Ridgefield starts second phase of Route 7 sewer project, despite delays to treatment plant upgrades

RIDGEFIELD — Construction is poised to start on the second phase of the town’s $55 million upgrades to its sewer infrastructure, even as the first half of the project is behind schedule.

Crews have marked spots along the roads and begun drilling so they can install an underground force main pipe that will extend from the South Street Wastewater Treatment Facility that’s undergoing renovations and the Route 7 Pump Station, which will be demolished and replaced with a new pump station.

But those renovations to the South Street plant, also known as District I, were delayed due to COVID-19 related construction challenges, First Selectman Rudy Marconi said.

“That’s quite a bit behind,” he said.

Work in one of the buildings that handles phosphorous removal from the effluent is not complete, so the town received an extension from the state Department of Environmental Energy and Protection on the enforcement of stricter regulations that went into effect on April 1, he said.

“We are managing at the level we need to be at, so we're in compliance, and we are working toward getting it finished up as quickly as possible,” said Selectman Maureen Kozlark, who is the board’s liaison to the Water Pollution Control Authority, the group leading the project.

DEEP approved an interim plan to use a temporary chemical feed system to remove some phosphorous, but gave the town until April 2023 to finish the project and meet the new requirements, said Jon Pearson, vice president with AECOM Technical Services, the engineering firm for the project.

The existing limit is 1 milligram of phosphorous per liter of waste, but the temporary system should get that down to 0.5 milligrams per liter, he said. The requirement that will go into effect April 2023 is 0.06 milligrams per liter, he said.

Work at the treatment plant should be finished by then, Pearson said.

“The expectation is that they will need the full amount of time until then to get there,” he said.

The contractor has submitted a document explaining why the project has faced delayed, Pearson said. Those reasons include material delays and labor shortages, but the town has contended some of the claims, he said.

“The contractor is making efforts to increase the rate of construction, so we are continuing to work with them, but we are not in full agreement with what they've claimed,” Pearson said. “That’s what’s under discussion.”

There is a financial penalty clause in the contract that the town could impose, but it’s too “premature” to say whether Ridgefield would do that, he said. The construction company could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Next steps

The idea behind the project is to prevent pollution into Ridgefield’s Great Swamp, which drains into the Norwalk River and then the Long Island Sound, officials have said.

In 2018, voters approved $48 million for the project, which is meant to upgrade aging equipment and meet the state’s new effluent limits on nitrogen and phosphorous. Without the project, the town would have violated its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit at the South Street facility, according to information DEEP provided to the project’s engineer in 2018.

However, the project has since been projected to cost $55 million. The town approved using $2.9 million in American Rescue Plan funding, an about $1 million grant from DEEP and $500,000 from the WPCA to help close that gap.

Despite the delays at the District I plant, the next phase of the project is moving ahead. Crews will install an underground pipe that’s about 13,600 foot long and eight inches in diameter that will take effluent from the to-be constructed new Route 7 pump station to the District I plant.

Pre-construction work, including installing traffic signs and surveying, has already begun, but excavation should start sometime in May, Pearson said. The plan is to start at Ligi’s Way and move north, finishing by December.

Work to construct the new Route 7 pump station is scheduled to start in January 2023 and take until July of that year. However, the contractor has warned that delivery delays in mechanical and electrical equipment could push that timeline, Pearson said. In some cases, the town is looking at alternative equipment, he said.

The South Street plant averages 850,000 gallons of effluent per day, with a capacity of 1 million gallons per day. The Route 7 facility is much smaller, averaging 54,00 gallons per day with a capacity of 120,000. Once the new pipe is installed, that plant will be decommissioned between August 2023 and November 2023. The South Street plant will be able to handle 1.12 million gallons per day.

“Because of the age of the (Route 7) plant, the state was going to tell us we had to upgrade that one also,” Marconi said. “Combining them both to one plant and putting in a pump station saved millions of dollars, leaving them as they are and addressing the upgrades in each plant.”