NORTH STONINGTON — If its $1 million offer to connect with Stonington’s Pawcatuck sewer plant is rejected, North Stonington will seek other options to fulfill its ambitious economic development plans.
Stonington was North Stonington’s first option for municipal sewerage along Route 2 north of Interstate 95, where many acres of land could be developed, said North Stonington First Selectman Mike Urgo by phone Thursday.
“We wanted to see if Stonington wants to be a partner and wants to benefit from the revenue that these customers would be paying to the town, or do we just go off and just do our own plan, because we’re doing this regardless,” Urgo said.
He said North Stonington was open to a counteroffer, should Stonington want to negotiate, but needed a reply soon.
“If the town isn’t interested in a partnership, then we’ll look in another direction, or if they feel there’s a number that they feel is more appropriate, they can certainly send it over to us,” he said. “But, for us, this is something we need to be moving forward on and so we need resolution one way or the other and that will help dictate our plans going forward.”
The Pawcatuck plant was built in the late 1970s to accommodate 200,000 gallons of sewage per day from North Stonington. The cost of extra capacity was paid for by Stonington taxpayers and is now estimated to be worth $3.6 million, including the operation, maintenance and improvements.
Urgo said North Stonington offered Stonington $1 million for the capacity of 100,000 gallons per day, whereas a previous offer had been $1 million for 200,000 gallons per day.
“We decided we’d offer $1 million for half of the capacity that was discussed years ago,” he said. “We offered the same price that had been discussed years ago for half the amount of sewage.”
North Stonington has made a number of offers to connect over the years that have never gone forward, but Urgo said North Stonington has changed and become more motivated by development.
“I extended an offer and the offer was better, to my knowledge, than previous ones, so we’re looking for a response on that,” he said. “From my perspective we’re a different North Stonington than we were many years ago and we recognize that development in the area is going to be important to the community.”
But North Stonington’s offer has rankled members of the community, including Pawcatuck resident Jim Spellman, whose father, Jim Spellman, was first selectman for 24 years, beginning in 1961.
In a Facebook post, Spellman said his father also chaired the Water Pollution Control Authority during his tenure and oversaw the construction of sewerage treatment plants, including feeder lines in Pawcatuck that were extended along Route 2 to the border of North Stonington, allowing for the development of Stop & Shop plaza.
“The Town of North Stonington under Selectman Nick Mullane voiced interest in connecting to the line and having their discharge treated at the Pawcatuck Sewer Plant,” Spellman wrote. “Big Jim, Jim Sisk, Hunk Williams, Donald Palmer, Angelo Miceli, Dan and Mike Oliverio, Jack Donahue, Frank Turek, Ed Coogan, Les Duncklee and other Stonington leaders replied in essence, ‘Fine, but you will pay a share for the cost of the original construction, improvements, and maintenance, and user fees.’”
A Memorandum of Record — a contract — was drawn up and signed but North Stonington never signed up, costing Stonington taxpayers. “Under the decades long legal agreement they should be paying minimal $5 Million!” Spellman wrote.
Also opposing the offer was Lynn Young, a member of the Water Pollution Control Authority, who said at the authority’s meeting Tuesday that the $1 million offer would not compensate Stonington taxpayers for the cost of financing, building, maintaining and repairing the Pawcatuck plant over the years. Young is also a member of the Board of Finance.
At Wednesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, opposition also came from Glenn Frishman, a current member of the Board of Finance and its former chair for 18 years, who said the offer would sell Stonington taxpayers short and prevent the town from furthering its own economic development along upper Route 2.
At the same meeting, Mike Spellman, Chief of Police for the City of Groton and a former Stonington selectman, said Stonington needed to put its own environmental and economic concerns first before seeking short-term revenue streams such as offering sewerage capacity to North Stonington.
Considering the history, if the two towns were to come to an agreement, it would need to be under mutually positive terms, Urgo said.
“We are here today in 2019, I can’t go backwards 20 or 30 years, and if we’re going to go into a partnership, everybody’s got to feel good about it. If there’s some ill will or resentment, that’s not what we’re looking for, we’re looking for a partnership that works for both sides and everyone has to feel good about it,” he said. “There’s no contentiousness about it. If Stonington decides that’s not something their community wants to do, then that’s completely fine.”
Urgo said the town installing its own sewerage plant was “absolutely” a possibility as a means to support development in North Stonington, even with a tie-in to Stonington.
A sewer plant would also protect the aquifer beneath North Stonington, which supplies Stonington’s water, he said. Installing large septic systems for new developments would create the possibility of contamination, which was to be avoided, he said.
The key now was to find out if Stonington was willing to be part of North Stonington’s economic development puzzle, he said.
“What we’re doing is a multi-faceted approach. We have a lot of developable land in our economic development zones and all of the needs we have will not be served by the Stonington tie-in,” he said. “It’s an economic development puzzle and we just need to know what puzzle pieces we’re working with.”
The decision will be made by the Stonington Water Pollution Control Authority. Richard Cody, chairman of the WPCA, could not be reached for comment.