WALLINGFORD — Work to bring the town’s wastewater treatment plant into compliance with new phosphorus discharge rules is estimated to cost $47 million.
Wallingford is one of several municipalities undertaking upgrades to meet stricter discharge limits enacted by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. The town is also considering additional overall improvements to the plant, which discharges water into the Quinnipiac River.
Phosphorus is naturally present in human waste but is also added to drinking water as an anti-corrosive for pipes to eliminate lead contamination. Phosphorus is considered an environmental hazard because it causes algae bloom, which depletes oxygen in water bodies and poses a threat to wildlife.
The town is eligible to receive just under $20 million in state and federal grant funding for the work. The rest of the cost would be paid for primarily through water and sewer rate increases. The town would also be eligible for low-interest state loans.
Representatives from AECOM, an engineering firm, presented project details to town officials last week during a meeting of the Public Utilities Commission.
The first phase would address phosphorus treatment upgrades. The second phase includes other improvements to the plant, which hasn’t been overhauled in 28 years.
In order to be eligible for the maximum amount of the grant funding, the town must enter a construction contract prior to July 1, 2019. If the deadline is met, municipalities receive 50 percent funding for certain components of the phosphorus removal project. If the deadline isn’t met, only 30 percent of costs will be covered.
Meeting the deadline will be a challenge, officials said.
“This is a sprint for 26 miles,” said Neil Amwake, general manager of the town’s water and sewer divisions.
The first phase of the plan was submitted to DEEP for approval this month. If it’s approved, the Public Utilities Commission will seek a bid waiver to enter into a contract with AECOM to design the project. Once the designs are complete, the town would put the work out to bid.
The planning and design phases for the town’s current wastewater treatment plant each took three years, Amwake said.
“We are attempting to do the planning study and the design and the bidding in about 21 months,” he said.
Plans and cost estimates for the second phase have not been completed.
Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr., who attended the Thursday meeting, raised concerns about how the costs of a second phase would affect water and sewer bills.
“That obviously can carry a high price tag, too, and we don’t have that quantified yet,” Dickinson said. “There are improvements necessary just because of its age and that alone is expensive, so it’s not a pretty picture.”
In Meriden, the City Council voted last year to increase utility rates over a three-year period to fund $47 million in upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant.
“This is a common dilemma, this isn’t just one community,” Dickinson said. “I don’t want to have affordability lost in the shuffle. We have to evaluate what kind of rate increases this will cause and keep the public informed.”
Dickinson has questioned the state’s decision to mandate the phosphorus removal upgrades.
“It’s not a public health issue,” Dickinson said Friday. “If it were a public health, then OK. But once you get beyond public safety and health, things that are good to have don’t have the same immediacy.”