Old Lyme voters approve $9.44 million Sound View sewer project

Old Lyme — In what was a “very high” turnout Tuesday, voters at a referendum approved a proposed $9.44 million project to bring a shared community sewer system into the Sound View neighborhood area.

Residents voted 883 to 565 to support the project.

The vote comes after years of planning by town officials and members of the Water Pollution Control Authority to create a sewer plan to service the Sound View area after the town was put under an administrative order from the state to find a solution to groundwater pollution it concluded was occurring there.

“We worked pretty hard to get to this point,” First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder said after Tuesday’s vote was announced. “This was really years in the making. The WPCA worked very hard for several years making sure that they took their time and were well prepared for this referendum. And I think the people spoke.”

The sewer plan, as outlined in the town’s Coastal Wastewater Management Plan, which was approved by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection in June, details 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 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.

Though voters approved allowing the town to bond $9.44 million for the project, only future ratepayers in the Sound View area neighborhoods — and not taxpayers in the rest of the town — 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.

Since the WPCA announced its financing plan and how it would charge its ratepayers in June, future ratepayers, as well as town residents, have debated at public forums and over social media about the proposal. Future ratepayers in the affected neighborhoods have opposed paying for the bulk of the project and stated that it is a public works project and therefore all town residents should pay into it through taxes.

According to a charging formula that the WPCA passed during 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, according to the WPCA.

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 house to curb. According to WPCA presentations detailing the project, each foot of piping could cost between $50 and $100.

Now that the referendum has passed, Reemsnyder said Tuesday that the first steps for the town would be to go through a bonding process, as well as reach out to the project engineers to start the designs. Reemsnyder said she wasn’t sure yet if the project would be bonded out in phases or all at once.

WPCA Chairman Rich Prendergast said by email Tuesday that should the referendum pass, “there are a number of items to work on.”

Namely, he said the WPCA would need to sign a cost-sharing agreement with neighboring associations completing their own sewer projects — Old Colony Beach Club Association, Miami Beach Association and Old Lyme Shores Beach Association — to allow the WPCA and its ratepayers to use and share one pump station and one force main transferring wastewater to pipes connecting to New London. The WPCA elected to enter into that agreement in July.

Prendergast also said the WPCA still needs to sign intermunicipal agreements with neighboring towns to allow for the wastewater to be sent through East Lyme and Waterford to New London.

Additionally, Prendergast added that the WPCA also would be “reviewing engineering plans and costs, updating the property sewer assessments for any changes and submitting all of this to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to demonstrate progress and apply for our applicable funding.”

“There are more details and steps to occur, but these are the main issues,” he said.

Prendergast also said that he hopes the design phase of the project would be completed by 2021 and that construction would start by 2022. “But there are many variables that impact the schedule,” he said.

The WPCA will hold its next meeting at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Town Hall.

m.biekert@theday.com

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