OLD LYME — In part due to the town’s recent re-evaluation, the Water Pollution Control Authority plans to hire attorneys and consultants to determine property values in Sound View Beach as the town’s sewer project moves forward.
At Tuesday’s WPCA meeting, Douglas Wilkinson, treasurer, said next year’s budget includes $10,000 for a land use lawyer and about $15,000 for an appraisal consultant to evaluate properties, especially since the town is going through a re-evaluation this year.
In an August 13 referendum, residents voted 883 to 565 to bond $9.5 million for sewer construction in Sound View Beach and Miscellaneous Town Area B. The project cost is expected to be reduced to $7.44 million through a 25 percent Clean Water Funds grant.
WPCA chair Richard Prendergast told the authority that he recently met with Melinda Kronfeld, the town’s assessor, “to get a refresh of the data.”
“This is a re-evaluation year and the data that we used to develop the referendum is getting older so I discussed with her what we need as a committee and she is going to run a report,” he said.
With the re-evaluation, some town properties have dropped in value but the beach communities’ values generally have risen, said Prendergast, who lives in the White Sands area. “Mine went up 15 percent, friends of mine went up 20 percent, another property went down 30 percent, so it’s all over [the place]. But the beach properties generally go up and the rest of the town goes down,” he said.
The re-evaluation, and rising beach property assessments, may allow the sewer project more latitude in terms of the benefit assessment charged to residents and property owners, which cannot exceed the increased value of the property.
“When people install sewers, generally the property is worth more, so independent of the re-evaluation, when they get sewers, they have a more valuable property,” Prendergast said.
The current cost formula for the 236 dwellings, with commercial properties considered separately, is a base fee of $21,000 comprised of a $15,000 assessment fee and a $6,000 sewer hook-up fee.
In an alternate tiered system, calculated by vice chair Frank Chan, larger properties with more than 500 square feet will pay a higher amount, from $27,800 to $48,000, depending on square footage.
The WPCA’s original formula included a broader spectrum of costs, with larger properties paying about $100,000. Regardless of the final formula, owners will pay a $430 annual user fee to cover operational costs.
Steve Cinami, WPCA member, said it was important to consider the fairness of the tiered system before finalizing a formula.
“I’m not saying the current method is perfect because I don’t think it is, however, I can say that I think we should utilize legal counsel before changing this again,” he said. “Maybe we want to get a little more information on the viability of having a standard system that’s a mathematical system that would apply to all properties that meets our goals and would show that there’s no bias one way or the other.”
The WPCA voted against finalizing the benefit assessment formula as it stands now, leaving room for future changes.
The town has been testing 11 wells every two months since September 2018 in the Hawk’s Nest neighborhood of Old Lyme, with results posted on the town’s WPCA page.
As of Tuesday’s meeting, Prendergast said the November report had not yet arrived and the State of Connecticut has not indicated whether testing should continue.
“The state has not asked us to do any more testing,” he said. “There was an expectation we would have a meeting in January … to discuss how we’re going to review the findings and figure out if there’s more testing to be done.”
Prendergast said the WPCA was searching for an expert to evaluate the testing results. “This is beyond our original scope,” he said.
WPCA board member Joseph Carpentino, said he had reached out to Woodard & Curran, the engineering firm the town has used to evaluate and design the sewer project, and to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. That outreached produced six names that he said he will research and report on at the next WPCA meeting in the interest of “open dialogue and discussion.”
“We need someone with proper expertise and background to evaluate the data that has been collected from Hawk’s Nest wells,” he said. “I think having an independent expert is in everybody’s best interest.”
Sewer ordinance gap
According to Richard Prendergast, the WPCA is required by the state to update the town’s sewer ordinance. The current version of the ordinance dates to 1996, he said.
“The ordinance talks about septic systems and sewer avoidance and that was fine in the day, but we have to update it,” he said, adding that he’d like to start a subcommittee to write the new sewer ordinance if he can formulate an active group willing to tackle the task.
He said a proposal for a cost-sharing agreement with the private beach associations is being negotiated, but has not yet been finalized.
“We’re making progress but we’re not moving too fast,” Prendergast said. “We have a cost-sharing agreement and there’s a lot of back and forth.”
Prendergast also said the design portion of the sewer project will need the approval of DEEP and the town’s engineering firm.
“Once the state feels comfortable that the design is correct and Woodard Curran feels comfortable that it is accurate, we will get it back and we will review it and we will then ask the first selectman to sign it and that will be one of the first steps going forward. So it’s going to be a process update but I don’t know when that is,” he said.
Sound View resident Dennis Melluzzo asked who will pay for the sewer infrastructure, as well as about markings for possible sewer pipes on Swan Avenue and Portland Avenue, and the location of the force main.
Prendergast said there were proposed easements for certain areas of the project and that the town’s engineering firm is working with the private beach associations’ engineering firm and Connecticut Water to come up with the lowest cost design. He said the private beach associations and the town will each pay for their own pipes.
Sound View resident Mary Daley said that Geomatrix Systems LLC in Old Saybrook could provide alternative methods of wastewater management that were “completely compatible, affordable and, independent, don’t require an overseeing body and allow homeowners to manage own property.” Also, with the pump station located on private land, the town will be beholden to the private beach communities if the proposed arrangement were to go forward, she said.
Prendergast said the WPCA looked at alternative methods, including Geomatrix, which would cost about $70,000 per house, he said, compared to the average cost of $34,000 for sewers. The town also looked at the option of treating wastewater in Old Lyme, which was unacceptable to the state, he said, adding that the town was partnering with the beach associations to save money.
“We’re going to partner with the private beach associations. If it gets us a lower operating cost, then that’s what we’re going to do,” he said.