NAUGATUCK — The incinerator at the borough’s wastewater treatment plant has been shut down as officials work to complete mandated improvements.
The Environmental Protection Agency gave communities until March 22 to make upgrades intended to reduce the amount of phosphorous and other pollutants, such as mercury, they emit.
The deadline has come and gone and the incinerator, which treats waste material and converts it into gases, particles and heat, was recently shut down.
The borough has to make upgrades estimated at $86 million to its plant off Cherry Street Extension to be compliant. Thus far, it has only put about $2.1 million into the process, mostly for planning.
Earlier this year, borough officials presented alternative plans, which could cost less than the original estimates for the work, to the EPA.
Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said the borough is moving forward with those plans. He said the borough is in discussions with the EPA and has both a short-term plan to bring Naugatuck into compliance over the next 16 months, and a long-term plan for the next 30 years.
“We had extensive meetings today with our engineers and we are moving full speed ahead to complete the short-term upgrades to the incinerator. We are also proceeding with our long-term plans for an overall upgrade of air and water requirements at the treatment plant,” Hess said on Tuesday.
Naugatuck could stand to lose money from the plant being shut down because the private company that operates the plant in a partnership with Naugatuck, Veolia Water North America, makes millions from treating sludge from other communities and private contracts. Some of that money is shared with the borough through a complicated profit-sharing agreement, which states the amount Veolia must share with Naugatuck is contingent upon how much it makes from treating sludge.
Also, Naugatuck must now temporarily truck its sludge somewhere else to be treated, though that cost is small compared to how much it stands to lose in profit from Veolia. Employees are still working at the plant on upgrades but are not treating waste until the issue with EPA is resolved.
“We have reached a potential agreement with EPA as to what needs to be done to be compliant, and we are working with EPA to obtain an interim settlement agreement to allow us to operate during the time in which we are out of compliance,” Hess said.
EPA spokesman David Deegan could not be reached for comment as of press time.
Veolia North America’s Vice President of Communications Karole Colangelo said in an email that the company is working with the borough.
“Regarding the operation of the Naugatuck incinerator, Veolia continues to support the Borough of Naugatuck in their efforts and discussions with the EPA — so a solution to incinerator operation is reached as soon as possible,” Colangelo said.
Naugatuck’s share of the cost for the upgrades would be offset by an estimated $10.7 million from Middlebury, which uses Naugatuck’s facility, and an amount to be determined from Oxford, which also taps into the system.
Naugatuck must also make upgrades to its incinerator for $5 million, repairs to its siphon system for $5 million and miscellaneous upgrades to its entire plant to meet new federal standards at a cost of about $15 million, Department of Public Works Director Jim Stewart said.
About $4 million would go toward sewer rehabilitation, he said. There are additional fees of $1.3 million for a facilities plan and $6 million for a design plan, he said. The borough would have to set aside $19 million for contingency.
Two years ago, the borough put a referendum question on the election ballot that called for $12 million to conduct a study of the project, incinerator upgrades and pollution abatement projects, and installation of a filter to remove mercury from the incinerator output. That failed 3,394 to 4,039.
Last year, Naugatuck officials voted to bond $2.1 million to study the upgrade process, which started the process of upgrading the plant but was not enough to satisfy the EPA.
Part of the argument over the years between Veolia and the borough has been centered around who is responsible for the upgrades.
The issue is further complicated by the fact that Naugatuck and Veolia are embroiled in complex litigation at Waterbury Superior Court over profit-sharing.
Hess said the two sides are talking about ways to resolve that issue and that he is working with Chemtura, the owners of the old Uniroyal Chemical property near the treatment plant, to potentially bring a fuel cell project to the site as a means to reduce Veolia’s electricity bill and allow it to bring natural gas to the treatment plant, which would save the company significant money.
Hess is optimistic that the borough and Veolia will reach an agreement fairly quickly.
“I am hopeful that we can reach a global settlement of all issues within 90 days,” Hess said.
Luke Marshall contributed to this article.