Ridgefield wants sewer access for Branchville revitalization. Redding says wait

RIDGEFIELD — Plans to develop the Branchville area are on hold until the town can obtain sewer line capacity for the development.

First Selectman Rudy Marconi called Branchville the “forgotten child of Ridgefield.”

But the vision is to create new housing, sidewalk additions, road repairs and transit options centered around the Branchville train station.

Ridgefield gathered about $717,000 and has about $7 million in grant money to work on the project, but has been stalled by its lack of a sewer line.

“We need a sewer line for that project if we’re going to have good density,” Marconi said. “Because if you’re going to have high density, you want to be able to provide public transportation where people then go to and return from work — without putting more cars on the highway.”

One of the potential wastewater treatment plants to service the development is the Georgetown plant in Redding.

Located just over a mile from the Branchville area, the facility would offer the shortest connection length and cost roughly $2.5 million dollars to implement, according to a 2017 transit-oriented development study conducted to to assess and strategize potential mixed-use development plans.

But Redding is not yet willing to let Ridgefield connect to the plant because the former town may need the facility to develop the Gilbert and Bennett Wire Mill site.

“Until we know more about what Redding’s vision and Redding’s needs are, we can’t commit to providing sewer for Branchville,” Redding First Selectwoman Julia Pemberton said. “But I want to keep that door open because I think the Branchville improvements are really important.”

The 2017 report notes the plant’s capacity is fully accounted for and can only service the Branchville area if it is expanded or its flow capacity is rerouted toward the development.

The study listed three possible wastewater treatment plans to service the development including the South Street, Route 7 and Georgetown wastewater treatment facilities.

The Route 7 facility is closing and the remaining wastewater will be pumped into the South Street plant, Marconi said. South Street’s facility is a possible contender, but its uphill location from Branchville would cost more to connect to, rather than a flat line over to the Georgetown center.

“From a logistics perspective, it doesn’t make sense to have lift stations and pumps everywhere when you have a sewer plant that’s operational, but really doesn’t have enough flow to justify the cost,” Marconi said.

Since the facility is in Redding, Ridgefield would have to enter an inter-municipality agreement with its neighboring town. Pemberton and Marconi have had several discussions over the years regarding the matter.

“The most interesting thing to me is the town of Redding would rather just spend tax dollars to hold and protect any gallonage for the wire mill project,” Marconi said.

Pemberton said she is “100 percent behind” the Branchville project, but has not moved forward with plans because of legal issues with the Gilbert and Bennett Wire Mill.

Redding had been in a long-standing legal battle with the mill’s development company regarding millions in unpaid taxes and a lack of development.

The town moved to take ownership of the property in late 2020 and is expected to take possession of the mill if the owners or creditors do not pay the balance by Tuesday. As of Tuesday afternoon, the town had not heard whether the balance had been paid.

Pemberton said Redding can’t move forward with Branchville until it has solidified its plans for the wire mill.

“We can’t work it out until we have a plan for the Gilbert and Bennett site, so it could be two years,” she said. “I think it’s premature to put a timeline on it because we’re just about to get the title to the property unless one of its creditors pays the taxes.”

Although Redding would like to make progress, the planning commission voiced concerns about needing to “take care of Redding first,” Pemberton said.

Pemberton plans on assessing the mill property and working out some “technical things” regarding an unresolved bond balance on the property before continuing to work with Ridgefield.

“It’s not something that’s directly around the corner because the planning for the future of Georgetown is not something that can be rushed,” Pemberton said.