OLD LYME — In a small but significant step, the Old Lyme Water Pollution Control Authority is preparing to sign a preliminary agreement to join the cost-sharing agreement of the town’s three private beach associations for the construction, operation and maintenance of sewers.
If signed by all parties, the agreement — which is a preparatory document and not the cost-sharing agreement itself — will be the first formalized statement of a business partnership between the Town of Old Lyme and the three chartered beach communities after years of discussion about the construction of sewers along the shoreline, said Richard Prendergast, chair of the authority.
“This is an agreement to join the cost-sharing agreement because it allows us to promise to join them and their promise to let us join,” he said by phone Tuesday. “It allows us to trigger working on the other elements that we need to do, like the intermunicipal agreement and easements. We have a laundry list of things we have to do so when we submit our application for Clean Water Funds for the construction part — we’ve already applied for funds for the design part — we need these things in place or else they won’t give us the money for it.”
Town residents and property owners approved a $9.5 million sewer construction bond for Sound View Beach and Miscellaneous Area B in a hotly contested referendum on August 13. A Clean Water Funds grant would reduce the cost by 25 percent to $7.44 million.
The preliminary agreement will also require the town’s authority to pay the three beach associations —Old Colony Beach, Miami Beach and Old Lyme Shores Beach — about $66,000 to cover the town’s portion of engineering and legal expenses already incurred by the beach associations.
“We’re paying our apportioned share of the last seven years of work that the private beach associations have done to get to where they are,” Prendergast said. “They’re asking us, as part of the agreement to joining them, that we pay a portion of what we would owe if we join them full on, as a way of showing good faith and a way of showing that we’re going to be committed to joining them.”
Prendergast said the $66,000 breaks down to about 30 percent planning and 70 percent legal fees.
“The planning is to build the pump house. The legal is to form the cost-sharing agreements, the intermunicipal agreements with East Lyme and New London, and for some private easements,” he said.
Prendergast presented the preliminary agreement to the Board of Selectmen at their Monday night meeting, seeking signed approval from First Selectman Timothy Griswold.
“The WPCA had voted that its chair or vice chair could sign the agreement to join the cost sharing agreement if the selectmen agree to sign it,” Prendergast said.
The Board of Selectmen did not sign the agreement but opted instead to send it to the Board of Finance and to the town attorney, Michael Carey of Suisman Shapiro, for further analysis and vetting.
Griswold said the agreement could be ready to sign around the time of the Board of Finance meeting.
“It’s being hammered out by an attorney for the three beaches and the town’s attorney, so once they’re in agreement, then we’ll get word back from the attorney that it’s all set. That should be about the same time frame as it would be to attend the Board of Finance which is two weeks hence,” Griswold said Tuesday night.
Prendergast said he was ready to present the preliminary agreement to the Board of Finance on June 16.
“We’ll go to the Board of Finance and we’ll answer their questions and see what their concerns are,” he said. “They’re afraid that there will be some huge amount of money that the town will have to budget for until we get our reimbursements, which I’ve explained, that’s not the case.”
The presentation is considered pro forma, said Andrew Russell, chair of the Board of Finance, by phone Tuesday night.
“We haven’t seen the whole thing yet, but our discussion on the 16th is about shifting some of their current year budget items from certain line items that are not going to be needed anymore into predominantly legal fees for them to get that agreement finalized,” he said. “So it’s really not that we have concern about the agreement, it’s more of a procedural thing for us.”
The preliminary agreement is the first step toward building a sewer system for all parties without duplication of effort and cost, said Prendergast.
“The analogy I use is carpooling. If we buy one car, we all share it versus we buy two cars and we park them next to each other,” he said.
This story has been edited to clarify that no “vote” was taken to send the draft agreement to the Board of Finance and town attorney. The board rather “opted” to send the draft agreement to the Board of Finance and town attorney.