OLD LYME — The sewer project, estimated now in $55 million range, may be in jeopardy because an $11.2 million request for federal funding has been turned down.
At Saturday’s public presentation of the sewer project, Sen. Richard Blumenthal announced that the Senate Appropriations Committee did not approve the request.
“Unfortunately the number of applications for earmarks doubled this year and this one was unsuccessful. The process begins again… and we’re prepared again to seek federal funding for this very worthwhile goal,” said Blumenthal via a zoom feed that was streamed to the middle school auditorium where more than 100 residents attended the sewer presentation.
The three beach communities and the town had requested $14 million in federal funds toward shared infrastructure costs estimated at $16.5 million. The four communities have a total of 909 homes and the infrastructure costs will be paid proportionately by the number of homes in each community.
One of the next steps is to “pursue additional grants and subsidies from state and federal programs” and to “investigate other opportunities for cost mitigation,” according to the presentation, which is available for download here.
However, the project’s “interim funding obligations” to pay for project design are due January 31, 2023, the date to which the obligations have been deferred. Each beach “may hold a referendum to reauthorize projects with updated cost and funding information,” according to the presentation.
At the dais in the auditorium State Sen. Paul Formica told the audience that he spoken with Mark Boughton, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Revenue Services, about using funds from the $5 billion in infrastructure money coming to the state of Connecticut.
“We’ve outlined the project, we know that adding the sewers is a huge cost to each individual homeowner. We’re trying our best to provide some of those infrastructure dollars, should the decision be made to go with sewers, to offset the cost of accessibility to sewers, and any fees associated with that,” he said.
Formica said Boughton “is a fan of the project moving forward, if that’s what the decision of the community is.”
The lengthy presentation emphasized objectives of complying with a longtime state consent order as well as remediating pollution in Long Island Sound. Officials from the town and the three beach associations — Miami Beach, Old Lyme Shores, and Old Colony Beach — updated residents on the estimated costs per household in each community.
First Selectman Tim Griswold told the audience that there would not be a typical question and answer period after the presentation because questions were to be submitted in advance.
“Some of the questions will be answered in the slides you will see and then some that were not [answered] will be addressed by the group at the end. Members of the panel will be available after the program if you wish to speak with them,” Griswold said.
Frank Pappalardo, chair of the Sound View Sewer Coalition, told CT Examiner via email that the coalition “was not asked to participate in the meeting.”
Before the meeting, coalition members stood outside of the middle school and handed out a list of 10 questions that members wanted answered at the presentation. The group describes themselves as representing “a majority of homeowners in Sound View and Area B, who do not believe sewers are the most practical or cost-effective solution for this area.”
In his email, Pappalardo said he was “disappointed that not a single one of the questions [that the coalition] submitted were answered at today’s meeting… The only questions answered appeared to support the position that sewers were the answer.”
Among the coalition’s questions, which included a range of topics and concerns, was a request for current data proving that Old Lyme is polluting Long Island Sound.
Pappalardo said the coalition supports updated testing and analysis, and pointed out that Hawk’s Nest Beach — which, so far, has been excluded from the project along with White Sands Beach — has had testing done.
He said that much has changed since the original data — done in 2010 — was used to justify sewers.
“Old Lyme adopted a mandatory 7-year septic pump-out ordinance and animal waste mitigation. Many residents have also repaired failing systems or replaced them with new engineered systems. Why not see if these actions have had an impact before embarking on a 50+ million dollar project?” Pappalardo said.
On Monday, Rich Prendergast, chair of the Old Lyme Water Pollution Control Authority, told CT Examiner that meetings with Senators Blumenthal and Chris Murphy and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro have been set up in the coming few weeks — and that the process has become easier than before.
“There’s additional meetings. We don’t know when we don’t know the content… It could be that they’re just trying to understand the situation and or it could be that they’re trying to explain to us that you don’t get the money right away,” he said. “We don’t really know but before it was difficult getting meetings with the politicians.”
Scott Boulanger, chair of the Miami Beach Water Pollution Control Authority, said Monday that the beach association members understand the importance of the project and that it will minimize contributing to pollution in Long Island Sound. He said the issue is cost — per equivalent dwelling unit, the estimated yearly cost in Miami Beach is $3,600 a year for 20 years, but could be closer to $2,600 a year with grants from the federal government and from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
“I think the homeowners want to do the right thing but you’re asking somebody to spend quite a bit of money for something — they just can’t afford $3,000 or $4,000 a year for 20 years,” Boulanger said. “Maybe we made enough noise that now everybody is starting to focus… maybe there’ll be some work being done to try to minimize the impact.”
Doug Whalen, president of Old Colony Beach, said his beach association told residents 10 years ago that the project would cost them about $1,800 a year for 20 years.
“We’re trying to keep that number there and the $11.2 million brings it there,” Whalen said.
Without the federal funding, the cost is estimated at $2,600 per equivalent dwelling unit per year for 20 years.
“When we sent this through 10 years ago, the vote was 197 to 12 — the residents were very into this program. Unfortunately because of supply chain issues and COVID, the numbers came in 30 to 40 percent higher. We’re trying to recover that 30 to 40 percent.”
He said Old Colony Beach was “very active” in pursuing other avenues of federal and state funding.
“We want to be fiscally responsible to the residents but we also don’t want to stretch it out too far — this was supposed to be flowing back in 2019,” he said. “If we get those funds available, the shovel goes into the ground within the next six months.”