County Planners Sign Off On Berlin’s New Spray Site

BERLIN – The next step in establishing a new spray irrigation site for Berlin’s expanded wastewater treatment plant has been achieved, after the Worcester County Planning Commission gave the project a favorable recommendation last week.

Berlin’s second spray irrigation site in Newark is compatible with the Worcester County Comprehensive Plan, the Planning Commission has concluded.

Two years ago, the Worcester County Commissioners granted the town of Berlin permission to expand its wastewater treatment plant capacity with the proviso that additional effluent must be disposed of through land application, not by water.

“We were delighted when the County Commissioners made this a common goal,” said Berlin Mayor Gee Williams. “We never ever again want to be in a position to discharge into the coastal bays.” 

Berlin already had the only large-scale land application site in the county prior to securing this new site in Newark.

 Williams said the town has not sought shortcuts in the plant expansion or new spray irrigation site process.

“We want to do the right thing the right way,” said Williams.

The town, he said, considered numerous sites for the additional land disposal before settling on the Newark site.

“The site we ultimately purchased just outside Newark was by far recommended by the state as having the best soil structure for spray irrigation than any number of sites we looked at over years,” Williams said.

The Berlin wastewater treatment plant will be expanded and the treatment standards improved.

The new Worcester County zoning code includes spray irrigation as a principal permitted use in both the A-1 agriculture and resource protection district, which the Newark site falls under, instead of a special exception, said Joe Moore, attorney for Berlin.

The treated effluent applied at the Newark site will significantly exceed state standards, Berlin Water and Wastewater Director Jane Kreiter told the planning commission.

“The comprehensive plan is very proactive for land application…I think this site is definitely appropriate,” said land planner Bob Hand, testifying on behalf of the town of Berlin.

Several people in the audience at the planning commission meeting appeared to be neighbors of the site, who are concerned at the effects of spray irrigation in their neighborhood.

Planning Commission Chair Jimmy Bunting allowed the Berlin team to answer an impromptu question from one audience member on how many sites were looked at, although he did caution audience members that anyone interrupting the meeting would be asked to leave.

In the past five or six years, the town has made numerous “windshield” surveys of local lands looking for spray irrigation sites, Kreiter said. In three areas, the town conducted tests but found that soils on many sites were not worth further tests. She estimated that the town looked more closely at six to 12 sites, including some outside of Worcester County.

Nearly two-thirds of the soils in Worcester County are too wet for spray irrigation, Moore pointed out.

“This property is unusually susceptible for land application,” Moore said.

Some of the soils on Berlin’s Newark site are “excessively” well drained, while others are “somewhat excessively well drained,” and the remainder well drained, Moore said.

Neighbors of the site and other concerned citizens will have a chance to express their views before the Worcester County Commissioners, who must approve an amendment to the county Water and Sewer Plan before the state will grant a discharge permit for the new Berlin spray irrigation site. The commissioners will hold a public hearing on the change.

The planning commission did not review a letter from concerned neighbors before making a determination of whether the Berlin spray irrigation project was compatible with the Comprehensive Plan.

“I would say not only is it compatible with the Comprehensive Plan but indeed much of the Comprehensive Plan has been written with the town of Berlin’s spray irrigation in mind,” said Planning Commission member Brooks Clayville. “I don’t see how we can find it any other way but compatible.”

People just don’t want the site in their backyard, Clayville said, which is understandable.

The planning commission voted unanimously to make a favorable recommendation.

The Berlin Mayor and Council, in its meeting this week, approved the award of design services for the spray irrigation project to URS Corp. at a cost of $356,000. The total spray irrigation project will cost at least $6 million.