Ridgefield considers ARPA funds for sewer project

RIDGEFIELD — The second phase of the town’s sewer project may get some federal assistance after cost estimates came back much higher than expected.

The town is looking to use about $2.9 million of American Rescue Plan monies towards the Route 7 sewer project, which, coupled with a $500,000 allocation from the Water Pollution Control Authority, would close the gap.

Residents will have their say on this funding option at a public hearing and town meeting, which will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 20 in the large conference room of Town Hall unless more people are expected to attend.

The project includes building a new pump station and force-main sewer line and closing the District II sewage treatment plant, which serves the area around the intersection of routes 7 and 35.

The goal is to pipe District II’s wastewater to South Street for treatment at the upgraded District I plant through the new pipeline, resulting in long-term operational savings, according to a project summary from Ridgefield’s Water Pollution Control Authority.

This phase was estimated to cost $5.8 million in 2018 and approved then as part of the overall $48 million sewer treatment project. The bids, however, have since come in “substantially over what the estimate was,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said.

The lowest bid came from M&O Construction Co., Inc. in New Milford at $8.3 million, approximately 40 percent higher than the initial estimated cost. Additional “soft costs,” such as on-site engineering, brings the total expenditure to more than $9 million, Marconi said.

“What we are looking at is a difference of ... over $3.4 million,” he added.

Because Ridgefield’s charter requires a referendum to approve an expenditure of more than $3 million, officials wanted to bring the cost below $3 million and move the item to a town meeting instead. The WPCA’s $500,000 allocation brought the difference down to $2.9 million.

Additional grant funding could shave another $600,000 off the total, Marconi added, meaning the town would use less of the American Rescue Plan money. Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark, the board’s liaison to the WPCA, said she reached out to Ridgefield’s state representatives to see if additional ARPA funding could be funneled in from Hartford.

“The grant dollars and the bid are precarious if we don’t move forward with the project,” Kozlark added. “I encourage everyone to come out and learn more ... and vote positively for it.”

The WPCA will hold its own public hearing on Oct. 16 to answer questions from residents before the eventual vote. That meeting will take place from 10 a.m. to noon in the lower-level conference room of Town Hall.

Some have questioned whether the town could rebid the project instead of using a portion of its ARPA funds to bring it to fruition. According to the WPCA’s summary, however, it is likely bid prices would only increase as the impacts of COVID continue.

“I don’t see it coming down under the best of conditions,” Marconi said at the meeting, noting that the funds “expressly allow” municipalities to make sewer infrastructure upgrades.

Additionally, if the project is delayed, Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection would not be able to provide grant assistance. The state pushed the town to undertake the project to meet new regulations and environmental standards under the federal Clean Water Act.

Because the project is tied to the upgrade of the District I plant, a rebidding would put available grant monies for its construction “in jeopardy,” Kozlark explained.

“We will ultimately be saving the taxpayers money by using these dollars because the cost of the project is going to increase if we don’t,” she said. “Ask questions, read the info sheets — an informed voter is the best voter.”

alyssa.seidman@hearstmediact.com