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    Tuesday, March 21, 2023

    Stonington to seek grant for Enders Island septic upgrade

    Stonington ― St. Edmunds Retreat on Enders Island moved one step closer to a major septic system upgrade on Wednesday as the Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to begin the process of applying for a $600,000 federal grant on its behalf.

    The vote came immediately following a public hearing on the proposed application for a Small Cities Community Development Block Grant, funded by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development through the Connecticut Department of Housing, to upgrade the Enders Island septic systems.

    The $600,000 in federal grant money would have no cost to the town, and, if awarded, will fund approximately half of the approximately $1.25 million to install an advanced design septic system not yet in use in Connecticut. The retreat center will pay the additional $650,000.

    The current septic systems on the island are still functional, but aging, and the project is intended to replace them before they fail.

    The retreat center’s special projects consultant, Chris Rixon said, “we have septic systems going back to the year 1918. So, as you can imagine, they’re not in the best shape. They work. They all work, but do they work for another five years or 50 years?”

    Already in use in other states such as Rhode Island, the proposed SeptiTech system uses pretreatment of wastewater to reduce contaminants such as nitrogen and solid waste before they reach the leach field.

    Waste is pumped from a septic tank into a treatment tank where it is filtered up to 70 times in a 24-hour period. Oxygen is then added to support billions of microbes in the tank that digest waste, reducing the contaminants in the water before it gets to the leach field.

    According to Andrew Woodstock, a certified Community Development Block Grant administrator at Eastern Connecticut Housing Opportunities, Inc., this process along with relocating the leach field on the island to a more sheltered inland area, will benefit the environment on the island and the ecosystem in Long Island Sound.

    Rixon said, “with the advance of technology, we want to use 21st-century solutions for 20th-century problems, and that’s really what this is all about.”

    Members of the public used the public hearing, a required first step in the grant application process, to draw attention to some of the concerns they have regarding the center and its programs.

    Of the approximately 50 people present, seven of them, most of whom are residents of neighboring Mason’s Island, raised issues about the center. They expressed concerns about how traffic to and from the center impacts their roads and using federal taxpayer funds to pay for the project.

    Several accused the center of numerous zoning violations related to its fundraising and the residential addiction recovery program it runs in addition to the retreat center and asserted the center intends to expand that program.

    Documents associated with the application process show no plan to increase the number of residents in the recovery program, which Rixon said fluctuates, but averages between 15 and 20 residents.

    Susan Cullen, the town’s director of economic and community development, stated that Town Planner Keith Brynes reviewed a 2018 determination that the retreat center was not in violation of zoning regulations prior to Wednesday’s hearing, and reiterated the center is currently in compliance.

    She also explained the grant is not transferable to other projects, and does not impact the town’s ability to receive grant funding in the future.

    Furthermore, she explained that the grant is only for “shovel ready” projects, meaning projects that can be started upon award of the grant money. She pointed out the source of the funding is federal, as opposed to state or local.

    Residents became frustrated when First Selectman Danielle Chesebrough told them that many of their concerns were not germane to the hearing and were, in fact, zoning issues, and that the Board of Selectmen had no authority to address those or consider them in its decision.

    If awarded, Rixon said the final design for the system will be complete by the end of the year and the project will be ready to start in the spring.

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