Springfield Republican newspaper

Officials criticize new sewer data
Tuesday, March 29, 2005


City Council critics of the city's plan to hire a private company to design, upgrade and run the municipal sewer plant for the next 20 years slammed economic data provided by consultants on the project last night.

Despite sharp questions and comments, the Finance Committee voted 3-2 to approve an additional $6 million in borrowing to upgrade the wastewater treatment plant. Months ago, the council approved borrowing $17.9 million at 2 percent from the State Revolving Fund.

During a discussion of a proposed sewer rate hike, Ward 3 Councilor Helen F. Norris described as "unconscionable" the lack of maintenance and improvements at the city's wastewater treatment plant over recent years. Those upgrades are a major part of the proposed $100 million-plus contract.

Norris and other councilors also criticized lumping together a planned $18 million Combined Sewer Overflow project - to reduce sewage overflows into the Connecticut River during peak storms - with treatment plant upgrades.

Consultants hired by the city have projected rate-payers would save at least 5.6 percent, or up to $7 million to $10 million over 20 years, if Aquarion Water Services Company of Bridgeport is hired.

But Norris and Ward 6 Councilor Mark A. Lubold cited numerous areas where city expenses, to monitor the company's performance and provide engineering analysis, for instance, would erode or eliminate any savings.

They also rapped Public Works Superintendent William D. Fuqua for planning a system-wide TV monitor survey of century-old sewer pipes throughout the city only after the contract is signed, not beforehand.

"It is just abominable to me that you folks would come in here with incomplete data," Norris said. "People are outraged."

At-large Councilor Kevin A. Jourdain also criticized as excessive the Board of Public Work's proposed sewer rate hike for the 12 months beginning this July from the current $1.95 to $2.40 per 1,000 gallons of water consumed.

Fuqua and analyst Alan Cohen defended the proposed rate as needed to pay off capital projects, pay for additional work on the sewer system and provide adequate cash reserves.

Jourdain said it was excessive and vowed to oppose fees that raised "one dime more" than needed to do the minimum work needed.

Not everyone was critical, however.

Council President Joseph M. McGiverin defended the contract and the consultant projections.

He said councilors have enough time to analyze the contract, but said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's recent compliance order to the city must be taken seriously.

He said he believed consultant projections that rate-payers would save money, whether it was $7 million or $3 million. And he said the city could end the contract at any time.

But At-large Councilor Elaine A. Pluta said the proposed $2.40 rate, down from an earlier first-year rate of $3.55, was "a smoke screen" to get the council to fund the contract through rates.

"Then they are going to sock it to us," she added. "They're low-balling, so don't be fooled by it."

Voting "yes" on the $6 million borrowing were At-large Councilors Raymond H. Feyre and James M. Leahy, and Ward 5 Councilor John P. Brunelle. Voting "no" were At-large Councilors Kevin A. Jourdain and John E. Whelihan.

By the same margin, the committee voted to table, not reject, the BPW's three-year, three-tiered sewer rate hike. Fuqua said the Law Department had ruled city ordinances prevent a multi-rate proposal to be approved.

The full council could take up both proposals on April 5.