Protect the Partrick Wetlands
and our Community

Wastewater Facilities Plan May Get Another Look
ARS Extension does not meet plan

By Kirk Lang
Printed in the Westport News

A plan to implement sewers at the former F.D. Rich site on Newtown Turnpike could complicate funding for the upgrade and expansion of Westport's wastewater treatment plant, according to a letter to First Selectwoman Diane Farrell earlier in the month from Yvonne Bolton, acting chief of the Department of Environmental Protection's Bureau of Water Management.

The sewer project is a proposed extension from Norwalk to Westport aimed at serving the 22 single-family homes planned for the site. That project has been submitted to the Planning and Zoning Commission by ARS Partners and is likely to be reviewed next month.

Westport officials submitted a wastewater facilities plan in 2002 as the basis for a future upgrade and expansion of its treatment plant, and the plan, which was approved by the DEP, did not list the area of the former F.D. Rich as a future area for sewers.

Bolton's letter stated that a strategic component of the facilities plan is a map that determines where sewers are acceptable and where sewers are not acceptable. She added, "We have not found an exception for the Partrick wetlands area in the approved facilities plan nor does the sewer service area map indicate this area to be within the sewer service area."

ARS Partners' attorney Larry Weisman notes that the development's sewer is not going to connect to Westport's treatment facility. The sewer will be attached to Norwalk's sewer system.

Public Works Director Steve Edwards said, "The Westport facilities plan identifies what the future sewer needs are for Westport so you can size the new Westport treatment plant appropriately. We did not anticipate it [the effluent from the ARS property] to go to the Westport treatment plant so it's not indicated in the facilities plan."

However, Betsey Wingfield, acting director of the Planning and Standards Division of the DEP's Bureau of Water Management, said, in a phone interview with the Westport News, it does not matter if the proposed ARS development will be serviced by a sewer that connects to another town's treatment facility.

"The Town of Westport is responsible for what happens in its borders, and the sewer service map for communities should show all sewer service areas, regardless of where the sewage goes," she said, "And that's the issue we want to discuss with Westport."

According to Bolton's letter, Westport's project is currently scheduled to be heard by the state's Bonding Commission at its Oct. 29 meeting. She has asked for an opportunity to discuss the issues prior to that meeting.

Matthew Mandell, director of the Partrick Wetlands Preservation Fund, a group opposed to 22 houses being sited on the former F.D. Rich property, issued a press release last week stating ARS' proposed sewer extension could jeopardize pending state grants and loans to Westport, of approximately $10 million, for the upgrade of its treatment facility, which is estimated to cost $37.7 million.

Weisman, however, said he does not believe his clients should be blamed for construction financing that may be at risk. If the town is required to include in its facilities plan a sewer that does not burden Westport's treatment plant, then the town should take a look at amending its facilities plan.

Weisman added that the Stearns and Wheeler report, which designated areas the new treatment facility could handle if everyone within the "blue line" hooked up to the sewer, and excluded other areas of town from sewer hook-up, discriminates against people, especially if someone outside the area requested sewer hook-up and was denied because the town said "we're holding this capacity for someone else."

In 2002, the town contracted Stearns and Wheeler to complete a report on a wastewater facility for the town.

"It strikes me as discriminatory," said Weisman, adding, "There's a lot of issues that have to be examined. The DEP has contradictory information from the town which puts the funding into question as far as they're concerned. The town needs to take some steps to rectify that."

Mandell and fellow Partrick Wetlands Preservation Fund member Sean Timmins claim members of Westport's Water Pollution Control Authority (WPCA), which, in Westport, is the Board of Selectmen, were given the wrong criteria to make their decision before they approved the sewer for the ARS project.

"[Town Attorney] Ira Bloom said they were limited in their ability to deny it," said Timmins. Mandell added they were told they had no jurisdiction to say "no" since the effluent was going to Norwalk.

"The DEP is saying this analysis is incorrect," said Mandell, citing the letter from Bolton.

Bloom did not rebut Timmins and Mandell's comments but told the Westport News the DEP letter is being reviewed by town officials. In it, Bolton said, "Pursuant to Section 7-246(b) of the Connecticut General Statutes (CGS), WPCAs have the authority to establish areas of sanitary sewer service. This includes both publicly and privately financed sewers. It is the [DEP's] position that the facilities plan, including the sewer service area map, is the water pollution control plan for the Town of Westport referenced in this statute.

In her letter, Bolton asked: In considering the extension of sewers to the Partrick wetlands, to be consistent with the approved sewer service area, does the town plan to modify its sewer service area map? How would the town justify the change as it relates to the State Conservation and Development Policies Plan and [Westport's] Town Plan of Conservation and Development? How is the plan to sewer the Partrick wetlands (former F.D. Rich property) consistent with Sec. 7-246(b) of the CGS?

While Weisman believes the facilities plan can be amended to include the proposed sewer for the ARS property, Mandell thinks it's not that simple, adding that Westport's 1997 Town Plan of Conservation and Development does not recommend sewers for the area.

The town plan is a guide for the P&Z Commission. P&Z Director Kathy Barnard said Tuesday that the sewer plan in the 1997 guide does not extend to the Partrick Road/ARS property.

The Partrick Wetlands Preservation Fund has reported that it wants ARS Partners to put an on-site community waste system in place, which would make the sewer issue moot. However, Weisman claimed that neighbors concerned about well water contamination would likely be better off with ARS being served by sewers. He said if an on-site system, where the waste sits underground until it is carted away, ever had a problem, it could be more harmful to abutting property owners.