About an hour into a meeting Wednesday to discuss the urgent repairs needed to Derby’s sewers, the full scope of the problem — and the money required to fix it — seemed to sink in with the head of the volunteer group that oversees the system.
“That’s a lot of money, man. Wow,” Leo DiSorbo, chairman of the Water Pollution Control Authority, said of the nearly $10 million needed to replace a pumping station and associated pipes on Roosevelt Drive.
And that’s not even the half of it.
A “priority list” handed out at the meeting with estimates prepared by engineers of the system’s most pressing capital improvement needs — which is posted at the end of this story — totals $34,123,000.
Many residents first learned of the problems when the WPCA jacked up rates for this year’s sewer bills in an effort to fund fixes for some of the problems.
Rate-payers, especially business owners, erupted in protest, and last month the WPCA adjusted its budget and lowered commercial rates in response.
But the problems with the system remain, and Wednesday night WPCA members began the process of figuring out how to prioritize which work should come first, with a view to asking taxpayers to approve the work at a referendum this spring, probably in March or April.
One thing became clear early on: nobody expects taxpayers to approve $34,123,000 worth of work at referendum.
“Just like any municipality, we would love to have everything,” Joseph Coppola, the city’s corporation counsel, told WPCA members Wednesday. “That’s just not going to work in a referendum.”
Coppola gave members an overview of the referendum process and a rough timetable for what they need to do.
By the end of next month, he told them, they need to finish figuring out which work is the most urgent.
“You’ve got to begin by prioritizing what is an absolute necessity,” Coppola said.
To that end, WPCA spent the next hour and a half asking the superintendent of the system, Lindsay King, and two engineers from a Massachusetts-based consultant firm for their input.
King’s top four priorities:
- A new wastewater pumping station on Roosevelt Drive. Estimated cost: $6,236,000
- Upgrades to the sewer pipes between the new Roosevelt Drive pumping station and the city’s sewage treatment plant. Estimated cost: $3,433,450
- Rehabilitation of the South Division Street pumping station. Estimated cost: $751,000
- Upgrades at the sewage treatment plant downtown. Estimated cost: $9,031,000
Those projects have an estimated total cost of $19,451,450.
That’s by no means any sort of a final number. Wednesday night’s meeting was only an informational workshop. No votes were taken.
Members indicated there would have to be much more discussion before any concrete decisions are made.
Once they do that, they will meet with Coppola and Keith McLiverty, the city’s treasurer, to get into the nuts and bolts of how to word the referendum questions and schedule public hearings. They tentatively scheduled that meeting for Oct. 24.
No matter what sort of plan they come up with, members of the authority stressed the need to better communicate with voters about why the repairs are necessary.
“This is what I think the general public doesn’t quite know,” said Carolyn Duhaime, one of the members of the WPCA who also sits on the city’s tax board, of the need for repairs before the sewer system has a significant failure. “We’ve been blessedly lucky.”
Also a concern — the bad taste left in many people’s mouths because of the rate hikes.
“The biggest challenge we might have is the consumer confidence with all the stuff that’s been going on,” John Saccu, another member, said. “That’s probably the biggest hurdle, the biggest barrier we’re going to have, is to re-establish that user confidence and transparency. Not only the transparency, but the competence of this board. Because I think the perception is that it hasn’t been very competent.”