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Zero interest loan will help city’s water system

Date: 2/8/2012

Feb. 8, 2012

By G. Michael Dobbs

CHICOPEE — City officials learned last week they will have a new funding source to address the problem of century-old water mains.

Chicopee will receive 10 percent of a $7 million fund annually at zero percent interest from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA), along with South Hadley and Wilbraham, the other Western Massachusetts communities that purchase their water from the Quabbin Reservoir.

Mayor Michael Bissonnette said the city is eligible to receive $1.4 million — or a two-year drawdown of the 10 percent allocation this year — and will apply it to the replacement of water mains in Chicopee Falls.

The St. James/Broadway area is in phase three of the federally mandated work to rectify combined sewer overflows and Bissonnette said that while the streets are dug up the water mains can be replaced.

The mayor would like to take active steps to avoid the kind of water main breaks the city experienced on Granby Road. While Center Street was under construction, those water mains were replaced, he noted.

Chicopee also needs to replace older and outdated water meters, Bissonnette added. Over the next few years, the annual allocation could be used for that purpose as well.

Bissonnette said the current meters could be inaccurate between 20 and 50 percent. He would like to see residents billed for what water they actually use.

He noted the price of the water the city buys from the MWRA is “always going up.”

The mayor added there have been no increases in water rates since 2007 but the city cannot put off necessary improvements. He added that part of the reason he merged the Water Department in to the Department of Public Works was to better coordinate constructi

He explained that during the work on Front Street, the design had water pipes on the wrong side, which interfered with the placement of manholes for the sewer. The street had to be excavated twice.

“That was the straw the broke the camel’s back,” Bissonnette said. “Now we’re only going to dig up a street once.”

He added, “It’s critical when people are paying $800, $900 a year [in water and sewers fees] to get it right.”

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