EAST LYME — A developer’s request for a substantial tranche of sewer capacity – which exceeded the town’s current and projected capacity – has spurred the Water and Sewer Commission to discuss future capacity expansion needed for economic growth.
Pelletier Niantic LLC requested 110,000 gallons per day of sewer capacity for Niantic Village, a senior living facility, to be located on 37 acres at 200 Pennsylvania Ave. near Dodge Pond in Niantic. The project would provide 340 units for senior residential, 125 for assisted living and 25 for memory care, plus amenities including a public cafeteria, retail shops and a small movie theater.
But Attorney Bill Sweeney, who represented the applicant at the Water and Sewer Commission public hearing for the project on Thursday, asked the commission to look beyond the 110,000 gallons to the timeline of the project.
“Due to the reality of the permitting timeline, the construction of the first phases of this project are likely the better part of more than two years away, and any sewer capacity demand will not likely peak until at least three to four years from now,” said Sweeney.
Sweeney said the timing was an “important reality” that the commission needed to consider because there will “be a substantial time delay between now – when we’re planning and designing the project – and when sewer capacity that we’re seeking will actually be needed for the residents and uses in this project.”
That gap could give the town enough time to expand its sewer capacity.
The town’s capacity is currently 1,022,000 gallons per day, with an average flow of 767,000 gallons, leaving 255,000 gallons of capacity, based on a two-year average, according to Ben North, the town’s utilities engineer.
But, subtracted from the remaining 255,000 gallons are previously allocated and anticipated projects that add up to about 312,000 gallons – so that the town was committed to a deficit of about 57,000 gallons even before Pelletier’s request.
Combined with the developer’s request and a related project, the town deficit would increase to about 205,000 gallons per day, according to a two-year average.
But it’s not as simple as that.
Included in the previously allocated projects are 118,400 gallons reserved for the Landmark Development Corporation’s proposed 700-unit project at Oswegatchie Hills. The project has been in litigation for years, but the gallons are “court-ordered,” said Kevin Seery, First Selectman of East Lyme and chair of the Water and Sewer Commission.
Also previously allocated are 76,300 gallons reserved for existing buildings that have the right to hook up to the sewer but have not done so, plus 60,700 gallons reserved for vacant buildings in sewer areas.
That all adds up to 312,249 gallons of reserved capacity that might or might not be used.
Sweeney said that the town’s allocation data needed “further review.”
“We would submit to you that we believe that there are allocations previously provided to other users and other properties in town that have been overstated or underutilized,” he told the commission.
But even with the current calculations, Sweeney urged the town to take the long view of its sewer capacity in terms of its development plans.
“We also believe there are legitimate opportunities to increase your capacity in the near future, especially when you look at the timeline of this project going out, literally three to four years before peak demand is actually physically needed. And that’s three or four years that you’ll have the time to continue to build your capacity, not just for this project, but for the community as a whole,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney said East Lyme the town “must increase its sewer capacity,” not only for Niantic Village, but for “other important economic development projects and initiatives that are going to come before this town in the coming years.”
“The town cannot just simply close its doors. You need increased sewer capacity in one way or another to fuel future growth and the success of the community in the years to come.”
Utilities engineer North said that the town can ask Waterford and New London – the other two towns in a tri-town sewer agreement that all three signed about a year ago– if they want to sell capacity. Plus, he said, a flow reallocation request is allowed every five years. He said the current flow in the agreement gives New London 55%, Waterford 30% and East Lyme 15%.
“I’m not sure what the ramifications would be of asking for capacity from New London, but obviously it appears that the entire area of southeastern Connecticut is going through some sort of building boom… So we would have to find out what that type of cost would be. But it would not come cheap unfortunately. That type of capacity is very expensive, typically,” said North.
The State of Connecticut has sequestered 500,000 gallons per day – not included in the town’s 1.022 million gallons per day – a portion of which North said the town could request.
Seery said the commission was well aware the town needed to address its long term sewer capacity needs.
“We realize that there’s going to be a need to expand and request more. The tri-town agreement does allow us as time goes by the capacity to or the ability to purchase more, but that will come at an expense… So that’s a question that we’ll be discussing at the Water and Sewer Commission level over the next several months, because we realize this isn’t the last development that wants to come to town. Even a housing development would put a tax on us right now.”
About 30 residents attended the hearing. During public comment, a resident named Charlie asked whether the Landmark project would be built.
“Would you expect that to ever come to fruition based on we’ve been fighting it for 20 some odd years?” he said.
Seery answered that the project was still in litigation, “so it’d be hard to say when that would ever come to be [constructed].”
The commission closed the public hearing and will deliberate on March 28. The commission has 65 days to make a decision, which ends on March 30, but the applicant has the ability to grant a 65-day extension.