RTM approves special allocation for sewer rehabilitation

The Representative Town Meeting (RTM) ended its summer break early this week, convening to vote on additional funding for emergency sewer repairs during a special meeting Monday night.

The Department of Public Works (DPW) Sewer Division requested $3,100,000 for repairs to the Shore Road and Horseneck Lane large diameter sewers, which are responsible for transporting a large portion of the town’s wastewater to the Grass Island Wastewater Treatment Plant. With universal support from all of the involved RTM committees, the final vote was 153-2-2 blowout in favor of providing the additional funding. The nature of the funding necessitated the rare emergency meeting as the RTM, which does not typically meet in July or August, was not scheduled to have its regular meeting until Sept. 15.

During the meeting, the RTM’s Finance, Health and Human Services and Public Works committees all gave their approval to the project, suggesting that it was necessary to prevent further damages and expenditures. All three committees were a part of a joint meeting on Aug. 20 where they were briefed on the project by DPW Commissioner Amy Siebert and Wastewater Division Manager Richard Feminella, who is also serving as project manager for the rehabilitation effort.

“Sewers are one of the basic thing the town does — this is a project that needs to be done. The questions that arose really had more to do with the timing of the project, why did it come up as a special appropriation and why wasn’t it cycled and come up with before,” Finance Committee member Rob Perelli-Minetti said. “I think the answers were relatively satisfying on that, they were looking in it, and the results weren’t complete with estimates of the cost in time to put it in the budget.”

While $3 million had already been allocated to repairing the sewers in the town’s Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) 2014-2015 budget, the DPW has stated that the final costs of the repairs could not have been predicted at the time of the BET budget hearings in February. As samples from the sewers were collected and analyzed during the spring, it became evident that the deterioration was worse than expected. According to the statement released regarding the special appropriation, the project budget was not set until the final days of July.

Prior to the RTM vote, the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) held a special meeting of its own on Aug. 4 and voted 8-2 in favor of the allocation.

“There will always be things that come up that are not in the CIP. Things that you didn’t expect that you have to deal with, and those things would take precedence over the things that are in the CIP, so we always knew there might be something like this that we would have to deal with,” Public Works Committee Chairman Arline Lomazzo said.

The final estimated cost for the rehabilitation project is $5,600,000, meaning that the approved funding will also provide an extra $500,000 for incidental costs that might arise throughout the process. DPW’s Sewer Division has already begun the rehabilitation process on multiple fronts, securing the necessary permits and completing design on the bypass pumping system and repair.

DPW has stated that the project will take advantage of the cofferdam already in place for the bridge over Horseneck Brook, alleviating some of the potential cost (see related story on page one). The project is expected to be completed by Thanksgiving, with the bypass installation set for later this month, and construction scheduled to start in September.

Sewer maintenance has been a costly issue for the town in the past. A break in the Old Greenwich force main resulted in an estimated 28 million gallons of raw sewage being dumped into the Mianus River over a four-day period in December 2008. The town was forced to pay $200,000 to the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a result of the incident, in addition to the costs of the emergency repairs.

While the RTM was nearly unanimous in its approval of the project, District 8 Representative Jason Auerbach challenged his colleagues to be more aware of ongoing issues within the town.

“This interim appropriation request should not surprise any of us. If we had been move involved during the 2014-2015 budget, there would not have been some of the debate over the timing of this request,” Mr. Auerbach said. “I hope we do not waste this opportunity to become a more engaged, a more involved and, my favorite word, more educated, body.”

Monday’s meeting was a special session solely dedicated to the sewer rehabilitation project. There were no other items on the agenda.

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