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Cost of Feeding Hills sewer project questioned

Date: 6/26/2012

June 27, 2012

By Debbie Gardner

AGAWAM — The town extended the sewer, but so far, it doesn't seem many residents want to use it.

That was the information City Council President Christopher Johnson passed on to fellow council members at its June 18 meeting as they discussed appropriation and land taking resolutions for Phase II of the Feeding Hills Sewer Extension Project.

The council ultimately approved the land taking and the appropriation to pay for it by a vote of 9-2, with Council President Christopher Johnson and Councilor Cecilia Calabrese voting against both resolutions.

"We spent $3.8 million on Phase I, and as of this morning, only one house is connected," Johnson said prior to the vote.

Phase I of the project, which was completed in 2011, is comprised of 6,900 feet of sewer along Route 57 and South Westfield Street connecting the existing sewer system at Shoemaker Lane at a point just north of the former Western Massachusetts Regional Police Academy building on South Westfield Street.

Department of Public Works Superintendent Christopher Golba told Reminder Publications that the sole Phase I connection actually was not yet confirmed.

"We've had one house that has inquired about connecting, but has not connected as of yet," Golba said. He speculated the majority of homes in the Phase I area still have functioning septic systems, and homeowners are unwilling to incur the $3,211 connection fee until it is necessary.

As the council prepared to vote, Johnson questioned the cost to homeowners to move forward with Phase II of the project, given the response so far. He said, based on current figures, construction on Phase II could raise sewer rates for town residents as much as 40 percent. He also quoted a total connection cost for Phase II homeowners of as much as $100,000.

"I'm not against the project, it just doesn't make sense to move forward until we have all the information," Johnson said.

Golba acknowledged that the initial phase of the project was "a lot of money [with] not a lot of people [being] directly impacted." He noted that this discrepancy was the potential source for Johnson's per-unit connection estimate.

He also said the town's sewer rate recently went up from $2.40 per 100 cubic feet to $3.04.

Golba said he was aware of homeowners in the Phase II portion of the project — which includes pumping stations at Barry and Pine streets as well as sewer lines on Barry, Pine and South Westfield streets and Bradford Drive — who want to connect to the town's sanitary sewer system.

Golba referred to the expense of Phase I as "the foundation of the whole project" in that it couples the Feeding Hills sewers to the town's existing system.

"Phase II will give us the ability to reach those houses that currently have failing septic systems," Golba said.

City Councilor Robert Rossi reminded the council that some of the money for Phase II had come from savings realized from the initial Phase I appropriation.

"We appropriated $7.1 million, and the project came in at $1.6 million. The balance was used to do the design and engineering for Phase II," Rossi said. "All we have to do is pay for the construction costs."

He added that the six-phase project had previously been presented as costing the town approximately $7 million per phase.

Council Vice President Dennis Perry and Councilor James Cichetti, who both worked on the sewer extension project in the past, urged councilors to approve the resolutions.

"The longer we delay, the more it will cost," Perry noted.

City Councilor Gina Letellier suggested adding a mandatory tie-in for homeowners before the council approved any more phases of the project.

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