Naugatuck taking alternative approach to mandate


NAUGATUCK — The borough is moving forward with plans to meet a federal mandate to make upgrades at the wastewater treatment plant.

New environmental guidelines mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency state that municipalities with wastewater treatment facilities must make millions of dollars in upgrades to mitigate pollutants. The upgrades are designed to reduce mercury emissions from burning sludge in incinerators and the amount of phosphorous that is in discharged water in order to meet the guidelines.

In total, the borough is facing an estimated $80 million worth of upgrades to the treatment plant, which is run by Veolia Water North America but owned by the borough. Of that $80 million total, about $13 million of upgrades to improve air quality was supposed to be completed by the end of March.

In January, borough officials met with the EPA to present alternative plans for the upgrades at the wastewater treatment plant, which is located at 500 Cherry St.

“We told [the EPA] what we are going to do, we are in the process of doing it, and we are still in the process of working out an overall settlement agreement,” Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said earlier this month. “We can’t complete the settlement agreement until after certain time tables are met. I would say we are hopeful we will reach an agreement with them in early June to resolve the short-term issues, which will take us through the next six or seven years, which is the remaining time on our contract with Veolia,” Hess said.

The short-term plan includes testing sludge for mercury on a quarterly basis beginning in April, the completion and submission to the EPA of a site specific monitoring plan, and upgrades to the air pollution control equipment.

Hess said the borough will begin work on the air pollution control equipment once the parameters are identified and finalized by EPA. He said the borough is also exploring options for upgrades to the incinerator, which will cost less than the $13 million that was originally thought to meet the federal mandate.

“We are reviewing technology with EPA and we are proceeding with it,” Hess said. “It will be a plan that will get us into compliance, work, be satisfactory to EPA, and will be a good plan. Right now we are giving them our view of how we can solve the problems in the short term and they are reviewing our technology and making a decision as to whether that is appropriate.”

Hess said he expects the incinerator upgrades to cost $3 million.

Regardless of how the borough moves forward with the upgrades, it doesn’t have a choice but to move forward, Hess said.

“We will be under an order from the federal government, state government, or both to implement this plan, which means it will not go to a referendum. It will be bonded and paid for without a referendum. This is a federal mandate and it’s not up to us whether or not we want to comply. We have to comply and we will comply,” Hess said.

In addition to the short-term plan, the borough also presented the EPA with a long-term proposal that would cover the treatment plant for the next three decades.

“This is where you get into all the green things, possibly ways to eliminate the incinerator, which would lead to longer term better air quality, ways to prevent wastewater going into the river, which would improve phosphorus,” Hess said.

Borough officials are meeting with representatives from various companies Tuesday at the treatment plant to tour the facility and discuss long-term concepts.

“We will make a presentation, we will have a question and answer period, and we will give them a tour of the plant. [The long-term plan is] basically a document where we are asking them to present us with their concepts of what they can do to resolve our long-term issues,” Hess said.

Earlier this year, state officials began talking about regionalizing the care and maintenance of wastewater treatment plants. Hess said this would not have an impact on the borough’s immediate plans.

“It does not change our short-term plan because any regionalization would take a long period of time to implement,” Hess said. “We are moving forward with our short-term plan as we speak. I instructed our consultants to go full speed ahead.”

Hess said the borough’s next step is to complete the details and exact specifications of the short-term compliance plan, which would include the exact specifications of the equipment the borough will purchase and install to reduce emissions.

“Then we have to get EPA to agree. Then we have to order it and install it,” Hess said. “We expect all of those things will be done in an approximate 18-month period.”