Log In

Reset Password
  • MENU
    Local News
    Tuesday, March 21, 2023

    Groton City to decide whether to upgrade water treatment plant for $54 million

    Groton — Groton City residents will decide on April 3 whether to borrow $54 million to upgrade and modernize the aging water treatment plant that provides water to residents in Groton City, Groton Town and other communities.

    A Groton City freeman’s meeting approved the project two years ago for $42 million, but bids came in higher last November. Costs increased with inflation and engineers recommended a higher contingency fund to serve as a buffer in case of unforeseen expenses, said Richard Stevens, manager of the water division for Groton Utilities.

    The plant dates back to 1938 and had its last major upgrade in 1960. The Environmental Protection Agency didn't exist until 1970, "so when the plant was built and designed, the regulatory environment was pretty spare,” he said.

    Plant operators can’t buy parts for the electrical system because it's too old. Pipes have corroded. Some valves don’t work, they said. At least one pump has only two speeds — on and off.

    Workers at the facility give frequent tours and wax the floors so it all looks good, said Michael Hedman, lead mechanic. But he said the place reminds him of a saying he learned in the U.S. Navy: “Work she might, shine she must.”

    “There’s no insulation, the windows rattle, the facility itself is rundown, but the more important part is that it treats (water) for what was known in the 1950s, like 10 bacterial or chemicals,” Groton City Councilor Conrad Heede said.

    The plant also lacks elevated tanks to hold treated, purified water to run through the system during shutdowns, Stevens said. Without it, water pressure necessary for fire protection can decline, Stevens said. The proposed project includes 2 million gallons of elevated water storage.

    The project was ranked first on the state priority list under the state revolving fund program in 2014.

    But the possible debt comes when Groton faces potentially massive cuts in state aid and some are calling for consolidation of city and town departments. Although the project would be paid for by water rate hikes, a few vocal critics question whether the city can afford more debt when it already owes millions.

    “I think everybody has to look at the whole picture and say, ‘Can we do this?’” former City Councilor Jay Dempsey said. “'Is this a smart thing to do right now?’”

    Groton Utilities, which the city owns, is carrying electric debt, water debt and debt from the failed cable venture Thames Valley Communications, he said.

    “We have 9,400 residents in a 3-square-mile city that are responsible for all that,” he said. “When does this house of cards fall down and when is it worth it to let a private company run (the utilities)?”

    But City Mayor Marian Galbraith said ratepayers served by Groton Utilities are covering utility debt. Utility debt cannot be counted in calculating limits on the city's debt under state law because it's paid for by ratepayers, not taxpayers, she added. 

    Groton City itself has $9.48 million in debt, a total that rises to $10.93 million if approved bonds not yet issued are included, Finance Director Ron Yuhas said.

    Groton Utilities' total debt of $47 million is paid, depending on the bond, by electric and water ratepayers in multiple communities. The debt includes borrowing paid by Bozrah Light & Power.

    Water ratepayers in multiple towns, not only those in Groton City, would pay for the water treatment plant project, Stevens said. Rates are expected to increase 4 percent each year for an undefined period to cover the cost, he said. Groton Utilities serves water customers in Groton City, Groton town, Ledyard, Montville and part of Mystic, Stevens said.

    The city needs the project to protect the integrity of its water supply, Heede said. Debt, taxes and fees are a fact of life, he said.

    "Nobody will benefit by neglecting this asset out of fear that someone might make a campaign issue out of taking on debt," he said. "This is not a bad business decision."

    The city will hold a public information session on the project at 7 p.m. Monday in the Municipal Building and offer public tours of the treatment plant at 1268 Poquonnock Road from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m. on March 25 and April 1.

    A freeman’s meeting to vote on the project is scheduled for 7 p.m. April 3, immediately followed by a City Council meeting.


    Comment threads are monitored for 48 hours after publication and then closed.