OLD LYME — A proposed sewer ordinance that would bring the town one step closer to installing sewers is scheduled for a public hearing at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, but a group of Sound View residents continue to question the validity of the project and who should pay for its escalating costs.
Frank Pappalardo, chair of the Sound View Sewer Coalition, which opposes the sewer project on a number of grounds, told CT Examiner on Sunday that his group has made a number of offers to the Old Lyme Water Pollution Control Authority to resolve the issues and concerns of Sound View residents, without success.
“The [WPCA] refused to respond back. They were unwilling to talk and come up with a reasonable conclusion or compromise,” Pappalardo said, who was instrumental in forming the coalition in August 2019, after Old Lyme voters approved a $9.5 million bond to install sewers in Sound View and Miscellaneous Area B that required property owners to pay for 100 percent of the cost.
Among the issues are the two rounds of bids — ranging from $14.1 to $21.1 million —that have been deemed too high by the town and the three private beach associations that will share common infrastructure of a pump house, force main and trunk pipes.
To fill the cost gap, the town and each of the private beach associations are working to obtain federal grants through a state program, said Rich Prendergast, chair of the Water Pollution Control Authority.
“The costs will be the same or the cost will be lower if we can get funding and we’re actively pursuing all kinds of funding, like the American Rescue Plan,” said Prendergast. “Other towns have been successful in getting some funding, hopefully we will too and so if that happens, the costs will go down.”
A look at the ordinance
The ordinance puts procedures in place for the town’s “designated sewer districts” to connect to the town’s future municipal sewer and is required by Connecticut General Statutes.
The town’s designated sewer districts include Sound View Beach, Miscellaneous Town Area-B and Hawk’s Nest Beach. The need for sewers in Hawk’s Nest Beach is “under review and will be determined by CT-DEEP,” according to the ordinance notice.
Prendergast said WPCA did not write the ordinance and emphasized that it does not obligate the town to put in sewers.
“It was given to us by the state, so it’s not like we crafted this in our own words and such. Basically we got a template that they use and it just sets up rules for pollution because the sewer treatment plant is designed for certain kinds of treatment … so this is limiting it to sewage, not industrial waste” he said.
Prendergast said that the public can participate in the public hearing or send in their comments by email.
“Either way is fine. We’re gonna look at all the comments. We’re gonna review them all. Hopefully, we get maybe some constructive comments that make the ordinance better,” he said.
He said the town’s legal department will look at the ordinance after changes are made and then the state will need to agree to it, he said.
The ordinance states that the town may require any house or building to connect with the WPCA’s sewer system and specifies that the connection costs will be the sole expense of the property owner. The building’s plumbing must be approved by the town building inspector before a connection is made.
Under penalties, any person found in violation of the ordinance will be served a written notice by the town and provided with a “reasonable time limit” to correct the issue. If the violation continues beyond the time limit then the person will be guilty of a misdemeanor and, when convicted, will be fined up to $250 per violation per day and will become liable to the town for any expense, loss or damage incurred by the town because of the violation.
Also, any person who is found to be in violation of Section 25-54i, of the Connecticut General Statutes — governing water pollution — “shall be subject to a monetary penalty or forfeiture under Section 25-54q of the statutes.”
A hearing board will be appointed “as needed” for arbitration between the Old Lyme WPCA and sewer users “on matters concerning interpretation and execution of the provisions of this ordinance” by the Old Lyme WPCA. “The cost of the arbitration will be divided equally between the Town of Old Lyme and the sewer user.”
Concerns from the coalition
Papparlardo said timing and short notice of the ordinance public hearing, scheduled for mid-week in April, along with the short, two-week comment period, was a source of concern for the coalition.
“The timing is suspect. We’re not prepared for the hearing, there’s too much uncertainty. We don’t know how much [the project] will cost,” he said. “The WPCA has been working on the ordinance for two years, and we have seen no drafts and had no opportunity to work with the WPCA on the ordinance, and now we have two weeks to review and respond to it.”
He said there has been no testing in the area to prove Sound View is polluting Long Island Sound and that the test wells at Hawk’s Nest Beach have shown no pollution.
