Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Bolton Lakes sewer project denied funding for next phase of work

By Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
Published: Friday, July 31, 2009 11:30 AM EDT

The Bolton Lakes Regional Water Pollution Control Authority this month lost $2.5 million in federal funding that had previously been granted for the last two phases of a massive sewer project spanning three towns.

The grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rural development water and wastewater program was pulled because Vernon’s population exceeds the limit under new policy guidelines, federal officials said in a July 15 letter.

For Bolton and Vernon officials, losing the money for part of phase four and all of phase five came as a shock.

“We worked very hard to put this funding in place, and now we feel like the rug is being pulled out from under us,” Bolton Town Administrator Joyce Stille said this week.

A contract was awarded this month for the $21.7 million project, and ground is about to be broken for the first phase.

The sewer system, which will affect about 360 homes in Bolton and 140 homes in Vernon, will feed into the Manchester water-treatment plant, eliminating the need at homes around the lakes for individual septic systems, many of which are failing.

Nearly 10 years ago the state Department of Environmental Protection ordered Vernon and Bolton to install sewers around the lakes, which straddle the two towns. The lines will run along Route 44 into Manchester. Construction is expected to take at least five years to complete.

The water pollution control authority was established in 2003 to oversee the vast project.

Town officials were also told that creating the district would ensure the USDA grant. Bolton, on its own, qualifies as a rural area, but Vernon, with a population of 28,063 in the last census, doesn’t.

In order to be eligible the city, town, or unincorporated area must have a population of 10,000 or fewer.

“In the past we had considered separate municipal districts as separate eligible areas, and calculated the population of the applicant based on the district,” the July 15 letter states.

But recently, the agency’s lawyers chaged their minds on that, and the prior eligibility determination for the Vernon portion of the project reversed.

The majority of the work, about 70 percent, lies within Bolton’s borders, but it cannot be completed without also hooking up the Vernon homes along the lake.

“The impact is huge on Bolton,” said Stille, who has been told to expect about $500,000 from the state DEP Clean Water Act to offset the loss.

“But that’s nowhere close to what we need,” she said.

Town officials were hoping that the local project — as well as nine others in the northeast similarly affected — would be “grandfathered” as work had already begun.

“Before, they always looked at things in motion, and it’s our understanding that they’ve always grandfathered in the past, but they said they won’t do that either,” Stille said.

Vernon and Bolton officials are now appealing to the state’s congressional delegation, asking that they insert language in legislation that would restore the funding.

“We had gone through this process with rural development and had letters accepting this approach — we really feel this is inappropriate to now deny the funds,” Stille said, adding: “This is why we created the WPCA. We were working with the federal agency in order to obtain this funding.”

The entire project is funded by a variety of state and federal sources, including a $850,000 Clean Water Fund grant administered by the DEP in 2006 that was used for its design.

Long-term federal loans are funding most of the project as it unfolds, and user fees will pay off the debt.

Bolton and Vernon will share the cost of the project, but Bolton has assumed a leading role because of its larger share of customers.

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