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The state has effectively rejected Old Lyme's proposal to develop a modern, internal town sewage system. Instead, it wants the sewage from thickly settled beach areas routed to New London for treatment, the effluent flowing to the Thames River and ultimately Long Island Sound. The plan for a local solution appeared doomed even if the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection had not discouraged the idea. The town brought Sound View, Hawks Nest Beach and White Sands beach to the table, but simply couldn't muster enough support among other beach associations to make the plan for a local treatment system cost-effective.
First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder, a Democrat, can take solace in the fact that she and Republican Kurt Zemba of the Water Pollution Control Authority brought a bipartisan effort to the problem and reached a solution to a long-term issue.
Old Lyme broke a log jam by sending a stream of communications and a spirit of cooperation to the beach associations. No matter what the final decisions by individual beach associations, there will be progress towards ending pollution from septic systems. Douglas Whalen, chairman of Old Colony Beach Association, recognized the worthwhile effort when he thanked Ms. Reemsnyder recently for bringing the parties together. The action ended literally decades of squabbling back and forth between beach associations and the town. For that, the first selectwoman and Mr. Zemba's group deserve great credit.
The DEEP concluded that the town plan to create large septic fields could conceivably have an impact on some nearby wells. The rejection of the town's idea now means that Old Lyme will likely be negotiating with East Lyme, Waterford and New London to use their transmission pipes and pump stations and New London's treatment plant for Old Lyme waste.
East Lyme and Waterford already send their sewage for treatment at New London. The cost of sending Old Lyme waste to New London, estimated at $57.5 million, could increase additionally if Old Lyme has to contribute to unanticipated infrastructure repairs in any or all of the towns of New London, Waterford and East Lyme.
This newspaper continues to believe that the well-thought-out, localized Old Lyme proposal could have been cheaper, reduced pollution in the system and particularly avoided additional pollution to the Thames River and Sound. Additionally, the local plan would have resulted in Old Lyme's WPCA's speaking as one voice for the town. With this regional plan, each beach association can constitute a Water Pollution Control Authority of its own, hardly an ideal situation.
If Old Lyme had more time to commit to the project, development of a local treatment system would have stood a better chance, said the first selectwoman. But the state had already issued consent orders requiring Old Lyme Shores and Old Colony beach associations to find solutions to their problems in the next two years. Dense development, increasing year-round use of what were once seasonal communities, and sandy soils not well suited for septic systems have all combined to create a polluton problem that the state wants addressed.
White Sand Beach, Hawks Nest, Miami Beach, Sound View, Old Colony and Old Lyme Shores are most in need of a sewage systems to replace septic tanks. Those beach associations constitute 90 percent of the sewage problems in the 10 areas considered in the town study. Miami Beach, one of the targeted areas, is doing its own study, a fact not brought to the town's attention until recently. White Sand Beach has not yet committed to participation in a sewage system.
More important than the debate about the best solution is that there be some solution. Under the Reemsnyder administration the town continues to move closer to one. Additionally, this newspaper anticipates the cooperative tone developed by the town's careful attention to the needs of the beach associations will result in enhanced relationships between the associations and the town regarding other issues.