“Grey” Plan Advances

Allan Appel PhotoThe Greater New Haven Water Pollution Control Authority (WPCA) won enough approvals Wednesday night to match its mouthful of a name: City Plan Commissioners gave the go-ahead to a site plan for first $50 million phase of building upgrades of the East Shore water treatment plant. Wetlands management and coastal site plans also were approved.

A land swap with the city to make the upgrades possible was also approved, all by unanimous vote of the commissioners.

The land swap, which had delayed the site plan review last month, now goes before the Board of Aldermen for final approval.

The $50 million upgrade is part of a larger $450 million long-term plan to prepare for super storms and to send less sewage into the Quninipiac, Mill, and West rivers and Long Island Sound.

Local environmental activists like Lynne Bonnett from the New Haven Environmental Justice Network support the project’s general goals but continue to call for a lot less of that public money to be spent on new buildings and upgrades at the WPCA East Shore plant.

Click here for a story with details on their argument for having more of those millions spent on trees, wells, holding tanks, new infiltration techniques, and other “green infrastructure” to get water to go back into the ground and not into pipes and sewer overflows —and the GNHWPCA’s rebuttals from last month’s meeting.

Between that previous meeting and Wednesday night’s site plan review by the City Plan Commission, which did not includepublic participation, Bonnett and her colleagues had submitted a series of further questions to the City Plan staff. They passed them on to the WPCA for comment and answers. The answers were provided to the commissioners in a document prepared by the WPCA’s attorney, Marjorie Shansky.

Even though the commissioners seemed satisfied with the answers, the debate was reprised in miniature interchanges mainly between the WPCA engineering director Tom Sgroi and City Plan Commissioner Adam Marchand, who’s also a Westville alderman.

“Why do we need concrete and steel” and not more green infrastructure? Marchand asked.

“Green is good, and the authority is doing it. [But] we need pipes. We can never eliminate pipes. Green infrastructure is important, but it has to be done over time,” Sgroi replied.

He said trees simply cannot handle the plant’s millions of gallons of overflow. Even to begin to address it, you’d have to come up with a half-million new 40-year old trees to suck up all that water, he said.

Marchand turned to one of the thorniest issues and one at the heart of Bonnett’s critique: If the city and individual property owners, not the just the WPCA, are responsible for taking more environmental-protection measures, no one seems to be working hard enough to bring all the partners together to the dance.

“If we could figure out how to choreograph the dance, would you participate with the other entities? Would you ‘green’ it up?” Marchand asked.

“Absolutely,” replied Sgroi. Then he cautioned that the WPCA’s hands are tied to a serious extent because green infrastructure doens’t always qualify for state dollars. “Grey”—working on the pipes and plant—is what’s cost-effective, he said. “Green is based on grey. The grey does the cleaning of the environment.”

At the end of the meeting, Bonnett said she felt better about the WPCAs stance than she had expected to: “They have publicly committed to working with the community to solve this with green infrastructure. We expect them to participate fully.”

Responding to that comment, Shansky said, “The Greater New Haven Water Pollution Control Authority has always been willing to sit down with the relevant stakeholders, which necessarily includes the city, to discuss green infrastructure.”

In an email to the Independent after the meeting, Bonnett added: “I thought Adam’s question to Tom Sgroi hit the nail on the head: Question: Have you made any material changes to your plan [based on the public participation]? Tom answered, ‘I don’t think there were any changes that needed to happen.’”

City Plan staffer Joy Ford reminded commissioners that WPCA must return for approval for each future phase of the plan, as new buildings are built or upgraded or new wetlands planted.

Stay tuned.

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posted by: meta on February 25, 2013  4:01pm

My only question regarding the Annex: will it continue to be home to the Record Riot?! (Coming up 3/10/13 9:30-3:30 for all you vinyl enthusiasts..)

posted by: anonymous on February 25, 2013  4:39pm

Will access to the Harborside Greenway be preserved throughout construction?

posted by: Webblog1 on February 25, 2013  5:16pm

NOTICE: To all taxpayers sponsoring this $50MM
Bonding Boondoggle.

