Ridgefield approves $2.9 million allocation from federal funds for sewer project

Residents voted to allocate $2.9 million of American Rescue Plan monies for the Route 7 sewer project at a town meeting on Wednesday night.

Residents voted to allocate $2.9 million of American Rescue Plan monies for the Route 7 sewer project at a town meeting on Wednesday night.

H John Voorhees III / Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

RIDGEFIELD — A resounding “aye” echoed through Veterans Park auditorium Wednesday night as residents voted to approve $2.9 million of federal American Rescue Plan monies for the Route 7 sewer project. Only a handful of “nays” could be heard from the audience.

The allocation will partially fund the construction of a new force-main sewer line connecting the District II plant on Route 7 to the upgraded District I plant on South Street. Voters approved an estimated $48 million for the projects in 2018, but the actual costs came in at more than $55 million, according to calculations from Ridgefield’s Water Pollution Control Authority.

The lowest bid for the Route 7 project came from M&O Construction Co., Inc. in New Milford at $8.3 million, approximately 40 percent higher than the initial estimate. The WPCA allocated $500,000 to narrow the funding gap, and additional grant funding could shave between $900,000 and $1.5 million off the total. The authority also ensured that any grants or rebates related to the project would be used to defray its overall cost, meaning the town would use less of the federal money.

A case for allocation

Before public comment, WPCA Chairwoman Amy Siebert explained the need for the project and why town leaders didn’t want to delay its construction by going out to bid a second time.

The goal is to close the District II plant, construct a new pump station and pipe that wastewater to South Street for treatment. The consolidation addresses new regulations and environmental standards at the state and federal levels, while returning long-term operational cost savings, she said.

Since the price of building materials, equipment and labor has increased because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the expectation is any new bids would be higher than those that came in initially, Siebert said. She added that if ARPA funds weren’t allocated to bring the project to fruition, the town could potentially lose state funding and be subject to effluent permit violations.

“If we can get people’s support for this, this can help us not have to increase sewer user rates or taxes,” Siebert said. “Those of us who are on septic,” she added while raising her hand, “benefit as well by having these facilities upgraded for when our septic tanks are pumped out.”

Public comment

Resident Susan Coco applauded this “strategic use” of ARPA funding while noting the project’s vitalness to the future of Ridgefield.

Resident Steve Jameson took issue with the proposal as the project would only benefit those serviced by the town’s sewage system, he said.

Resident Ed Tyrrell, the meeting’s moderator, voted against the appropriation. He said the project’s increased cost is not a result of COVID, but rather “bad estimating on the part of the WPCA.”

He also criticized town leaders for bringing the expenditure below $3 million and prompting a town meeting when a referendum would have provided “full public scrutiny.” “It violates the spirit of our charter,” he said.

Glori Norwitt, commissioner of the Ridgefield Economic and Community Development Commission, encouraged voters to look at the bigger picture.

“The police station, the fire station, the Boys & Girls Club, Main (Street) businesses are in the area served by this directly,” she said. “Everyone in this town will ... benefit from the sewer project.”