About $42 million — that’s a preliminary cost estimate to renovate the sewage treatment plant on South Street, last upgraded in 1990, that handles wastewater from both sewer districts. An average of 850,000 gallons of wastewater a day travel through 9,000 feet of sewer lines to the District I sewage treatment plant on South Street, before being cleansed and released into Great Swamp. District I has six pump stations, and parts of the system date back to the early 1900s.

The District II sewer system was built in 1985 —  there’s 6,000 feet of pipe around the intersection of Routes 7 and 35 delivering wastewater to a plant that discharges effluent into the Norwalk River.

Six people showed up at the May 3 public hearing to review plans to rebuild the District I plant, close the District II plant, and pipe that waste down to South Street for treatment.

Those who spoke worried about the cost, and the new nitrogen and phosphorus standards forcing the renovation project.

They wanted in. Being part of the sewer district solves septic systems problems.

“I pump once every two months,” said Diane Gaughran of Wilton Road West. “I’m a stone’s throw away from the sewer.”

Monica Brunen also has a septic system and high water table at her Wilton Road West home.  

“We get some water in the basement,” she said. “We’ve done everything totally possible.”

But the problems continue, “no matter what we did trying to get it to stop leaking in.”

Urgency and benefits

The town’s two sewer district plants are aging, and need substantial improvements to meet environmental standards. “Aging equipment runs 24/7 in damp, corrosive, and abrasive conditions,” said the engineers from AECOM, the consulting engineers.

If left as they are, both plants would be subject to “decreased reliability and increasing operating costs.”

The renovation would “increase energy efficiency” and “improve water quality” in the Great Swamp and Norwalk River, which flow into Long Island Sound.

The presentation listed six advantages to piping the District II sewage to the District I plant: “lower capital cost; lower operating cost; lower life-cycle cost; consolidates all WWTF (wastewater treatment facilities) operations to one facility; improved water quality; allows for sale or repurposing of Route 7 WWTF property.”

Timeline

The $42 million is a rough estimate.

“There’s still a lot to be determined,” said Water Pollution Control Authority chairwoman Amy Siebert. “We need to do the design — plans — so we can get better figures.”

That cost is expected to be shared among sewer users — who’d probably pay more — and general taxpayers, who use the plant only when their septic systems are pumped.

But exactly how the cost burden would be distributed hasn’t been figured out yet. Those numbers will have to be ready for an anticipated town referendum on the project in the fall of 2018.

And the project’s local cost might be reduced to about $32 million if it qualifies for state and federal grants available.

To qualify for the roughly $10 million in potential grants, the project needs to be designed, put out to bid, and a contract awarded by July 2019.

Worth a fight?

People might not want to pay.

“The biggest concern to the community that’s not here today is the cost,” said Gaughran, the Wilton Road West homeowner.

She supports the project, but others — especially folks living outside the district — are skeptical.

“There has been some buzz about this: Why pay for it? What does it mean to them?”

First Selectman Rudy Marconi suggested an answer.

“Economic vitality of the downtown area,” he said. (The dense commercial development found on Main Street and the Copps Hill area of Danbury Road is practical only with sewers.)

WPCA chairwoman Siebert said the project was necessary to meet state and federal environmental standards. The town will vote on spending the money, but it has to come up with a solution.

“We have these regulatory drivers,” Siebert said.

“The regulators can come, and you can work with them collaboratively, which we’re doing.”

Fighting a state environmental agency backed by federal clean water standards isn’t something the WPCA has considered — it would be costly, and the town would still have to upgrade the sewer plant, eventually.

“You can spend a lot of time and a lot of money fighting,” Siebert said.

“Our focus has been on human health and the environment,” she added

“I think you’re going to get a lot of ‘nos,’” Gaughran said of the eventual vote. “What’s in it for them?”

“The treatment plant provides benefits for all of us, the downtown, but also, as someone on a septic system, my septic needs someplace to go,” Siebert said.