Pomfret water district a reality after years of stalemates


OBSERVER Staff Writer

After a long wait and several setbacks, the town of Pomfret’s north end water district is physically becoming a reality.

The town took delivery of service line in December and its engineering firm Wendel Companies began putting the pipes into the ground.

Longtime Councilperson Patricia Christina said, “Nearly five years from beginning to finally putting pipes in the ground – it was a struggle, but the town board and highway superintendent knew the struggle was worth providing clean water to our residents as well as providing possible economic development.”

The town was awarded a $10,000 grant to complete a water supply study in 2007. The purpose of the study was to investigate portions of the town in which a supply district would be feasible and investigate water quality in the potential service area. It also included developing a hydraulic model for a proposed system and cost estimates.

The project began after the report was published in 2008 detailing water problems in the area with many residents with inconsistent and poor quality service from private wells. It was determined village of Fredonia water treatment plant could be a viable water supply to the town once infrastructure was put in place, and negotiations between the town and village began.

Getting the project off the ground meant each side needed to accept financial responsibilities for different steps in the project which took years to negotiate.

In June 2010, the village passed a resolution of intent to sell water to the town. Village Attorney Sam Drayo drafted 22 points of concern in the contract, which was sent to the town early in the fall of that year. One of the conditions was the town would pay for the cost of an engineering study.

Other points of contention were keys to the negotiations, including responsibility for water infrastructure in the Laona water district and rights by the village to review any new commercial business customers which might put heavy use on the village reservoir.

Financial obligations were the strongest sticking points. At a village board meeting in January 2011, Drayo said, “I wanted to just be sure that there is nothing that happen(s) in the town district that create(s) an expense to the village residents. That should be paid by the town.”

By February, the village was being asked to pay for the cost of the engineering study Drayo earlier asked the town to pay in the June 2010 draft. The study involved determining the size of supply lines the village would need to install for efficient water delivery among other details.

Then-town Councilman Rod Pennica said the study was too broadly based to be the sole responsibility of the town.

“I’m not sure everything on your task list are technically things that we can assign as legitimate expenses for the district,” Pennica said at the February meeting of the village board. “Just because you’re demanding it, there may be reviews that say it’s really not necessary for the district. … If you hand us a bill for $35,000 for all of the tasks and it’s reviewed and said something really isn’t necessary, then we can’t pay for it.”

In response, village Trustee Joseph Cerrie raised concern about raising water rates, which would ultimately be handed down to both village and town residents.

“My concern is … that we’re going to have another water rate increase, which I don’t want to see. So, I say no.”

Other village trustees concurred with Cerrie, but a compromise was reached regarding points in the Laona water district which satisfied both sides.

In March, however, a new problem arose, just as the two boards were ready to enter into an agreement. The Department of Environmental Conservation was unsatisfied with a 20-year water usage projection included in the prior study.

“Their concern is water flow rates, fire protection … things like that. If it was like any other district it should have been passed in March of 2010,” then-Councilperson Charles Civiletto stated.

By May, the town paid the village about $18,000 for its share for the engineering review. In June, may board members wanted to move forward, but it was estimated the review would take an additional 13 to 16 weeks to complete.

In early October 2011, good news came for the town. Rob Klavoon of Wendel Companies announced the study was completed and funding could be secured for a $1.3 million grant and a $3.3 million interest-free loan to cover the costs associated with the proposed phase one of the district.

However, not all of the news was good: the cost for the project was increased from $4.3 to $4.6 million due to an additional 3,000 linear feet of water line needed to be installed as a result of the study.

In 2012, the new year brought new issues to the table before the problems were resolved. By February, the engineering review by the village engineers answered a key question raised by the DEC: the village was determined to have an adequate supply of water to meet its own needs and supply phase one of the north end water district. That month, the village submitted a new draft proposal to the town, which quickly returned a counter proposal. At the end of February, village Mayor Stephen Keefe said he had no majors concerns with the counter proposal after reviewing it with Drayo.

In April, however, a new stand-off began between the town and village concerning old rates listed in numerous prior contract drafts.

Town Supervisor Donald Steger said, “I don’t understand why commercial customers are being charged three times the rate.”

Drayo explained the rates were always three times the village rate for commercial customers, and 1.7 times the village rate for residential customers. “The rate has always been three times the village rate for Pizza Hut, Patton’s and others,” Drayo said.

To end the new stalemate, Keefe put together an ad hoc committee at the end of April to address the concerns and a compromise agreement was reached. It once again appeared a contract was on the verge of being signed until a new glitch slowed the process. The state Department of Health and the funding corporation, EFC, took issue with some of the contract terms. Steger explained the problems the DOH and EFC had with the last draft were about language surrounding the terms under which the village could terminate the 30-year contract. Meanwhile, a representative from Wendel expressed concerns a deadline may be looming regarding the funding from EFC.

Wording in the draft contract was changed to address the concerns made by EFC and the DOH, and, after four long years, a formal agreement was finally signed in July in front of a crowd of town residents packed into the town hall. In August, EFC approved the $1.3 million grant and $3.3 million low-interest loan for the project and the process of requesting proposals for construction contracts began.

In October, as years of planning and stalemates and struggles began to take shape into action, Civiletto had praise for the current town board. “I want to thank the board for all their work. They asked (former councilpersons) questions, and they are working to take care of all the people.”

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