Old Lyme Officials Evaluate New Bids, Search for Funding to Offset High Sewer Costs

OLD LYME — Town officials are evaluating a series of bids to install a pump house, force main and trunk pipes for new sewers in a handful of neighborhoods along the shoreline.

At $14.1 million to $21.1 million, new bids range from about 20 percent lower to about 14 percent higher than the original bids of $17.5 and $18.5 million, which were deemed too high by the town and the three private beach associations sharing the cost of the infrastructure.

By law, the town must accept the lowest qualifying bids, if the project moves forward, at a cost that would still significantly exceed the roughly $10 million estimate initially provided by engineering firm Fuss & O’Neill.

While that evaluation is underway, town officials say they are seeking additional avenues of funding to cover the costs.
First Selectman Tim Griswold announced the bids at a board of selectmen meeting on Oct. 18.

“We have 120 days to make a decision on the bids,” Douglas Whalen, president of the Old Colony Beach Club Association, told CT Examiner by telephone on Tuesday. “We knew it was going to be a little bit higher than what we expected — the $17 to $18 million was a lot higher. The $14.1 million is more in our range.”

Along with Old Lyme’s Sound View neighborhood, the cost would be shared by the chartered beach communities of Old Colony Beach, Miami Beach, and Old Lyme Shores.

In an effort to reduce overall costs, the new bids were divided up into three separate projects. The pump house bids ranged in cost from $2.2 million to $3.6 million. Bids for the force main, which connects to East Lyme’s sewers, and includes a bioxide odor control facility, ranged from $8 million to $13 million. The bid for the trunk pipes ranged from $3.9 million to $4.5 million.

At an Oct. 19 meeting of Old Lyme’s Water Pollution Control Authority, Rich Prendergast, who chairs the authority, said that the town will be responsible 29.7 percent of the shared costs – or about $4 million to $6 million.

Prendergast said it was unclear whether the total project cost — which would include significant additional expenses paid separately by each community — would exceed the town’s $9.5 million referendum, but an overage would require restructuring the project and finding more funding.

“If it’s over our referendum, I don’t think we can go forward the way it is. We’d have to seek an additional referendum or lower the cost,” he said. “If the private beach associations can’t do their project and we go it alone, we’d rebid what they’ve done.”

But Prendergast said that even if the beach associations decide the project that the project is too expensive, they would still be under an administrative order from the state to construct sewers.

“In the worst extreme case — which was threatened to other towns, but not to Old Lyme — the state ends up fining us until we come up with the money,” he said.

“We’re at the point now where we’re evaluating things. The bids now are not qualified, so we have to qualify them and then come up with a strategy,” Prendergast said.

At Monday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, Selectman Mary Jo Nosal asked Griswold if he would clarify the next steps in the process.

“The various beaches would have to approve their aspect of it as well as the town and so it’s going to be a complicated process,” answered Griswold. “I don’t know yet, the bids were just received this past week so it’s too early to know. I don’t think we can just pick the lowest number for each of them and that will be it. There will be a lot of analysis. At some point we will get the chairman of the WPCA to come speak to us and inform us of what the steps are and what is likely to happen.”

Nosal asked which of the three shared infrastructure components would be constructed first.

Griswold responded that the town wanted to begin construction of the force main, which will run along Route 156 to East Lyme, as soon as possible because the Connecticut Department of Transportation has plans to repave Route 156 from Halls Road to East Lyme.

“It would be very bad if they went ahead and paved that and we had not structured our deal,” Griswold said.

Nosal raised the issue of a planned bike lane on Route 156, which she said had been verbally okayed by the state Department of Transportation but had been on hold until the programmed repaving of the state road.

“We put that bike lane section on hold. We were verbally promised at this table that they would consider those plans when they came back to repave. So if you do get the opportunity to talk with the DOT about your repaving … remind them of our plans,” Nosal said.

Griswold said he was not sure how much the town was discussing the repaving of Route 156 with the department and what the issues would be, but he supported the idea of a bike lane on Shore Road.

Griswold, Prendergast and Whalen said that the town and the beach associations have a meeting scheduled next week with grant coordinators at the offices of Rep. Joe Courtney and Sen. Chris Murphy to work on finding federal grants to fund the project.

According to Prendergast, additional federal funding was available for wastewater and sewer projects in the American Rescue Plan.

“We’re hopeful that we’ll get some additional funding — that lowers the cost of the project and the cost to the residents of Old Lyme,” he said.

Whalen told CT Examiner that the private beach associations have storm drain projects that could be funded by federal grants, including a $600,000 storm drain project for Old Colony Beach Association, he said.

“We want to make sure we have all of the funding that’s available in place before we award the project,” Whalen said.

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