“Yet the WPCA is not discussing the results of these tests — and the question is why? That’s one-quarter mile from Sound View, why [are sewers] even an issue?”
Pappalardo said the WPCA has also not explored alternative systems that are approved by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and are less expensive than installing sewers.
“Property owners in Sound View are not in favor of the project considering the costs and the ongoing maintenance – and now well abandonments that are required,” he said.
Papalardo said the coalition has asked the WPCA for a full accounting of their finances – including engineering and attorney fees as well as testing at Hawk’s Nest Beach — but has not received an answer.
“Certainly the WPCA has not allowed residents to be part of the conversation at all,” he said. “The [coalition] is prepared to take legal action if needed.”
He said the ordinance was “really onerous,” and far-reaching and that it was questionable whether the WPCA could enforce the language.
“This is convoluted on so many levels, it needs to have a reset,” said Pappalardo.
A Sound View resident speaks
Tony Zema, a Portland Ave. resident of Sound View, told CT Examiner he had been trying to raise awareness with the town about sewer project issues but his concerns had fallen on deaf ears.
“They have the potential to drive us out of our homes essentially and there really doesn’t seem to be any sort of a sense of fairness in this whole process and that’s why I’m very frustrated as a homeowner and a resident,” he said.
Zema said homeowners were being compelled to potentially hook up to a system that could be unaffordable.
“I don’t even know how we’re going to afford it. We’re going to have to take out a loan, I mean I don’t even I don’t even know how to finance it quite frankly. And the costs are exorbitant and excessive in my opinion and in a lot of other folks’ opinions,” he said. “For those people that remain it’s going to place a very high burden on them if they want to stay in their homes.
Zema said the state and town needed to come up with a reasonable proposal so that families that had been in Sound View for generations could keep their homes.
“My wife and I wouldn’t even necessarily be opposed to that if the costs were reasonable. But these costs are just out of line with anything I personally have ever known or experienced,” he said. “I am concerned about my future here. It’s creating a lot of angst for me and my neighbors.”
Zema said the issue should be brought to the state’s attention because the burdens the project will place on the homeowners “are so outrageous.”
“The costs of this project have gone triple from what was from what the original projections were, and now they want me to sign in or sign off blindly on an ordinance when I don’t even have a good sense for what the final cost is going to be to me, but they’re going to tell me that I’m going to be penalized if I don’t if I don’t agree to it,” he said.
He said his house was an average cottage that was built as a fisherman’s shack and then expanded over the years.
“It’s comfortable. It’s our home, but it’s not super fancy, and the fact that there are forces at work that could potentially displace us is upsetting in the least. I don’t think this is a way I don’t think this is the way America is supposed to work for anybody. There should be representation. I have felt voiceless for a long time,” said Zema. “It’s just put a big dark cloud over our future.”
A third round of bids is expected toward the end of the year, Prendergast said.
“We’re gonna wait to try to rebid them until the costs come down. If we wait till the end of the year, maybe the supply line disruptions will be over,” he said.
However, Prendergast told CT Examiner, that if the project bids were too high and grant funding insufficient, the sewer project would be off.
“We’re not going to do it if it’s too expensive. If we can’t do it, then we won’t do it,” he said.
The uncertainty about the rising costs of the project has led Pappalardo and the coalition to compare the cost to nearby White Sands Beach, which was deemed too expensive to sewer.
“Considering that the costs of the sewer project are escalating, how much is too much? What is the number? If it was too much for White Sands at that time, how much is too much for Sound View and Area B? We have costs that are well in excess of the original budget,” he said.
First Selectman Tim Griswold told CT Examiner that when and if a bid is accepted, assuming that the town’s portion is higher than the approved $9.5 million, the higher total amount would need to be approved at a town meeting even if part of the amount will be paid by a grant.
Griswold pointed out that townspeople who are against sewers could vote against the higher amount at a town meeting.
“It would be a combination of the new money and the old approval and people might say, ‘This is our chance to turn it down,’” he said.
Residents of Old Lyme can submit comments about the ordinance by email to email@example.com with the subject line: Sewer Ordinance Comments.