Montville — The Town Council took the first step Tuesday night toward building a $5 million advanced pretreatment system for wastewater on Rand-Whitney Containerboard’s property.
The council, in a 5-1 vote, accepted a $5 million grant from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Town Attorney Matthew Auger, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, told councilors that the action is not a binding commitment to build the technology on Rand-Whitney’s property.
“All we’re doing tonight is saying ‘yes’ to $5 million,” said Auger, who emphasized that the money is not a loan and is being given to Montville with “no strings attached.”
Town Councilor Tim May, a civil engineer who is chairman of the town’s Water Pollution Control Authority commission, said Rand-Whitney uses acidic water to manufacture cardboard. The wastewater that comes from the plant is caustic and contains salts that make it a difficult-to-treat “sulfuric mess,” explained May.
The system that would be built on Rand-Whitney’s property — called an anaerobic phased solids or APS system — would use microorganisms to convert the acidic wastewater to a tamer variety of wastewater. By placing the APS system on Rand-Whitney’s property, the town would minimize the distance the caustic wastewater travels, preventing erosion of the pipelines.
May said the plan would free up technology at the town’s wastewater treatment plant, increasing its capacity and allowing the town to expand without needing to purchase additional technology.
The plan to add an APS system was developed when Montville’s wastewater treatment plant reached a certain capacity, triggering an automatic review by the DEEP, said Mayor Ronald McDaniel.
Although Auger and WPCA officials spoke in favor of the plan, Independence for Montville Councilor Kathy Pollard voted against it. She said the town’s history with Rand-Whitney — which includes an expensive lawsuit about sewage fees that ended with the town paying a $11.7 million settlement — makes her nervous.
“I have a big concern with (the technology) being put on that property,” she said.
But Auger said the APS system actually “provides a legal barrier between (Montville and Rand-Whitney) such that there will be no further disputes.”
Though on the company’s property, the system would be owned by the town and operated by a third party engineering contractor, Woodard & Curran. Any disputes would either be between Woodard & Curran and the town or Woodard & Curran and Rand-Whitney, Auger said.
“What happened in the past has happened,” May said, arguing that perhaps the time has come to forgive Rand-Whitney. “We’re moving forward now.”
The mayor said the fact that the APS would be run by a third-party operator and that Rand-Whitney would be held responsible for DEEP testing at the site helped put him at ease with the plan.
“Healthy skepticism is a good thing. I think, however, this is not the same arrangement we have gotten ourselves into in the past,” McDaniel said, adding that “Montville sure as heck has learned its lesson.”
But their comments did not outweigh past experience for Pollard.
“I don’t trust Rand-Whitney,” she said. “And I don’t feel comfortable building something for that much money and having it be on their property.”
Councilor Tom McNally did not attend Tuesday’s meeting but is opposed to the APS and said he plans to take out a petition against the project.