New London will consider $5.2M for joint treatment plant project

By New London Town Administrator Jessie Levine

Happy New Year, everyone!  For the next two months, this office will be a flurry of activity as we close the books on 2010 and prepare the 2010 Town Report while finalizing the budget for 2011 and preparing for Town Meeting on March 9.

As it was in 2010, one of the major warrant articles for consideration at Town Meeting is the need to upgrade the Sunapee Wastewater Treatment Plant, which serves both New London and Sunapee. At their joint meeting on Thursday, December 16, 2010, the New London Board of Selectmen and Sunapee Water and Sewer Commission committed to seeking voter approval for the project in 2011. Although voters overwhelmingly approved warrant articles funding the project in 2010 (New London voters approved the bond by a vote of 360-6!), approval in both towns was contingent on receiving at least 35% grant funding from the federal government that did not come through.

Because of the importance of the upgrade, both towns will seek voter approval for the entire cost of the project while continuing to pursue grant opportunities. The total cost of the plant upgrade is about $8.5 million, of which $570,000 for engineering was approved by voters in 2009 (New London’s share was $385,000). Pursuant to the two towns’ intermunicipal agreement, New London is responsible for 65% of the project cost and Sunapee for 35%. In 2011, New London voters will be asked to authorize a bond for $5.2 million, and Sunapee voters will be asked for $2.8 million.

Although generally the New London sewer users pay for expenses related to the wastewater system, in this case the bond is too large to place entirely on the sewer users (to do so would increase the average sewer bill by almost $500).  When the original plant was constructed in 1974, property taxpayers funded 75% of the costs that were not covered by the federal government. As they did in 2010, the New London Selectmen recommend that all taxpayers pay one-third of the cost, with the remainder paid by sewer users. This would increase the tax rate by about 8 cents beginning in 2012 and the sewer rate would increase by about $3.50 per 1,000 gallons, or about $300 on the average sewer bill.

The Sunapee wastewater treatment plant was constructed in 1974 and designed for a 20-year life expectancy. The majority of the facility has either outlived its useful life or is no longer operable. Poorly performing components require regular maintenance, reduce plant efficiency, increase operational costs and threaten the plant’s capacity. Under more stringent EPA regulations, the current plant relies solely on chemical treatment to meet new phosphorus standards, which increases annual costs. The existing facility has inadequate storage for the chemicals and there are numerous other building and life safety code issues. Finally, the plant’s current dewatering process requires excessive operator oversight, and the end product is a liquid sludge that must be hauled away for processing and disposal at significant annual cost.

In bringing forward the project now, the two boards hope to take advantage of low interest rates and a competitive construction market. New London Selectboard Chair Tina Helm said, “We’ve been living on borrowed time, as the treatment plant has already outlived its life expectancy. There is no better time than now to borrow with rates as low as they are.”

And we are hopeful that construction estimates are high.  Bids for similar construction projects in New Hampshire have come in well below budget. The City of Franklin, for instance, recently received bids for water and sewer projects that were more than 20% below construction estimates, so the two towns are hopefully that moving the project forward now will improve the changes of finding long-term savings.

The Board of Selectmen will hold a public hearing on the proposed bond for the sewer project on Monday, February 14, 2011 at 6:00 PM at Whipple Memorial Town Hall.  This public hearing will be followed at 7:00 PM by the Budget Committee’s final public hearing on the proposed 2011-2012 budget.

One Response

  1. […] London Town Administrator Jessie Levine explains New London’s position on the wastewater treatment upgrade (including a brief history of last year’s Town Meeting votes) […]

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