DURHAM — The Durham-Middletown water project is moving forward after a year of revision.
The Middletown Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously Wednesday in favor of a revised proposal to build a water main, water tank, pump station and meter vault to bring clean water to 55 properties in Durham that have been contaminated for decades.
“Sometimes our duties are mundane and routine,” First Selectman Laura Francis said to the commission, “however there are times when we are fortunate to have the opportunity to make a transformative and highly impactful decision.”
She added that the project would be “life changing” to several hundred Durham residents. Affected properties have relied on well filtration and bottled water historically.
The project now goes to Middletown’s Water Pollution Control Authority and then onto the Common Council. If the Common Council authorizes Middletown Mayor Dan Drew to enter into the water purchase agreement, the plan goes to Durham’s Board of Selectmen for approval.
The Environmental Protection Agency expects to go out to bid on construction by the end of February, said Edward Hathaway, of the EPA New England Region and project manager for Durham Meadows Superfund site.
Construction is estimated to take two years to complete, and water could start flowing in 2020.
The plan is to install a water tank on Cherry Hill, near Talcott Ridge Road. According to Hathaway’s presentation, the water main will run down Route 17 into downtown Durham and connect to the existing water main at the Durham center booster station.
Middletown and Durham entered into a memorandum of understanding in June 2012, Hathaway said, where Middletown would allow construction of the water main to supply the water and Durham would purchase the water, an agreement that allowed design to begin.
Although most of the public outreach was in Durham, in 2013 describing the project with an invitation to a June meeting was mailed to all the addresses on Talcott Ridge Drive and Watch Hill Drive.
In 2016, the EPA sent letters with more information to about 180 property owners, including 11 on Talcott Ridge Drive and Watch Hill Drive, which was the first targeted outreach to neighborhood residents.
The commission ruled unfavorably on the project in January 2017, after several residents complained about the lack of community outreach on the tank location and height.
From then on, the EPA hosted informational meetings with residents throughout the year. A list of concerns was developed and shared with city leaders.
The new design lowers the height of the water tank by six feet, making in less visible above the tree line. They also added a new water booster pump station, scrapping the plan for individual pumps on residences, and a new flow meter vault at the town border located in Middletown.
The water tank remained a sticking point with Middletown residents. At Wednesday’s public hearing, several residents of Talcott Ridge Road and nearby Round Hill Road voiced their opposition to the water tank location in their neighborhood, saying they have lingering concerns about water pressure, property values and the potential to install a cell phone tower on the water tank in the future.
They also raised concerns about the operation and maintenance costs, which they believed would fall solely on Middletown. However, Francis said Durham would share the costs. What the cost will be is undetermined and will be worked out in the water purchase agreement, she said.
Joe Fazzino, Middletown Water and Sewer Department chief engineer and acting director, said through the additional meetings with residents, the city addressed their concerns to the best of its ability.
“Even with the current changes, the project will not satisfy everyone,” Fazzino said. “We will however abide by our commitment to assist our neighbors in Durham.”