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City Council dismisses Sewer Extension Project

Hundreds of Agawam and Feeding Hills residents gathered at Town Hall Feb. 19 to speak before the City Council in opposition of the proposed Sewer Extension Project. Reminder Publications photo by Katelyn Gendron
By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

AGAWAM Daniel Oneil of 66 South West St. stood before approximately 210 people at last week's City Council meeting as only one of two speakers in favor of the Sewer Extension Project.

"I grew up mopping up raw sewage in my parents' basement," Oneil said as he explained his need for a sewer system due to a failing septic tank.

He explained that there are signs posted on all the toilets in his house which read "Do not flush" because his wife often forgets. Oneil said if she flushes the toilet while he is in the shower, sewage fills up the shower floor.

Oneil explained that before he or his wife can give their four-year-old twins a bath they must bleach the bathtub to ensure that no sewage has come up that drain.

"I think it's terrible we have to live like this," he said. "We [Agawam residents] should all get together and pay the cost [for the Sewer Extension Project]," Oneil said.

However, many other residents did not agree with Oneil's pleas as numerous others spoke denouncing the $31.2 million project, which would cost each Feeding Hills resident approximately $18,000 to be paid over 20 years.

Due to a similarly large and disgruntled crowd at their previous meeting, the City Council decided to table an ordinance which would have created a "Special Sewer Improvement District." The ordinance was proposed in conjunction with a previously approved ordinance creating an "Enterprise Fund," both of which set the foundations for paying the cost of the Sewer Extension Project.

After over an hour and a half of Citizen Speak Time and council discussion, the City Council voted unanimously to dismiss the ordinance to a very jubilated crowd of residents.

Prior to the decision, Shannon Page of 47 Barbara Lane commended City Councilor Robert Rossi for his public opposition to the project's cost to residents. When Rossi entered the Agawam Middle School auditorium for the meeting, he was met with loud applause from the crowd.

Page explained that as a mother she felt very sympathetic for Oneil's situation but that she, like many other residents, cannot afford the cost of the Sewer Extension Project.

"This isn't a great victory by saying no because we're really leaving some of our neighbors in a jam but this proposal just isn't working," Dennis Stempel of 85 Christopher Lane said.

Page said the councilor's decision to move forward with the project could be "detrimental" to the livelihood and financial stability of Feeding Hills residents.

Prompting an enthused response form the crowd, Page questioned why in the heat of the controversy surrounding this project Mayor Susan Dawson was not present.

Dawson told Reminder Publications she was standing outside of the auditorium listening to the meeting. She explained that she was unwilling to enter because she did not want her opinion on the project to influence any member of the council.

During Page's speak time she also praised her former neighbor City Councilor Joseph Mineo, also chair of the Ad Hoc Sewer Committee, for having the foresight to leave the neighborhood before being faced with a possible $18,000 bill for the sewer system.

Mineo explained that while living in this area of town he was forced to spend $12,000 to replace his septic tank and to had have a leach field put in his front yard. He said he had to have an electric pumping chamber pumping out raw sewage into his front yard and that he couldn't have people over to the house because of the odor.

Mineo said that as chair of the Ad Hoc Sewer Committee he was not in favor of the proposed Sewer Extension Project because of the large financial burden to each resident but that it was a plan that needed to be shared with the public.

Page said she was very relieved by the council's decision not to move forward with the Sewer Extension Project in its present form.

City Councilor Robert Young questioned how the council is to move forward. "Certainly there's a long-standing need," he said in reference to the small percentage of residents with failing septic tanks.

Young questioned the need for a grant writer or other avenues to gain state and federal funding for the project so as not to put the majority of the financial burden on the residents.

"There isn't any state or federal funding," Rossi said. "We're not a priority for the state or the federal government with this kind of large undertaking."

City Councilor Donald Rheault said that while he was pleased with the council's decision, "tonight is only the beginning" of a new chapter for the Sewer Extension Project.