Seeking solution to Old Lyme pollution

Old Lyme is trying to figure out how to deal with sewage problems, particularly in the beach areas off Route 156. It's not a new issue by any means. Densely packed beach cottages and sandy soil are not a good mix when it comes to the ability of septic systems to handle human waste. The result is failed systems and an ongoing pollution problem for a vital natural resource - Long Island Sound.

The problem has been a vexing one because the beach associations and the town have from time to time been contentious towards one another when the issue arose. Now for the encouraging part; all the parties agree they must solve the sewage problem and there may be a way to cooperate and find a solution that's best for all parties.

Enter First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder, who has demonstrated great leadership on this issue. She believes that the various beach groups and the state should look objectively at a common solution within Old Lyme rather than simply hooking up to the New London system that discharges effluent into the Thames River, and ultimately the Sound, via pipes running through East Lyme and Waterford.

Of course, implementing a local wastewater treatment project will require testing to assure that proposed sites at the former Cherrystone driving range and at Black Hall Country Club are suitable for accepting and using for irrigation the effluent from the treated sewage.

The Day traditionally has supported regional approaches to regional problems, but this is one case in which building out a treatment system within Old Lyme for the beach associations could offer the better alternative. A town study - commissioned last year and done by Woodard & Curran engineers - puts the cost of a local system at $54.2 million, or $3.2 million cheaper than a regional plan. The regional approach, though not much more expensive, could expose the beach associations to large capital costs in the future as equipment and pipes have to be replaced along some 10 miles of mains and gravity sewers to reach New London.

The regional approach also would mean that individual beach associations in effect constituted water pollution control authorities, thus duplicating a role that could be done more efficiently within one town agency, if the parties accepted a local plan.

Point-O-Woods, the easternmost beach development in Old Lyme, hooked up to New London. The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has issued consent orders requiring the Old Lyme Shores and Old Colony beach associations to find solutions to their sewage problems by 2016. Engineering consultants for those associations have recommended a regional hookup to New London. Miami Beach is awaiting a study with recommendations for its area.

The town study identified 10 high-needs areas for sewage and said that White Sand Beach, Hawks Nest and Miami Beach, Sound View, Old Colony and Old Lyme Shores were the highest in need of sewage systems to replace septic systems. Further, they constitute 90 percent of the sewage problems in the 10 areas studied. Placing sewage from those and other beach areas into a regional system would require upgrades in capacity for five pump stations already in existence as part of the New London plan, the study says.

The town study also identified an area near the former Cherrystone driving range and another at Black Hall Golf Course as part of a potential local solution. Ms. Reemsnyder believes Old Lyme should carefully consider an internal town system in which sewage is treated to an advanced degree of water treatment and reused.

The DEEP says it seeks a solution agreeable to the town, but for its own part, it should be open to the idea of a local solution that is not necessarily a regional approach.

Even with the completion of a shoreline system, not all of Old Lyme's sewage problems will be solved. Rogers Lake still needs great attention particularly as inadequate septic systems contribute to eutrophication in the lake. But this plan commissioned by the town offers a reasonable alternative to a potentially more expensive regional plan. It deserves serious consideration by the town and the state and the first selectwoman is due credit for pursuing it.

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