With DEEP deadline approaching, Ridgefield rushes to complete first phase of $55 million sewer project

RIDGEFIELD — The first phase of a $55 million project to upgrade the town’s sewer infrastructure is nearly 60 percent complete, but additional manpower is needed to bring it to fruition by April 1.

On that date, stricter guidelines relative to municipal phosphorus removal systems — as mandated by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection — are set to take effect.

Although the town is “behind schedule” in meeting this deadline, according to First Selectman Rudy Marconi, officials are working to get the project back on track.

Ridgefield’s Water Pollution Control Authority, which oversees the town’s sewer operations, has held several meetings with the contractor, Spectraserve Inc., to ensure additional crews and subcontracting work are pursued to complete the project in a timely manner, Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark said. Kozlark is the Board of Selectmen’s liaison to the WPCA.

The project includes a top-to-bottom renovation of the District I treatment plant on South Street, the closure of the District II plant on Route 7, and the construction of a new pump station and force-main sewer line.

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 the WPCA

Last fall, voters approved $2.9 million of federal American Rescue Plan monies for the second phase of the project. The WPCA allocated $500,000 to further narrow the funding gap, and additional grant funding from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s Clean Water Fund will shave off more than $1 million from the total.

Marconi said much of the progress on the project’s completion was lost due to COVID, and that increased labor and material costs contributed to higher than normal bid prices.

Installing the new pump line and decommissioning the District II sewage treatment plant, for example, was estimated to cost $5.8 million in 2018. The bids for that project, however, came in “substantially over what the estimate was,” Marconi said in an earlier interview.

This week, U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-Connecticut) visited Ridgefield to tour the District I treatment plant. Marconi conveyed to the congressman that the project would further be stalled were it not for the federal stimulus.

“We’re entirely grateful to the American government and the Connecticut delegation for getting Ridgefield its share (of ARPA funds), which will be very helpful in achieving this sewer project,” Marconi said. “The decommissioning of the District II plant will help improve the water quality there by pumping (it) into the new facility in the center of town. The quality of that effluent being discharged is extremely important in terms of the quality of the water in the Norwalk River, and the elimination of that plant will only improve the quality of that water.”

Ridgefield was one of four towns recently sued by the environmental advocacy group Save the Sound, which alleged that it failed to file required paperwork regarding stormwater systems with state regulators over the past three years.

The towns contacted by the group, in part, were chosen because their stormwater systems affected rivers and streams on the state’s list of impaired bodies of water. The lawsuits mention nearly a dozen bodies of water affected by the towns’ stormwater systems, including the Norwalk River, which runs through Ridgefield and eventually into the Long Island Sound.

The town has enlisted the attorneys of Pullman & Comely, LLC, to represent it in federal court.