Mandate requires costly improvements


Naugatuck's wastewater treatment facility. The borough must spend about $55 million over the next five years to make upgrades required by federal and state regulators. -RA ARCHIVE
Naugatuck’s wastewater treatment facility. The borough must spend about $55 million over the next five years to make upgrades required by federal and state regulators. -RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — The borough will spend more than $55 million over the next five years to make improvements to its sewage treatment facility.

Not only do many local officials believe the upgrades are too costly and not fair since they are the result of unfunded state and federal mandates, they also do not know how to pay for them.

The cost of Naugatuck’s portion of the upgrades is just about half of what it costs to run the town and school system for a year: Naugatuck’s annual budget is $111 million.

There is no feasible way for the borough to pay for the upgrades through its operating budget, even if Naugatuck splits up the payments over the next five years.

The money will likely have to be bonded and paid back with interest.

“We could build a school with this type of money,” said Diane Scinto, Board of Finance chairwoman. “I am just beside myself over this. My problem is even if we make these upgrades, we don’t know that five years from now they won’t hit us with more mandated upgrades.”

A majority of the money Naugatuck must set aside, $30 million, is for phosphorous removal. The federal government is making wastewater treatment facilities reduce the amount of phosphorus they emit within the next five years.

Phosphorous discharges from wastewater treatment facilities must now be comparable to drinking water.

While Naugatuck’s share is about $55 million, the project is actually far more expensive.

All told, it would actually cost about $86 million; Naugatuck’s share 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.

Phosphorous is found in fertilizer, some laundry detergents and in dishwashing detergents. Too much phosphorous can trigger algae blooms, reducing the clarity of water.

In extreme cases, this can lead to depletion of oxygen and fish kills, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Nutrient enrichment from nitrogen and phosphorous is one of the most pressing water quality issues in the nation, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which has mandated that all New England states establish phosphorous limits for wastewater treatment discharge permits.

If municipalities do not get a discharge permit, they have to shut down their wastewater treatment facilities.

Mayor Robert Mezzo said he’s an advocate of improving the environment, but is outraged by the costly mandates.

“I don’t think there is a person in Naugatuck who doesn’t want to see the environment or the river improve,” he said. “But we’re talking about an outrageous cost that almost doesn’t seem feasible.”

He said Naugatuck is trying to determine whether the Water Pollution Control Authority can bond money for such projects. He said the borough has had several discussions with the DEEP about the mandates.

State officials say the mandates come from the EPA, and their hands are tied.

Naugatuck has talked about getting an extension to pay back the money, but Mezzo said that just delays the inevitable, and probably makes the project more expensive in the long run.

On top of the $30 million price for phosphorous removal, Naugatuck must 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, Naugatuck Department of Public Works Director Jim Stewart said.

Another $4 million would go toward sewer rehabilitation, he said.

On top of that, there are additional fees of $1.3 million for a facilities plan and $6 million for a design plan, he said. And, the borough would have to set aside $19 million for contingency.

“There is no getting around this,” Stewart warned borough officials. “This is something we have to do.”