With sewer expansion in the pipeline, Ledyard sees opportunity for business and housing

Design and engineering firm Weston & Sampson presented the Ledyard Center Sewer Study to the Water Pollution Control Authority in August 2021, including this map of the proposed project. The Ledyard Town Council in April 2022 committed $1.2 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds for Phase I, shown here in red. Phase II, estimated at $612,500, is shown here as “Future Build-Out.” The center phase requires investment from the Ledyard Center School developer, and phase three — estimated at $950,000 — is shown in purple.

City Councilman Bill Saums has a vision for Ledyard Center where more housing brings more people and more people brings more retail businesses.

The missing element to make this happen lies beneath the city’s surface: sewers.

“With plans to attract businesses to Ledyard Center, what do you need? You need water, you need sewer,” said Saums, who is chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee and contact person for the Water Pollution Control Board.

He has said that’s why the city is spending so much of its federal COVID-19 relief dollars on sewers. Ledyard received $4.3 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds, and the City Council voted 9-0 on April 27 to grant $1.2 million for phase one of the Ledyard Center Sewer Line Extension Project, by far the largest single ARPA award.

The total project cost is estimated at $2.76 million, but Mayor Fred Allyn III and Saums said the city is looking for other grants to free up ARPA funds for non-sewer expenses.

Phase one would install sewer line from Ledyard High School to Bill Library, and phase two would install sewer line from the library to the corner of Routes 117 and 214. Phase three would extend the existing sewer line that runs from the high school to Pennywise Lane ― going toward the wastewater treatment plant ― to a 6-inch main, to be large enough to receive the additional sewage from the Ledyard Center.

Allyn and Saums agree that if not for ARPA funding, this project probably wouldn’t happen.

The mayor said of ARPA funds: “This money is probably going to cost everyone in the United States for a long time. Why not make it pay for us for decades? And we really believe the sewer line extension will.”

Saums said sewer coverage benefits everyone because it creates an opportunity for economic development, which helps reduce the tax burden on residents.

Moving parts

Ledyard has to coordinate the timing of phase one with the plan to add a multi-use trail running from the high school to the Ledyard Center, for which the city received a state grant. Saums described it as a wide pavement on which emergency vehicles could also drive.

“It goes over the sewer line, so what we didn’t want to do is go ahead with this thing and then tear it all up to do the sewer line,” Allyn said. The original timeline was to complete the trail in November, but “it’s clearly not going to happen right now.” The mayor hopes the sewer project will only delay the trail by a year.

The city has contracted with Weston & Sampson to complete the design work for the sewer expansion project.

Saums said the city was building to a 10% contingency, “but that might not be enough. Our best hope is that some other projects come in under budget, but if they all come in over budget, well, then we have a problem.” With costs rising, he said the strategy “is to go as fast as we can.”

There is a component to this that would not come from ARPA funding, but from the developer who purchased the former Ledyard Center School in 2019. Allyn said he could develop as much as 200 or 300 housing units behind the school, and he would have to run the sewer extension from the frontage on Fairway Drive to Colonel Ledyard Highway.

“It will probably cost them a few hundred thousand dollars, but it also allows them to do a project of that magnitude because now they have public water and public sewer,” the mayor said.

Allyn said it was proposed that the city hold off on phase two, the extension of the sewer line from Bill Library to Routes 117 and 214, until the state plans to rebuild Route 117 to avoid the city having to rebuild after the installation of the ​​the line.

The City Council on April 27 also approved $175,000 to replace the pump station, which Wastewater Operations Supervisor Steve Banks said is integral to eventually bringing sewer from the Ledyard Center.

Banks said the new pump station is being built now and will be completed in a few weeks. Workers have dug a hole at the treatment plant at 82 Town Farm Road and are waiting for the new station to arrive.

The current station is 60 years old, and he said the valves underneath are so old they are “basically useless,” making it difficult to perform maintenance on the pumps.

Banks also noted that with the current station, workers have to climb underground with a ladder and a harness, that “from a safety standpoint, it’s basically a nightmare.” The new system will eliminate that.

Does sewer infrastructure have consequences for affordable housing?

Saums noted that the Ledyard Planning & Zoning Commission has designated Ledyard Center as a place where it would like to see more multifamily housing, “which presumably will also include affordable housing.” But he said it’s up to the developer, and the question is not whether the city wants to build it — and the mayor said “we definitely need” more affordable housing — but whether someone will build it and where.

