By Rob Glidden
Southington officials said they are on the verge of a deal with environmental agencies to address phosphorous in the town’s wastewater to an extent that won’t bring about the massive costs they have feared at Monday’s Town Council meeting.
“We don’t have a formal agreement in place, but we remain optimistic that this will end in a positive way,” said Town Councilor Louis Martocchio, chairman of the Sewer Committee. “Six months ago, I didn’t think this would ever happen.”
Concern about this phosphorous issue have been persistent since 2009, when officials learned of the mandate, conceived by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) but administered in Connecticut by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP). In response to a previous mandate involving nitrogen, the town spent over $14 million construction a denitrification plant. Depending on the standards enforced by the EPA, the phosphorous treatment had the potential to be even more expensive.
In the early stages of addressing this, the council discussed the matter without knowing for sure what standards would be required. At the time, it was speculated that for about $50,000, the denitrification plant could be modified to treat phosphorous in addition to nitrogen. This would bring the phosphorous levels down to .7 milligrams per liter. However, the EPA is pushing for a stricter standard of .2 milligrams per liter.
The difference between .7 and .2 is substantial, and officials have previously said that a new building would be needed to meet this particular standard. Town Manager Garry Brumback said this outcome would cost the town $20-30 million in capital costs and about $500,000 each year afterward to maintain it.
Based on Brumback’s recommendations, the council voted earlier this year to allow Southington to enter into a coalition with other area towns and hire the services of a lobbyist to help with the ongoing efforts to reduce the impact of an environmental mandate concerning phosphorous in the Quinnipiac River.
The effort appears to have made some strides in the town’s favor, since Martocchio reported that the potential deal on the table would allow the town to go forward with the cheaper .7 standard. The DEEP would issue Southington a permit that would be in effect for five years, and during this time the environmental agencies will research the phosphorous issue further to come to a conclusion on the final standard.
“The Town Manager deserves credit for coordination with other communities and that’s been very positive,” said Town Councilor John Barry. “However, it may be just prolonging the situation. In the end, we might still have to meet that standard.”
Martocchio said he did not think the agencies would ultimately choose the .2 standard, but acknowledged that it may be less than .7. Whatever the choice is after the five years, the town will have four years to make the necessary changes to adapt to it, according to the proposed agreement.