DARIEN – Officials voted Monday to double the town budget for sewer system improvements — to $4.6 million — in an effort to combat flooding and lower an annual payment to Stamford.
Darien’s sewer system runs along 81 miles of the town, and flows over to the Stamford Water Pollution Control Facility for treatment. But with an increase in flooding during storms and “questionable” pipe quality, Department of Public Works Superintendent Ed Gentile went before the Board of Selectmen on Monday to request an additional $2.3 million for phases two and three of the town’s sewer project.
“Right now, I’m pretty much solvent at zero,” Gentile said of his remaining budget.
In October 2020, town bodies approved an original $2.3 million appropriation for the Gentile’s sanitary sewer system project. He said the department has completed phase one – inspecting the system, hiring an engineer and repairing some of the broken pipes – and was starting the second phase when he realized he was over budget.
“We’re projected to be at a total of $2.9 million,” Gentile said. “We’re about $580,000 over.”
Gentile said he dipped into federal funds allotted to the town from the American Rescue Plan to offset the overage, but needed the town to issue another bond to continue the improvements.
The town has continually struggled to mitigate flooding during major events like tropical storms Elsa and Ida, which wrecked Darien houses and businesses.
In a memo to the selectmen, Gentile said the three-phase sewer project focuses on areas with high infiltration rates to eliminate overflow.
He also said that the project will reduce the total annual sewage to Stamford for use of their wastewater treatment plant. In fiscal year 2022-23, Darien paid Stamford about $3.6 million.
The two municipalities first entered an agreement allowing Darien to use the Stamford plant in 1971. Per their current five-year agreement, Darien can send over no more than 3.7 million gallons per day. Gentile did not respond to CT Examiner questions about the town’s sewage output on Monday.
Stamford calculates the town’s payment based on its sewage output and pipe size, so a more-efficient sewer system could seemingly help to reduce the town’s annual cost.
In a Monday email to CT Examiner, Stamford WPCA Executive Director William Brink said the city’s annual average daily intake decreased from 16.2 million gallons per day in 2021 to 14.6 in 2022. Despite new commercial and housing developments in Stamford and Darien in recent years, Brink attributed the drop to 2021 upgrades to the city’s treatment plant and new technology.
“The additional flow from new development appears to be offset by the use of flow saving water fixtures and appliances in new and existing development,” Brink explained.
But even with the eco-friendly technology, Darien’s payment to Stamford has increased by almost 39 percent in the last year, compared to their $2.5 million charge in fiscal year 2020-21.
In phases two and three, Gentile told the selectmen, the department will inspect, clean and fix the remaining 60 percent of the town’s infrastructure. Once the project is complete, he said he can finally be confident in Darien’s sewer system.
“The next phase, and even the next evaluation phase after that, is going to start wrapping up this town to an area where I know the sanitary sewer system is reliable,” Gentile said.
The board unanimously approved the appropriation, with little comment other than thanking Gentile for his work. On Tuesday, Gentile will appear before the Sewer Commission for their approval.