The Feb. public hearing/Meeting was cancelled due to weather.
To be scheduled in early March.

To be continued:

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 2013 6:00 P.M.

1. Approval of minutes of January 8, 2013 – Regular Meeting.

2. Public participation relating to agenda items.

3. Discussion of audit.

4. Consideration and approval of a resolution amending the resolution appropriating $50,000,000 for engineering, design, and construction of wet weather improvements and nitrogen reduction at the East Shore Water Pollution Abatement Facility and authorizing the issuance of $50,000,000 Clean Water Fund obligations of the Authority under the State of Connecticut Clean Water Fund Program secured solely by revenues of the sewerage system and authorizing the Authority to enter into grant and loan agreements.

5. Consideration and approval of a resolution authorizing the Executive Director, Sidney J. Holbrook, to negotiate, execute and deliver CH2M HILL Task Order, for services during construction relating to Wet Weather Improvements and Nitrogen Upgrade at the East Shore Water Pollution Abatement Facility, contingent upon Department of Energy and Environmental Protection approval and funding, for an amount not to exceed $5,170,000.

6. Executive summary and department updates and presentations.

7. Consideration and approval, as necessary, of any other new business of the Authority.

8. Call to the public.

9. Adjournment.

posted by: sccampion on February 25, 2013  9:54pm

Thanks to the City Plan Commissioners’ endorsement of collaboration with WPCA, the community, and key stakeholders, this 450 million dollare project, supported by our tax dollars and fees. is on the right track. 

Special kudos to Lynne Bonnet for her disciplined, dedicated, and informed leadership of the newly formed Clean Water Task force, the advocacy group for best practice and evidenced based utilization of green infrastructure for WPCA’s 450 million waste/water management project.

As a member of the newly formed Task Force, I have been struck by the complexity of the environmental and quality of life issues connected to this project. I am not a well-versed environmentalist. I joined the initiative to support my East Shore neighbors whose quality of life has been adversely impacted by a range of environmental challenges connected to the existing plant for many years.

An exciting and promising consequence of the initiative’s commitment to Clean Water, is the coming together of residents from many city neighborhoods, West River, Fair Haven,Westville,
and the East Shore.Together,we are advocating for the 21st solutions to safe and cost effective water treatment.
With WPCA, the city, and the community partnering on the goal of blending the best of grey and green technology, New Haven has an opportunity to provide a vital environmental legacy of “clean water for generations to come.

posted by: LynneB on February 27, 2013  4:07pm

The sewer plant says they follow EPA guidelines, well maybe some of them but the EPA guidelines for Combined Sewer Overspill control (published 1995) state that source control (green infrastructures) for CSO management must be evaluated and considered in any long term plan to manage CSOs.  Why aren’t the GNHWPCA and state of CT following these EPA guidelines when it would save us a lot of money?
Further, the state and sewer plant are going to use public money (Clean Water Funds) from our tax dollars to say that they will only pay for grey infrastructure and will not authorize using our public money for these cost saving techniques(green infrastructures) that create jobs, replenish fresh water, effectively keep rain water out of the sewer pipe and save us money.  New Haven is an ideal city for infiltration because our soil is sandy and water soaks right in.  Why is our state refusing to release Clean Water Funds for green infrastructure when the EPA recommends these source controls for CSO management? 
Rate increases for our community are estimated to be 5-8% per year for the next 5 years and raw sewage will still flow into our rivers unchanged.  Maybe there are other things we could do up front to reduce the raw sewage - low hanging fruit so to speak such as holding tanks near the worst outfalls coupled with green infrastructure.
Incidentally, East Shore residents complain A LOT about the smell.  I simply can not figure out why the GNHWPCA said they only received 2 complaints.  Maybe they meant in the last day or two.  Unclear.  I just want everyone to know that the smell in the East Shore is a huge problem for folks that live here as well as our exposure to toxic chemicals from the sludge trucked in from around the state to be burned in our neighborhood.