Future Planning, Money Drive Berlin’s Sewer Capacity Request

BERLIN – Growth planning and money matters make it necessary for Berlin to ask for more wastewater capacity, according to town officials, despite the Worcester County Commissioners’ vote to restrict the town’s wastewater capacity late last month.

“I don’t want to go back two years from now and upgrade again. That’s what scares me,” Berlin Mayor Tom Cardinale said. “We need to plan 10 to 20 years down the road, not two or three.”

Berlin Councilwoman Paula Lynch told the County Commissioners earlier this month that the expansion would barely cover the infill lots in town.

“It’s better to ask for it now instead of having to come back later and ask. Our chances of getting it now is better than asking later,” Councilman Elroy Brittingham said. “We might not need it later but if we do need it, it’s there.”

The volatile housing market may be down now, but when it becomes stronger, Berlin could be caught without the necessary capacity, he felt.

“It’s looking ahead, planning ahead, for the future, rather than waiting till it happens to rush it through,” Brittingham said.

Berlin would need a strong allocation policy, Cardinale said, governing how many EDUs could be activated in a year.

“We’ve got to decide the numbers. How fast do we want Berlin to grow? Is it 50 units a year? Is it 100 units a year?” Cardinale asked. “I don’t want Berlin to grow too fast, but there’s a lot in the pipeline.”

Large developments like the Davis-Taylor Farm project and Berlin Properties North’s (BPN) Purnell Crossing, which is planned for the former Tyson poultry plant, are already in the works.

BPN’s projects alone are enough to use up 10 years of EDUs, the mayor said.

“Those are the things we have to consider. It’s hard to make a call right now,” Cardinale said.

The town could save money by a further expansion sooner.           

“We want to make sure the costs are no higher than they have to be,” said Council Vice President Gee Williams. “We should always be trying to minimize financial risk to the town.”

The shorter timeline, five years versus 10, imposed by the County Commissioners poses difficulties that increase the expense of the work, Williams said.

“I haven’t seen any firm figures on additional costs but whatever it is, is certainly going to be significant,” said Williams.

The additional capacity will bring in additional income to cover the costs of the expansion. Current ratepayers will cover the improvements to the existing wastewater treatment plant.

“You’ve got to do more in less time. The factor that changes is money,” said Williams.

Cardinale does not want that extra financial burden falling on taxpayers. The town’s position is that new wastewater customers should pay for sewer expansion.

The need for spray irrigation land ups the cost and difficulty considerably.

“The trick is to get land that’s suitable for spray irrigation and as close as possible to the infrastructure. This is not going to be easy and it’s not going to be cheap,” Cardinale said.

Town officials have not formally asked for the increase from the .75 million gallons of effluent per day (mgd) approved in December to the 1 mgd they feel they need.

“Nobody with the County Commissioners, nobody has agreed to give us more than .75 right now,” Cardinale said.

Williams hopes the county will be amenable to the town’s need for an increase in wastewater capacity.

“They’re not in the business of trying to make things harder for citizens. They’re in the business of trying to make things right,” he said.

But the county may not be receptive to the expansion request.

 “We already voted on that. I don’t believe my mind has changed. I don’t believe it will change,” said Commissioner Linda Busick. “We’ve given them enough capacity. When they find land for spray irrigation, they can come back and say we can handle more capacity.”

During the Jan. 15 commissioner meeting, when Berlin’s intention was revealed, Commissioner Louise Gulyas questioned whether the commissioners had made a mistake in restricting the expansion, but has since come to a different conclusion.

“If we made a mistake then we have to live with it because we already had the public hearing,” Gulyas said this week. “I think they should move forward and stop asking for more.”

Busick stands by her vote.

“I felt we did the right thing and they have not convinced me otherwise,” said Busick.

Commissioner Bud Church said he would not make a decision until hearing the town’s presentation.

“I need to hear more about the problem and why it is they want to come back,” Church said. “I’m anxious to hear what they have to say. It is in my district.”

Town officials and staff have assured the commissioners that the reduced timeline could be met.

“They agreed the day of the public hearing they could do this. Prove to me that you can,” Gulyas said