$48M sewer plan heads to hearing in May (UPDATE)

Editor's note: This story has been updated with the correct hearing date. The public hearing on the sewer plant renovation has been scheduled for Tuesday, May 14, at 7:30 p.m. in the town hall annex. The story in this week's paper wrongly stated that the hearing would be May 7. 
With costs a concern, a key component of the town’s $48-million sewer project — renovation of the wastewater treatment plant off South Street — has gone out for construction bids, and is headed for a May 14 public hearing of the Planning and Zoning Commission and Inland Wetlands Board.
“The South Street project is out to bid, and we can only hope that we will get good results from that process,” said Amy Siebert, chairwoman of the Water Pollution Control Authority (WPCA), the town agency overseeing the project.
“We’re on schedule,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said. “It’s gone out to bid. We have to have a contract awarded by July 1, and we’re on schedule to achieve that — assuming all the bids come in and we have a contract that’s acceptable.”
Rebuilding a sewer plant to treat 1,120,000 gallons a day is a complex project, and the plant renovation is expected to take up nearly $32 million of the entire sewer project’s $48 million projected cost.
With a number of municipalities including Danbury, Wallingford and Vernon currently seeking bids for sewer projects, town officials are aware that market pressures could affect construction bids.
“Many wastewater utilities across the state are all bidding significant projects this spring season,” Siebert said. “...When dealing with the public bidding process, one cannot predict the outcome, particularly when there are many projects all going out to bid in a similar time frame. We are understandably very interested to see where the final bids land for this necessary and important project.”
The bids are scheduled to be opened May 10, although in complex projects of this sort bidders sometimes seek extensions of the deadline to get all the required paperwork in.
Two-phase plan
Voters approved $48 million last November to upgrade town sewer treatment facilities. The project includes renovating the District I sewer plant on South Street to meet tougher environmental standards for removal of nitrogen and phosphorous in wastewater that is discharged after treatment into the Great Swamp, headwaters of the Norwalk River which flows into Long Island Sound.
That $48 million appropriation is also expected to cover a second phase of the project that would close the smaller District II sewage treatment plant that serves business and multifamily development in the Route 7 and 35 area, and build a pump station and pressured sewer line from there to South Street, where wastes from both sewer districts will eventually be treated at the renovated District I plant.
Both phases of the project are required by the state and federal environmental authorities, with state and federal grants available to reduce some of the costs — if the town meets a demanding schedule to get it all done.
“A total project cost of $48 million, and you’d deduct $11.5 million in anticipated grants,” Marconi said. “Everything has to be submitted and approved, but that’s what’s anticipated.”
Eventual approval of the $11.5 million in grants would leave a projected total of about $36.5 million to be paid by the town.
“And the rest will be financed through the Clean Water Fund at 2% interest,” Marconi said.
Repayment will be covered largely through sewer use and hookup fees. Fees are expected to about double, although the increase would be phased in. Properties not on the sewer lines — the majority of those in town — would cover about an $8 million of the bond repayment costs through the general taxes over the years.
Plans for the South Street plant’s renovation project were formally accepted April 9 by the Planning and Zoning Commission and Inland Wetlands Board and scheduled for a joint public hearing of the two land use agencies on Tuesday, May 14.
Board and commission members — they’re still the same group until after November’s election creates a new separate wetlands board — plan to walk the site at 22 South Street on Sunday, May 5, two days before the hearing. The site walk is technically a public meeting, and citizens may attend.
Costly brick
The WPCA brought its plans before the Architectural Advisory Committee (AAC) and accepted some committee recommendations, but with costs in mind decided against the AAC’s suggestion that the treatment plant building be made of red brick.
“The WPCA truly appreciates the comments of the town’s AAC,” Siebert said. “A review of their suggestions showed that the changes suggested would result in increased project costs.
“Given the WPCA’s desire to keep the capital investment as well as annual operations and maintenance costs as low as possible while still creating a functional wastewater treatment plant that will have the service life needed, the WPCA agreed to pursue approval of the design as it stands,” she said.
“Several of the AAC’s recommendations were adopted into the revised plans,” she added.
In an email, Siebert described the materials that will be used on the building exterior, rather than brick.
“The materials chosen are a product that will provide a facing that looks like stone, made of calcium silicate, as well as man-made siding that gives the appearance of wood siding, without the maintenance,” she said. “These go over the building structure as the exterior facade.”
In addition to a look of stone and wood siding, the facade is designed for durability and low maintenance.
“The manufactured stone panels are pressure formed and autoclave cured, resulting in high density, severe weathering modular units, with one or more finished faces,” Siebert said. “The fiber cement siding is highly durable, does not rot, resists moisture damage and is fire resistant, all properties of long lasting, durable building materials.”
Marconi would not say how long the project would take, but he was eager to get going and have bids awarded in keeping with the state schedule.
“I think it’s going to be about a two-year timeline from start to finish,” Marconi said.
“Obviously, if you awarded June 30, they’re not going to show up for work July 1. And we have to get all our permits. But at least the job can be awarded July 1.”