As published in the Record Journal, Wednesday October 24, 2012
By Andrew Ragali
WALLINGFORD — After months of negotiating with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, a coalition of municipalities that includes Southington, Wallingford and Meriden may not have to make expensive changes — an average of $56 million — to the facilities that handle their discharged water for at least five years.
The state has previously indicated that the phosphorus limits in water released from wastewater treatment plants would need to be decreased to 0.2 parts phosphorus per million. Relief from that requirement may be on the way, Southington Town Councilor Lou Martocchio said during Monday night’s council meeting, as the coalition is nearing an agreement that would provide a five-year permit from the DEEP allowing for phosphorus limits to remain at 0.7 parts per million, a limit set in 2008.
With the permit, Martocchio said, municipalities may see “literally in the millions of dollars in savings.”
Southington, Meriden and Wallingford have all said they would have to spend an average of $56 million in capital improvements and more than $2 million in annual operating costs to reach the new phosphorus limit of 0.2 parts per million.
“Six months ago, I thought this would never happen,” Martocchio said.
With nothing set in stone, leaders in Meriden, Wallingford and Southington are cautiously excited.
“There have been some good signs recently,” Wallingford Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said Tuesday.
He’s not convinced just yet though, saying, “We haven’t seen any language that at this point would confirm a breakthrough.”
“If you still have to commit to a process of removal within five or nine years, that would still be a concern to us,” he said.
Dickinson wants assurance he won’t have to upgrade the town’s treatment plant for phosphorus in the future, but Martocchio said that won’t be necessary after more testing is conducted to determine the effects of the nutrient on plant and animal life in the Quinnipiac River.
“The position DEEP took was at best arbitrary,” Martocchio said Monday night. “The standard or threshold won’t stay at the level it is now ... the threshold requirements are based on now will go higher.”
By possibly holding off on enforcing new limits for at least five years for further research, Meriden City Manager Lawrence J. Kendzior said DEEP is “doing what we had asked of them initially.”
“We’re encouraged by the department’s latest position,” Kendzior said.
Southington Town Manager Garry Brumback credited the DEEP for “stepping up to the plate” and considering a five year permit. The part that is still up in the air, he said, is further scientific research.
“We’ve got to have some scientific evaluation method as to whether or not the draconian and expensive steps we would have to take to get phosphorus levels down to 0.2 parts per million are necessary,” Brumback said.
Unlike Dickinson, Brumback isn’t worried about a commitment to upgrade the town’s treatment plant after the permit expires.
“We would have the ability to protest it, and we’re hoping if we get to that point, the handwriting will already be on the wall,” he said.
DEEP spokesman Dennis Schain said that the state agency understands the challenges faced by municipalities in trying to adhere to phosphorus limits handed down by the Environmental Protection Agency, a federal entity.
“We’re working with them trying to find new approaches that work for municipalities, work for us and the EPA, and serve to protect the environment,” Schain said.
He couldn’t comment further on negotiations because they are ongoing.
Cheshire was once part of the coalition, which also includes Danbury and Waterbury, but dropped out in April because it received $6.9 million in grant money from the Clean Water Fund to upgrade its wastewater treatment plant — a $31.3 million project.
“We’re happy with the way we went,” Milone said. “We couldn’t walk away from $7million in grants.”
He credited the entire coalition, especially Brumback, for its work in fighting new limits, but said “I’m not completely confident that there will be an immediate resolution.”
Brumback said that the permit, if issued, would come by the end of the calendar year.
Milone said that he felt that the best that could be achieved is a delay, and that the town would still have to go forward with upgrades five years from now. To partner the phosphorus upgrade with the Cheshire treatment plant’s overhaul saves money, Milone said, and it would be pointless to do the project separately.
“I’ve learned one thing,” Milone said. “It ain’t over till it’s over. Until the permit is signed, you can’t rely on it.”