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As East Lyme goes to bid for police building, water quality questioned

East Lyme — Officials overseeing renovations in the town’s future public safety building recently agreed to seek proposals on a now-estimated $6.6 million of work but also requested additional well water testing after concerns were raised about the site’s water quality Tuesday.

The Public Safety Building Vision Committee, in an overabundance of caution, also requested clarification on a deed restriction placed on the property by former owner Honeywell International Inc., which outlined that the town should not consume the property’s groundwater.

The request for further review came after Board of Finance Chairwoman Camille Alberti raised concerns about both the deed and the property's well-water quality during a public comment session, questioning why Honeywell would place such a deed restriction if there were no issues with the water quality and why the town never conducted its own tests before closing on the property in May 2019.

"I'd like to write an open item down that we get a water quality test and get the town's interpretation of the deed restriction," Selectman and Vision Committee Chairman Paul Dagle said later in the meeting. "Let's make sure we cross our t's and dot our i's and get both those things solved." 

But various town officials Wednesday, including Town Engineer Bill Scheer and First Selectman Mark Nickerson, are disputing the need to perform well water testing, with Nickerson saying he hopes the Vision Committee will rescind its request.

The committee "made that decision on the spur of the moment based on some public comment that was baseless,” Nickerson said by phone Wednesday. 

Nickerson and Scheer estimated that a water test would cost only a couple hundred dollars and the needed samples could be collected by town water employees. But they said additional tests do not need to be performed because Honeywell was required by the Department of Public Health to conduct more than 10 years of quarterly water testing until early 2019, when the building was vacated. The results never yielded unhealthy levels of contaminants, Scheer said.

Scheer and Nickerson also said quarterly water tests will be mandated by DPH once the building is again occupied because the state considers the well a public water system.

And because the town had access to those earlier water test results, as well as an additional environmental study Honeywell conducted in early 2019 certifying there were no issues with the property’s 650-foot-deep well, Nickerson and Scheer said the town never performed its own well study before closing on the property.

The town provided The Day with documentation that Nickerson said was from DPH, as well as Honeywell's environmental study, in early 2019.

Before closing on the property, the town also conducted its own asbestos study, while Building Official Steve Way, former Fire Marshal Chris Taylor and Scheer each inspected the building, going over its systems, including HVAC, as well as the walls and roof, Nickerson said.

Nickerson has not provided The Day documentation detailing those inspections but has provided a copy of the asbestos test.

Nickerson also told The Day the town would not violate the deed restriction placed on the property by using the well, as long as employees working in the building do not drink the water. He added that the town will provide drinking water to employees and that such deed restrictions typically are included in all of Honeywell’s land purchase agreements.

“This is a boiler plate requirement by Honeywell,” Nickerson said. “They said it at our first meeting, before we came even close to a negotiation, ‘By the way, if this deed restriction will be a problem, we might as well stop talking about it now. This is an automatic thing.’”

Nickerson said the Board of Selectmen were briefed on the deed restriction before approving the purchase and added the police building soon will connect to a water line brought down through a proposed affordable-housing development — known as Rocky Neck Village — being planned just north of the police building, which will eliminate the issue entirely.

Meanwhile, the committee is moving forward on its bid package for the renovation work, recently completed by town-contracted architects Silver/Petrucelli + Associates after working closely with the committee for several months to ensure the building is renovated to top standards.

The bid package includes plans to build out the sally port and holding cell area, which is estimated to cost an additional $847,000 on top of the $5 million the committee was allotted to renovate and purchase the building.

The Board of Finance voted last year to decrease the amount the town is allowed to bond out for the project, unanimously approving $5 million — allotting $2.77 million to purchase the building and $2.23 million for renovations. That was below the initial $6 million request based on estimates Nickerson and the task force obtained from experts.

Other factors, such as materials needed to meet fire code compliance and additional infrastructure for IT equipment — a total of approximately $300,000 — also caused estimated building costs to swell above the $5 million limit.

Dagle reiterated last week that the town won’t know the final costs of the project until renovation bids come through, but said the committee has been dedicated to delivering the best quality building to its police force, even if that’s meant going slightly overbudget.

Dagle also said the finance board still needs to approve the additional spending needed for the building, including the potential to build out the sally port and holding cells.

m.biekert@theday.com

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