By Mike Savino - Record-Journal staff
Legislation that would provide additional reimbursements to Cheshire, Wallingford and a handful of other towns for phosphorus removal facilities awaits Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s signature after clearing the Senate this week.
The bill would provide reimbursements of $3.4 million to Wallingford and $1.47 million to Cheshire under the state’s Clean Water Act for their existing phosphorus removal facilities. Phosphorus is a mineral considered dangerous to waterways when released at high concentrations.
On Tuesday, the Senate approved the bill with a 33-3 vote, while the House unanimously supported the legislation on April 25.
Devon Puglia, a spokesman for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, didn’t indicate what action the governor would take, other than to say he “will be reviewing everything that was passed closely.”
For Cheshire, the additional funding comes after years of trying to get the same 50 percent reimbursement that other municipalities have received for upgrades to water treatment plants for the removal of phosphorous.
The legislature approved reimbursements in 2013 for treatment facility upgrades that limit the release of phosphorus to 0.2 parts per million.
“Our feeling and expectation all along was that we’d get 50 percent,” Cheshire Town Manager Michael Milone said Thursday.
The phosphorous removal upgrade accounts for roughly $7 million of the town’s $25 million water treatment plant upgrade project, Milone said.
He said the argument with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is part of a larger, on-going dispute between the town and state over reimbursements.
State Rep. Mary Fritz, D-Wallingford, said the lower reimbursement was “almost punishment for doing good” by addressing phosphorous levels so early.
DEEP and the federal Environmental Protection Agency want to reduce the amount of phosphorus released into waterways because the mineral causes algae blooms that deplete oxygen, putting wildlife at risk.
The original bill didn’t include aid for Cheshire, but Milone and state Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford, credited Fritz with pushing for the reimbursement. An amendment to the bill passed Tuesday made the 50 percent reimbursement program retroactive.
“Retroactive funding is rare, if not never,” Mushinsky said.
Fritz, whose district also includes Cheshire, said she pushed for the changes because she thought Cheshire and Wallingford “were treated unfairly.”
Wallingford was previously precluded from a reimbursement because its facility only limits phosphorous release to 0.31 parts per million, as opposed to 0.2 parts per million. The legislation approved by the House and Senate also relaxes the state’s phosphorus removal standard to grant reimbursements to Wallingford and a handful of other towns.
Plainville, which will get $2.4 million, Waterbury, Vernon, and New Canaan are also in line to receive additional reimbursements because of the bill.
Mushinsky said the towns that have taken action “deserve to be rewarded,” adding phosphorous levels in water are only a problem in areas with high population density and small sources of water.
Due to the relatively small size of the Quinnipiac River and the large population surrounding it, treatment plants along the river have more stringent phosphorus removal standards. Cities and towns with a combined population of about 250,000 send treated wastewater into the river.
Under the Clean Water Act, towns can receive the 50 percent reimbursement for phosphorous removal upgrades to water treatment facilities, a 20 percent grant for the remaining costs of a project, and a 2 percent loan to cover the outstanding balance that town’s may cover.
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