Few bother to comment on Norwich plan to spend $12.8 million to improve water system

Norwich - Last spring, dozens of residents and business representatives protested proposed 36.7 percent increases in city water rates designed to cover multimillion-dollar system upgrades, but few residents turned out Tuesday to comment on ordinances to fund those projects.

The City Council held public hearings on five ordinances totaling a combined $12.8 million to pay for improvements to the water system.

The council put off voting on the projects to the March 4 meeting to allow time for the Commission on the City Plan to review the ordinances

Norwich Public Utilities General Manager John Bilda told the council that the projects would be paid for entirely through the new water rate increases, which were in effect fully as of Jan. 1.

"This is the last step of the process to put state funding in place," Bilda said of the ordinance approval.

The ordinances call for spending $2 million to improve contaminant removal systems and other upgrades at the Stony Brook Reservoir in Montville, $2.8 million to build a new water tank at Mohegan Park, $2.6 million to decommission the Royal Oaks pump station, and $2.8 million and $2.6 million to rehabilitate and replace the north and south transmission mains at the Stony Brook Reservoir.

Bilda said utility officials "learned their lesson" from allowing the sewage treatment plant to fall too far into disrepair, as costs skyrocketed and foul odors spoiled enjoyment of the harbor area on some nights.

Bilda said that even with the high water and sewer rates, NPU was able to lower electric rates enough to more than cover the increases for the average resident and business owner.

The three residents who spoke Tuesday, however, all said the projects were perhaps too expensive for Norwich residents and the council should delay action to seek more information.

"I understand exactly what Mr. Bilda is talking about," resident Rodney Bowie said. "I appreciate the rate decrease, but I hope we're not building a water system this city can't afford."

Residents Samuel Browning and David Crabb both wanted more information from the utility, a detailed description of the projects and how the money would be spent.

Crabb said there was no information on how the system changes would affect problems the city has now with low water pressure for fighting fires in some sections of the city, for example.

- Claire Bessette


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