Town Plant Negotiations Continue At Slow Pace

BERLIN – Berlin Mayor Tom Cardinale and developer Troy Purnell had hoped to sign a memorandum on the construction of the new wastewater plant at the Crossroads development this week, but the final draft of the document was not complete by yesterday afternoon.

Although the memorandum of understanding was not on the agenda of Monday night’s Berlin Town Council meeting, it was one of the first items discussed.

“I would like to emphasize this is not a contract,” said Berlin Utilities Commission Chair Rick Baldwin. “This is a memorandum to express where we are and how we wish to go forward.”

Baldwin called the memorandum a steering document. A formal contract will follow an annexation agreement. The former Tyson Plant property on Route 346 where Crossroads is to be built lies outside the town limits but right on the border.

“If the annexation agreement falls on its face, this isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on,” Cardinale said. He added later, “We’re not executing something that’s locking the town into anything.”

The memorandum records the intent of Berlin Properties North (BPN) and Purnell to build a wastewater plant on the Tyson property, which will become part of a two-plant system including the existing Berlin wastewater treatment plant. The document also records BPN’s agreement to hand the finished plant over to Berlin at no cost.

The new plant could process up to 600,000 gallons of sewage per day (gpd). The Crossroads project will need 150,000 gpd of treatment for 300 homes and 100,000 square feet of commercial and retail space.

The developer will only be responsible for the costs of the development’s sewer needs, while the town will cover the cost of the remainder of the capacity, an amount unknown at this time, meant to serve the rest of the town.

The existing plant will be down-rated to handle only 400,000 gpd, the amount that Berlin’s spray irrigation fields can handle.

The development will fill other town utility needs. “We already know we need a new water tower. We’re working towards that,” said Baldwin.

Purnell has also agreed to build a 150,000-gallon elevated water tower on site, which was added to the document after the meeting. Other additions to the memorandum of understanding made by Baldwin after Monday’s meeting include BPN’s responsibility for a pro rate share of change orders.          Baldwin expressed some concern that the wrangling over the memorandum might put the town in a bad light when it goes before the county for approvals. During a meeting with the county two years ago, Baldwin said Berlin and BPN did not see eye to eye.

Cardinale recalled being told by the county at that time that if the town and the developer did not work out their differences, the county would work them out.

“Not having closed ranks and a solid front going forward with this will be extremely challenging,” Baldwin said.

The BUC chair also criticized the way the memorandum process had been handled.

“Floundering around is not something I’m volunteering my time to do,” Baldwin said.

“Somebody’s dragging their feet, there’s no doubt in my mind,” said Berlin Town Councilmember Paula Lynch.

Among elected officials, there seemed to be some confusion over whether the document was ready or not.

“We were told there was still additional input to come,” Council member Gee Williams said.

The project faces several hurdles still, with the annexation agreement to be worked out, and the question of financing the public-private partnership still hanging in the air.

“That could blow the whole thing up,” Lynch said.