WESTERLY — The Town Council unanimously approved removing references to Misquamicut from the municipal sewer district Monday, paving the way for property owners to obtain low interest loans, through a state initiative, to repair or upgrade their septic systems.
The council’s 6-0 vote, Councilor Philip Overton was absent, allows town officials to remove Misquamicut from the sewer district document and modify the municipal Wastewater Facilities Plan to remove the village as an area in line for a sewer extension. Once the modified plan is approved by the state Department of Environmental Management property owners throughout the town will be able to apply for loans made available by the state Infrastructure Bank. The town qualifies for up to $300,000 from the infrastructure bank.
Although he voted for the change, Councilor Jack Carson rued the missed opportunity to extend the sewer line to Misquamicut in 2012 and 2013, when two proposals to extend the line drew criticism from residents who insisted the proposals be subject to a town-wide referendum. Carson was elected to the council in 2012, after a sewer proposal was shot down by the council earlier that year. Carson was a vocal supporter of the second proposal, which would have been paid for by a mix of business and residential property owners. Previous proposals to extend the sewer line to Misquamicut failed at referendums in 1984 and 2000.
“I think it was a regrettable long-term decision made by the voters,” Carson said of the recent failures.
Increasingly, Carson said, Misquamicut property owners live in their homes year round. He also noted that shoreline properties are assessed at higher values than inland properties.
“These are highly taxed properties. I think we did a disservice both to the environment and to the property owners who live in that area,” Carson said.
On Monday, the council also discussed the need to update other aspects of the plan and to ensure the sewer system is protected from the results of climate change. Chris Lund, a resident and operator of the sewer treatment plant in Groton, recently wrote to the council saying the Westerly plan failed to account for increased flooding linked to climate change. Councilor Jean Gagnier noted Lund’s concerns and said some components of the sewer system are at least 40 years old.
Town Engineer Sheila McGauvran agreed the plan should reflect acknowledgement of climate change, but she encouraged the council to approve removing Misquamicut from the sewer district and to consider additional changes to the plan in the future.
“The facilities plan is not ever cast in stone, you may call it a living document — it’s always in development,” McGauvran said.
Operations Management International Inc., also known as CH2M, was appointed in July to a 10-year contract to operate the sewer system and treatment plant on Margin Street. The company is working on a capital improvement plan, which will include the pumping stations, McGauvran said.