With a multi-million sewer plant renovation ahead — and expansion an inevitable consideration in the planning — First Selectman Rudy Marconi is looking to be made a voting member of the Water Pollution Control Authority.
“I’d like to be considered,” he told the Board of Selectmen. “I have experience. I have knowledge.”
It may be taken up at the selectmen’s July 17 meeting.
The first selectman is considered an “ex officio” member of all town agencies, a capacity that allows him to sit in on meetings and participate in discussions, but with no vote.
The Water Pollution Control Authority — or “WPCA,” it’s called — oversees the town’s two sewer systems, District I in the town center and District II in the area around Routes 7 and 35. Its five members are appointed by the Board of Selectmen.
At the selectmen’s June 19 meeting, Mr. Marconi said Town Attorney Dave Grogins saw no problem with a board member doing double-duty.
“We can appoint ourselves if we want, to the WPCA, to vacancies,” he the board.
Before a 1994 charter revision, the Board of Selectmen had functioned as Ridgefield’s Water Pollution Control Authority.
Mr. Marconi told fellow selectmen,“I think there’s going to be a tremendous impact on the future of the community, and we should be at the table.”
The Water Pollution Control Authority currently has an open seat, left by the recent expiration of longtime chairman Max Caldwell’s term.
Mr. Marconi told the board he’d like to serve, but noted that Selectman Andrew Bodner had expressed an interest in a seat on the authority. Mr. Bodner said later that he’s comfortable with the first selectman’s filling the position.
“If there’s a conversation to put more people on the WPCA, I’m certainly willing and able to help,” he said. “If there one spot it should be Rudy. Rudy’s in a far better position to understand the nuances.”
Two related issues are driving interest in the authority: the coming plant renovation, which will be costly and influence future town development; and the weakening of local zoning by the state’s affordable housing law, 8-30g.
The town “has a government elected by its people, to act in what they a collectively feel is the best interest of the town,” Mr. Bodner said. “And planning and zoning has developed a vision of what Ridgefield should look like, and that vision is being arbitrarily overridden by the exploiting of this state law.
“And it is completely arbitrary,” he said. “It’s not for some great public purpose. It’s just to do the minimum amount of affordable housing which allows a developer to put in what he wants to put in, which in this case seems to be high density housing on inappropriately small lots, without any regard to the impact that these massive structures have on the neighborhood…
“The WPCA has just been looking at the technical aspects and not looking at the broader public policy aspect,” Mr. Bodner said. “The question is: Should the government get more involved in trying to protect the town.”
An upgrade of a sewer plant is required by the state every 20 years. Its design determines flow capacity, although that can be increased with additional work. But with zoning controls under assault by the state, the plant’s flow capacity limits can be seen as a cap on development within the sewer district.
The current village or District I treatment plant is designed for about one million gallons a day, and is said to be in the vicinity of 70% of its capacity — although that has been debated.
Due to a leaky more-than-100-year-old collection system, the plant’s flow varies. With rain, flow through the plant can far exceed its designed limits — leaving room for discussion of its true capacity.
Part of the planning process for the renovation is to look at future development within the district, and also at the possible need for future expansion of the sewer pipe system and district. This might be done to serve areas where septic systems are failing, or for economic growth.
Mr. Marconi told the selectmen that both Town Engineer Charles Fisher and Town Attorney Dave Grogins have been urging action by the authority to firm up the sewer district boundaries.
“Dave’s contention is boundaries of the sewer district are not clearly defined, and therefore we’re vulnerable,” Mr. Marconi said.
The working definition the town uses is that property within 200 feet of a sewer main — not a lateral — is in the district, Mr. Marconi said.
The plan upgrade more 20 years ago cost about $12 million for work on the plant, and $1.6 million was spent on the collection system.
“This is going to be a big number,” Mr. Marconi said.
In late June the authority had what Mr. Marconi described as “the kickoff meeting” for phase one planning of the plant renovation. State and federal grants to support the project were discussed.
Just the phase one engineering study is projected to cost $557,000, with potential for a Clean Water grant to cover 55% or about $306,000.
The bulk of the plant renovation costs — like the system’s operating expenses — are carried by users in the sewer district, not by all town taxpayers. In the last renovation a small part of the cost was covered out of general taxes since homeowners outside the district use the plant when their septic systems are cleaned. Commercial septic pumpers discharge waste into the plant.
The charter dictates how the agency should be made up: two members with technical expertise; a user with property in the sewer district; someone from outside the district.
Current members Amy Siebert and Ron Hill have engineering qualifications. Gary Zawacki lives outside the sewer district — and has a septic system pumping business, providing another perspective on plant operations. Kevin Briody lives in the sewer district.
Mr. Marconi ran his late father’s construction business before becoming for first selectman, and claims relevant experience from that work.
“I do have some experience from a construction perspective in dealing with manholes and inverts, piping, pump stations, mains, laterals, and gravity flow,” he said.
“Although, I’m not a sanitation engineer to the point of understanding the operation of a sewer plant…
“Of course,” he said, “I’m trying every day to read a little bit more on the issues.”