Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Vernon will pay more for sewer work after state aid lost

By Jason Rowe
Journal Inquirer
January 11, 2006

VERNON - Replacement of a sewer pipe between Route 30 and Center Road will go forward, despite the loss of state aid.

On Tuesday, the Town Council agreed with Mayor Ellen L. Marmer and town officials that the project should proceed, although the work could cost the town as much as $9,000 more a year than originally expected.

In November 2004, voters authorized the town to issue $1.21 million in bonds to complete the project, which would include repair and rehabilitation of the 27-inch reinforced concrete pipe along an abandoned railroad bed, which is now part of the rails-to-trails hiking program.

At the time, town officials expected that a low-interest loan from the state Department of Environmental Protection would help defray the cost of retiring the bonds.

But because of belt tightening at the state level, that money is not available to the town, and state officials have been unable to give town leaders a firm timetable on when the funding would be available.

Meanwhile, the sewer pipe continues to deteriorate and a failure of the structure could be imminent, Water Pollution Control Director David R. Ignatowicz told the Town Council Tuesday.

"I've been saying for a number of years that it's ready to collapse," Ignatowicz said.

Although the change in financing could cost the town as much as $9,000 a year over the next 15 years, Town Administrator Laurence R. Shaffer said that estimate is a worst-case scenario, and the actual number would likely be between $4,000 and $5,000 a year.

Other town projects involving state funding are not affected by the lack of DEP funds, Marmer said.

Given the recent water-main break on Windsorville Road - in which more than a million gallons of water were lost and emergency work crews had to be brought in for repairs - Marmer said she felt it was prudent to rehabilitate the sewer line as quickly as possible.

"It taught me that we can't wait until we have a sewer collapse," Marmer said. "The bond was passed. The people do want the sewer repaired."

Since voters authorized the town to bond for the project at referendum, Town Council approval wasn't necessary to proceed with the work, according to a Dec. 29 letter to Shaffer, written by town bond counsel Sam Caligiuri.

But as a courtesy, Marmer said, she wanted to give the Town Council the opportunity to formally acknowledge the change in plans.

After hearing from Marmer and Ignatowicz, the Town Council agreed that the town had to proceed.

"It behooves us to be proactive in mindset," Democrat Mary A. Oliver said.

Republican Deputy Mayor Jason L. McCoy questioned Ignatowicz as to why the additional money couldn't be raised through sewer user fees.

But Ignatowicz responded by saying that the sewer line replacement is considered a town capital improvement and not part of the sewer system's operating costs.

Ignatowicz told the Town Council that designs for the project are 95 percent complete and bidding for the work should be ready to go forward by the end of January.

Work is expected to begin by the spring, he said.