EAST LYME – The town’s Board of Finance on Wednesday approved appropriations of just over $1 million in federal aid from the American Rescue Plan Act, including $920,000 to replace an important well near Pattagansett Lake.
Public Works Director Joe Bragaw told the board Wednesday night that replacing the town’s only well north of Boston Post Road and Interstate 95 is a necessity, whether it used ARPA funds or bonded for the project – but said he wanted to avoid bonding because it would cause significant increases to water rates.
“We just got done with a $6 million treatment plant to improve water quality, after coming off an $8 million interconnect project – water and sewer projects are expensive, and we’re trying to keep the rates stable,” Bragaw said. “It’s an ongoing balancing act, a high wire balancing act.”
Bragaw said the Water and Sewer Department would be the general contractor for the new well, and that it could “get rolling” very soon, and complete the project by May – before the time of high summer demand where East Lyme can’t afford to have a well offline.
The well is a critical piece of East Lyme’s water infrastructure, which consists of six wells across town. Well 5 is the farthest north, and has the lowest sodium levels of all the town wells, but it’s production has dropped to about a quarter of what it produced when it was first drilled in 1994.
Attempts to bring the flow of the well back by flushing out sediment from the wellhead have had diminishing returns on increasing the flow of water, and after the most recent attempt in 2019 made little impact, it was clear the well would have to be re-drilled, Bragaw said. The town has a permit to re-drill the well already, because it knew this day was coming soon, he said.
Drilling the well itself would cost about $150,000. Replacing the filter in the well’s treatment plant would cost about $400,000. The remaining would go to upgrades to the water treatment building and sandblasting the pipes.
Unlike New London and Groton, which have one reservoir and one treatment plant for their water supply, East Lyme’s series of six town wells requires an individual treatment plant at each pump, Bragaw said. The complexity of East Lyme’s water and sewer systems means the town is always juggling projects. The town Water and Sewer Commission determined this was the most crucial project to ask for ARPA funds.
A vote over the $920,000 sewer request, $30,000 to Niantic Main Street to fund a charrette study for the town’s business districts, $60,000 for the down clerk to digitize land records, and $4,000 to the Care & Share food pantry to replace a freezer, was postponed from a Board of Finance meeting before the election over concerns raised by Board of Finance Chair Camille Alberti over how the Board of Selectmen was vetting and prioritizing requests for the federal funds.
Care & Share withdrew its request for funding for a new freezer, so on Wednesday the Board of Finance was voting on $1.01 million in ARPA funds for the remaining three projects.
The board voted 5-0 to approve the appropriation, with the outgoing chair Alberti abstaining from the vote.
Before the vote at the Wednesday meeting, Board of Finance Vice Chair Ann Cicchiello said she had requested an opinion from town counsel to confirm that the expenses were allowable uses of ARPA funds. Cicchiello said that going forward, there should be confirmation from town counsel that any proposed ARPA funds are allowable, in order to protect the public and the town.