Berlin Consider Upping the Ante on Sewer Plant Expansion

BERLIN – Increasing the expansion of the Berlin wastewater system from three quarters of a million gallons per day (mgd) to 1 mgd would cost an additional $1.3 million, town officials learned this week.

Two weeks ago, the Berlin Town Council asked consultants from URS Corp. to come up with more numbers on the greater increase. Some elected officials have said they plan to go back to Worcester County to ask permission for the further expansion, after the Worcester County Commissioners limited the sewer expansion to .75 mgd.

This week, the council learned the .75 mgd expansion, up from .6 mgd, will cost $9.2 million. A 1 mgd plant expansion would cost $10.5 million, if pursued in the next few years. If Berlin waits until the .75 mgd expansion is complete, and builds the rest of the capacity in five years, the project will cost another $300,000, based on a 2.5 percent inflation rate.

“When you read these numbers it looks like a no brainer,” Berlin Mayor Tom Cardinale said.

Others agreed the town should move forward with the larger expansion. “It’s just good sense. We’re going to use that capacity at some point,” said Sue Beaman, Berlin resident. “Why are we going to pay twice?”

The informal discussion at Monday night’s town council meeting did not result in any decision on how, or whether, to proceed with asking for more capacity. Cardinale said county insiders have told him unofficially that Berlin must show that it has or can acquire the spray irrigation land to handle the permitted expansion, a requirement imposed on the town by the county commissioners in December when they restricted the town’s wastewater treatment plant expansion to .75 mgd.

“We got to show them we can handle it,” said Cardinale.

The town needs credible information on the cost of additional spray land for the additional capacity, Council vice president Gee Williams said. A realistic rate of inflation must be factored in. The 2.5 percent inflation rate cited by the URS Corp. is too low, he felt.

Infrastructure and other expenses might offset the savings on the additional capacity if pursued in the near future, Williams feared.

Berlin also needs to know how many new customers it will accept each year, Williams said, but that number is hard to come by.

“We are working on all that,” said town administrator Linda Bambary. She added, “The land will be the biggest guess.”

How much spray land the town needs will depend on the soils. Costs will also change based on the location of the spray site. Berlin can use only 20 percent of its current spray irrigation land to dispose of treated effluent.

“We purchased 1,000 acres nine miles out to spray 200 acres,” Bambary said.

Finding land suitable for spray irrigation has created the biggest challenge. “The land is the toughest thing,” said Council member Elroy Brittingham. Neighbors “just don’t want that type of water.”

More spray land should be the responsibility of the developers whose projects will need the effluent disposal capacity, said resident Marge Coyman.

“I don’t want to pay for somebody else’s profits,” said Coyman.

However, the mayor assured her the current ratepayers won’t be saddled with new growth. “I don’t see our citizens paying for development the direction we’re going now,” said Cardinale.

The Berlin town council would never agree to subsidize growth, Williams said.

Developers should proffer some solution, said Joe Hill, a resident and member of the Berlin Planning Commission, like a golf course for spray irrigation. The Bay Club golf course has been looked into, but is on the back burner, said Cardinale. That area is not intended for sewer service for some time, according to the town’s sewer service plan.

“You should pay for what you get,” said local developer Ron Cascio.

Coyman objected to the further expansion to 1 mgd. “Our own consultant thinks it’s better to do it slow especially if you look right how to the housing market,” Coyman said.

The council has not come to any consensus on the future size of the town, Coyman said, which will govern how much growth is allowed.

“Maybe you’re planning for a town bigger than residents want. We haven’t really done that part of the picture,” she said.

Berlin needs to grow “modestly and deliberately,” Williams said.

The town council does not want to commit to a hook-up schedule that will depend on continuing growth to meet financial obligations, he said.

The town needs numbers it does not have at the moment to begin making that plan. Berlin is not even clear on the current wastewater commitments for existing town lots, Williams said.

“We can’t even get a count on how many people are paying a ready-to- serve fee,” said council member Ellen Lang.

“You send them a bill every month,” Cascio pointed out.

The town might take a new approach to financing the expansion, perhaps through setting different hook-ups fees depending on the type of property involved, Williams said, but that is a departure from standard practice that the industry has not pursued before.