petition to hold a meeting and answer questions.

Is this the type of government you want to rule Old Lyme? Could your grandmother be next? 

The residents of Sound View are proud, hardworking, tax-paying, God-fearing people just like you.  They are not asking for a free hand – just a fair shake. 

Vinny Perezi
Old Lyme