Sewers at last for Old Lyme beaches

An agreement executed in July allows three Old Lyme beach communities to hook into the East Lyme sewer system. This step finally marks the beginning of the end of the too-long and torturous route to eliminating environmental risks posed by septic systems in densely packed Old Lyme beach neighborhoods.

The agreement means wastewater from Old Colony Beach Club Association, Miami Beach Association and Old Lyme Shores Beach Association will flow through East Lyme and Waterford to New London, where it will be treated at the city’s treatment plant.

To say this arrangement has been a long time coming is an understatement. The environmental risks of aging septic systems on too-small lots in tidal zones and with less than ideal soil conditions, as is the case in several of Old Lyme’s beach communities, have been a topic of concern, discussion and debate for two decades. Even with the current agreement in place, however, it likely will take at least another two years of sewer design and construction before beach homes will begin tying into a sewer system.

In addition, it probably will take longer to eliminate septic systems in the seasonally bustling Sound View neighborhood. The town continues to inch forward with a process that could eventually bring sewers to that community, as well as some areas located north of Route 156. While officials are committed to progressing with the plan, the process to fruition is painstaking.

The next steps: a public information meeting on the plan is scheduled Aug. 16 and, at some point in the future, a referendum for voters to decide on accepting the proposal to extend sewers to Sound View.

While that means much more time will pass before septic systems really are a thing of the past at Old Lyme beach neighborhoods, the environmental message seems clear and the potential threat continues to be dire. In an Environmental Impact Evaluation, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection wrote about the Sound View area that, “On-site wastewater systems in the Town Sub-Areas have been problematic for decades because of a combination of factors including the age and condition of these systems, soils that drain too fast and are subject to tidal influence, shallow groundwater, small lots, and excessive development. Coupled with these conditions, the threat of intense storms and rising seasonal high ground waters are expected to further diminish the effectiveness of these systems for proper subsurface wastewater renovation.”

The cost to bring sewers to Sound View will be pricey: an estimated $7.4 million following a state grant. This would mean an individual cost of some $27,600 apiece to property owners, plus another $440 annually for operations and maintenance.

Still, the risks far outweigh these costs. The public health threats of fouled drinking water and contaminated beaches are real. Old Lyme residents and officials must continue pushing forward to the day when beach homes and businesses in areas at a high risk for septic failures are all connected to a sewer system. 

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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