This letter is written by Phil Sengle:
The critical need for waste water treatment was obscured by the recent battle over a new Morgan; therefore this layman’s perspective is offered to bring this issue back to the fore where it belongs. Economic growth in Clinton has been slowed because of our inability to solve the town’s waste water problem. This is important because our grand list, upon which tax revenues depend, also has slow growth. However all is not lost. With proactive town leadership, Clinton could have growth where waste water discharge is not an issue. We should get moving. As you may know, there are six areas in Clinton that need solutions for the waste water generated. They are the coastal area, Route 1 corridor, Downtown, Long Hill, Rocky Ledge and Boulder Lake as well as the seven Manufactured Home Parks. The State has mandated since 1997 that we solve these problems or they will force solutions upon us.
This is not a simple problem to solve as much of our town is made up of bedrock, wetlands and high water tables, thus preventing the absorption of treated waste water into the ground. As a matter of convenience, I use the term sewers here to describe any waste water disposal system. Also keep in mind that in more densely developed areas (e.g. downtown), the more likely is the requirement for sewers since septics require large areas for leaching fields and have somewhat limited capacity.
We have had five possible solutions over the years that I know of that have been studied by the Waste Water Pollution Control Commission (WPCC). These solutions were arrived at with help of three Engineering Firms, costing over $500,000. Fifty five percent of these planning costs are reimbursable by the state. In one solution, the town acquired land through eminent domain on the Hammonasset River (Highland Drive area) to build a treatment plant. We still own the property and no action was taken. Then we were going into partnership with Old Saybrook and Westbrook to build a treatment plant in Saybrook and dump our treated effluent into the CT River. Old Saybrook turned it down.
Again in 2003 we looked at the Hammonasset River but the town’s people didn’t like this. The use of the property now known as the Hammocks was considered for leaching fields. This is off the table since it is now a high end age restricted development. At least the town receives substantial tax revenue from this development with private roads and no increase in school population, hence costing the town very little. The town also looked at using school property for underground discharge of treated effluent, but the resulting furor killed this option. Now we may do something similar for the new high school (if finally approved), but no complaints have been raised. Our original disposal problem estimated some 20 years ago at about 250,000 gallons per day of treated waste water was thought to cost about $25M to solve. This covered only three of the current six needs areas and of course, costs have escalated – the price of inaction.
In 2005 a solution was suggested by the WPCC to acquire forest land on the east side of town for leaching fields. This property had some test wells dug and was thought to be suitable by the State and soil engineers with an estimated daily capacity of 250,000 gallons. It is believed this potential plan was killed for political reasons. This land should still be a valid site, but I don’t know if WPCC is reconsidering it. Many past WPCC members have resigned in frustration and other knowledgeable members have had their membership revoked by the Board of Selectman. The latest unfortunate personnel change has been the resignation of the WPCC Chairman (due to an unrelated issue). Many spoke highly of him and thought he was very effective. The RTC is looking for a replacement to recommend, so if you are interested contact the RTC through www.clintongop.org.
Based upon current studies we now need to dispose of 600,000 gallons per day of treated waste water for the six needs areas plus the trailer parks. This is the current estimated minimum required amount and contains no additional capacity for the economic growth we desperately need. To date the WPCC has identified two additional properties from its latest study that will allow for about 150,000 gallons per day. The WPCC has identified four other properties that they believe have potential, but is meeting owner resistance getting access to these properties. WPCC may have to rely on legal means which will be ugly and costly. Three land owners are slated for legal action at this time. The end result of this dramatic rise in needed treatment capacity might be that the Hammonasset River is the only viable solution left since a direct discharge into Long Island Sound is no longer allowed. This solution has obvious dangers and should be a last resort.
The WPCC has promised to have a plan with costs in August of this year for presentation to the town. The question now becomes can the town (us) support another estimated $50M in borrowing (and probably more), less the 25% state reimbursement? On top of this are the additional costs for annual maintenance (these should be largely recouped by usage fees to those connected), not to mention the cost to home owners to upgrade their current septic systems to meet code or to tie into a community septic? Homeowner costs to hook up could easily reach $10,000 per home.
We have lost, or will at the end of this year, two of the five largest taxpayers in town in addition to the empty stores and properties along Main Street, the latest being West Marine. Although West Marine’s loss is not related to lack of sewers, it does limit the type of new business that can replace it or be developed in many areas of Clinton. Restaurants and many types of manufacturing have significant disposal needs. Also development possibilities at the current Morgan Site will be limited by lack of sewers, potentially reducing the tax bonanza touted by new school proponents. The question becomes, can we afford the additional tax burden a waste water solution will impose? Good question, but the answer is that we have no choice.
-- Phil Sengle