Old Lyme residents to vote on proposed sewer system Tuesday

Old Lyme — After years of studies and planning by town officials and members of the Water Pollution Control Authority, residents will finally have their say at a referendum Tuesday as to whether the town should move forward with a proposed $9.44 million project to bring a shared community sewer system into the Sound View neighborhood.

The town is under an administrative order from the state to complete the project, which outlines installing a gravity-fed sewer system within the Sound View neighborhood and a neighborhood north of Route 156, known as Miscellaneous Town Area B, by connecting to New London’s wastewater treatment facility.

The project, should it pass, also is set to combine with another separate and ongoing project among the Miami Beach Association, Old Lyme Shores Beach Association and Old Colony Beach Club Association — all of which are chartered beach neighborhoods and considered separate municipalities from the town — by sharing one pump station and one force main.

The town would need to bond $9.44 million for the project, but future ratepayers in those neighborhoods, not town taxpayers, are expected to pay back an estimated $7.44 million over 20 years at a 2 percent interest rate. Town officials have said the town is in line for earmarked federal-state Clean Water Fund bonds and grants that would help pay for “25 percent of eligible project costs,” bringing the cost of the project down to $7.44 million.

According to Sound View Commission Chairman Frank Pappalardo, however, "a large majority" of Sound View residents feel that paying for the entirety of the project is "unfair" and that the project should be financed by all taxpayers, comparing the project to paying into the school system, or the way that everyone pays into financing a needed bridge. He said that Sound View residents are looking into filing a lawsuit against the town, should the referendum pass, despite the town being under a state order to complete the project.

Besides voicing their opposition in years past, according to Pappalardo, more and more Sound View residents have tried to have their opinions heard as of late, including at a question-and-answer session hosted by the WPCA in July, as well as at a Special Town Meeting on Monday, in an effort to dissuade the town from proceeding further.

Pappalardo said that at Monday's meeting, some Sound View residents, dissatisfied with answers received to questions asked about the financing of the sewer project, tried to vote down a $328,500 allocation the town needed to proceed with replacing a bridge on Mile Creek Road — an entirely different project with no relation to the sewer project. The allocation passed, but the event signified a deeper divide between the beach community and the rest of town, Pappalardo said.

“I hate this polarization of the us-versus-them, and that just gets us absolutely nowhere and we need to figure out how to fix this,” Pappalardo said. He added that some of the people own multiple properties in the neighborhood and are faced with hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees.

WPCA Chair Rich Prendergast said that expecting ratepayers to pay for a sewer system that will service their homes is standard practice and that the town — which includes town officials and taxpayers — would never sign off on bonding millions for the project, despite it being a necessity, unless ratepayers are held responsible.

According to a charging formula that the WPCA passed in its June meeting, each equivalent dwelling unit, or a median-sized home, in Sound View and the Miscellaneous Town Area B will pay an estimated $31,007 to cover the project's capital costs. Homeowners could pay that amount, which comprises a betterment fee and a facility connection fee, in a full one-time payment, or they could finance it over 20 years, which equates to two payments of $944 per year, Prendergast has said.

Annually, homeowners also would pay an estimated $430 operations and maintenance fee.

In addition to the capital cost and the annual maintenance fee, homeowners also would be responsible for the plumbing cost to install the line from the house to the curb. According to WPCA presentations detailing the project, each foot of piping could cost between $50 and $100.

Emphasizing the need to pass the resolution this year, Prendergast has said that the town should seek to follow the state’s administrative order to install a sewer system, and that if it does not, the state may take away Clean Water funds earmarked for the town and may start levying fines.

The project has gone through a range of variations since town officials started pursuing it in 2014, including a plan to install an independent sewer system to service beach neighborhoods, as they sought an affordable and efficient solution to address groundwater pollution in the Sound View area. The neighborhood always has relied on cesspools and septic tanks to process its sewage.

Should the referendum fail, Prendergast has said that it would only delay the project and that another referendum would be necessary in another year. If that happens, the price of the project would go up, he and other town officials have said. “We could possibly modify the project in some way to fix what people objected to and that would change the cost, but no one should think, 'Well, let's just vote it down and that will lower the cost.' That's irresponsible," Prendergast has said.

The referendum will be held from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Aug. 13 at the Cross Lane Fire Station, 22 Cross Lane.

m.biekert@theday.com

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