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Plan to bond $10 million for sewer system work nears approval in Stonington

Stonington — A plan to approve $10 million in bonding to pay for repairs to the town’s three sewer plants and pumping stations moved ahead Wednesday, as town and sewer officials agreed the project is badly needed.

The Water Pollution Control Authority is now scheduled to hold a virtual public hearing on the bond requests June 16 at 5 p.m. There will be no referendum vote on the project due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which means the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance will vote whether to approve the bonding.

During a virtual meeting of the WPCA, Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance, WPCA Executive Director Doug Nettleton laid out the many needed repairs to the system and said bonding them would be a better option than asking the town to allocate millions in the town’s capital improvement budget over the next five years.

While the town bonded $18 million in sewer plant repairs in 2010, much of that work took place at the Mystic plant and not at the Pawcatuck and borough plants and pumping stations. Nettleton said one equipment problem at the Pawcatuck plant could result in the plant violating its permit and causing an environmental problem for the Pawcatuck River.

Nettleton explained that rising electrical and sewer treatment costs have left barely enough money to cover its operating costs, never mind fund capital improvements.

WPCA and finance board member Lynn Young said the bond would allow the WPCA to be proactive instead of responding to emergencies. Right now, she said, the WPCA is using pieces of equipment that are running so far past their useful life that it’s a miracle they are still working.

“The sewer system is in pretty dire straits,” she said.

If the bond is approved, the WPCA said it would return the $1 million in the 2020-21 budget for capital improvements to the town.

First Selectwoman Danielle Chesebrough said the project has impacts on the environment, recreation, investment in the community and residents’ lives.

The selectwomen and finance board members both approved a motion calling on the WPCA to hold a public hearing on the bonding request.

The eventual solution to the escalating costs of running three aging plants may be to replace them with one plant to serve the whole town. The boards on Wednesday discussed doing a study to consider that option.

Residents who want to comment during the virtual public hearing can submit written testimony of no more than 300 words by email to stoningtonwpca@stonington-ct.gov, by mail to Town of Stonington, WPCA, 152 Elm St., Stonington, CT 06378 or by placing comments in the drop box outside of Town Hall.

All submissions need to be received no later than 4 p.m. on June 15 and must include the person's name, address and whether the person is in favor or opposition of the bond.

Those who wish to speak during the hearing must call the WPCA at (860) 535-5065 by 4 p.m. on Monday, June 15, to sign up. Comments will be limited to two minutes.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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