“We don’t say ‘Hey, build affordable housing’ any more than we say ‘build a Trader’s Joe’s,'” Saums said. He said Ledyard Center is divided into residential and commercial, and specifically multi-family housing.

“I think we’re always going to be chasing that magic 10% threshold that the state wants us to have,” Allyn said, “because let’s say a project gets approved and it has to have a percentage of affordable, but then you still have all the other units that are not considered affordable.”

In discussions about state affordable housing mandates, people across Connecticut sometimes cite a lack of sewer infrastructure as an obstacle to more affordable housing, especially in more rural areas.

Matt Straub, senior program officer with the Connecticut program for the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, said it’s cheaper for developers to build in an area with water and sewer compared to well and septic.

Without speaking specifically about Ledyard, but more generally, he and others who work on housing solutions in Connecticut agreed that a lack of sewers in general is not the biggest barrier to affordable housing.

Straub said that while a lack of sewer infrastructure is or can be a barrier, the bigger barriers are zoning regulations and time, and said that every time someone mounts a legal challenge to a project in a given city, that’s more money for a lawyer and more interest costs.

Sean Ghio, policy director for the Partnership for Strong Communities, sees the blame for the lack of affordable housing in southeastern Connecticut on a lack of sewer infrastructure as “mostly a red herring.” He noted that areas away from the Amtrak corridor and Norwich are unlikely to see many large developments, and that developers have found ways to build larger projects without sewers once the site works.

“We cannot build our way out of an affordable housing crisis,” said Fionnuala Darby-Hudgens, director of operations at the Connecticut Fair Housing Center. She said another approach is preservation through repair and maintenance of existing housing stock.

How other cities are and aren’t using ARPA dollars for sewer projects

Old Lyme awarded $158,347 to its Water Pollution Control Authority to help fund the installation of the forced main sewer pipe that leaves the Sound View neighborhood and travels along Route 156 to East Lyme.

$158,347 would cover the design and some of the permits required for the installation, said WPCA Chairman Richard Prendergast. That would allow that work to become a priority for the larger project to connect four beach communities to sewer systems, whereas Prendergast normally said the pump station would be built first.

This is a priority because the state Department of Transportation plans to rebuild Route 156. Without the pipe in first, the road would have to be renovated twice in two years, at an estimated cost of more than $1 million.

Prendergast said he continues to ask the state to delay paving until the project is ready. The problem is, he doesn’t expect to know until September if the sewer project will get federal grant money.

At that point, it will become clearer whether the project can go forward, “and it would be reasonable to spend the money on priority issues,” Prendergast said. He said that “if everything doesn’t fall into place,” $158,347 would go back into town coffers for Old Lyme to spend elsewhere.

A sewer information update will be held for the public on Saturday, August 27 at 10 at Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School.

Waterford budgeted $2.5 million of its $5.5 million in ARPA funds for water projects: Cross Road Pump Station Upgrade, Old Norwich Road Pump Station Upgrade, Gorman Pump Station Control Panels Upgrade and Fargo Lane Water Tower Rehab.

The city has contracted with Wright-Pierce Corp, US Automation and Lenard Engineering for these projects, spending nearly $160,000 per project. June 30, according to a quarterly report from the city.

But according to the minutes of the July 12 meeting of the Waterford Utility Commission, Chief Engineer Neftali Soto said bids on the Old Norwich Road and Cross Road project came in much higher than expected. The commission adopted a proposal to use ARPA funds for the Old Norwich Road Pump Station and to present the latter for a future date.

Some municipalities are using non-ARPA funds for sewer and water projects, and others are still in the process of allocating funds. The city of Groton, for example, has awarded about 40% of its share of $8.59 million, and the city of Groton has yet to award any of its $2.6 million. City Mayor Keith Hedrick said water and sewer charges are a possibility.

But the city is in a very different position to a place like Ledyard. Hedrick noted that except for a few variances, almost the entire city has sewer coverage.

“I don’t want to do any major expansions, because we don’t need to. What I’m looking to do is upgrade the infrastructure that we have,” Hedrick said. Noting that the city spent several hundred thousand dollars lining pumps in the Jupiter Point area, he said part of the calculation for the city is resilience amid sea-level rise.

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