Fairfield’s finance board approves additional $300K grant for wastewater treatment project

FAIRFIELD — The town is one step closer to accepting an additional $300,000 for the wastewater treatment plant hardening project, which aims to make the site more resistant to coastal flooding.

The Board of Finance unanimously approved a resolution to accept a Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery at a recent meeting.

Town officials reached out to the state — which administers the grant for the federal government — to request more funding after contaminants were found at the plant during construction on the project, said Brian Carey, the acting director of the Public Works Department.

“The state was able to come up with additional funding for us in the amount of $300,000,” Carey said. “So, we’re just back in front of the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance at this time to get the agreement signed so that we can acquire that (funding).”

In February, First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick said the project would cost a total of $7.4 million but $3.33 million would be funded through a grant from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Carey said workers noticed oily water coming in from one of the excavations about six weeks into the work, which started in March and April. The water was tested and showed petroleum and PCBs.

“We actually ended up having to do soil testing, and the extent of that has just grown over time as we’ve discovered that there’s PCBs pretty much throughout the northeast corner of the site and, then, sporadically through the rest of the site,” Carey said, who has previously stated the contaminants are unrelated to the fill pile scandal.

The town is working with its licensed environmental professional, Tighe and Bond, as well as with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to come up with a remediation plan, Carey said.

Carey said the town is currently excavating areas where the sheet wall and storm water infrastructure will be placed as part of the project. He said there will need to be further investigations in the future to identify the degree and extent of contamination, so the town can remediate it.

“The PCB contamination that we are finding is most likely due to the historic operation of the treatment plant,” Carey said. “The highest levels that we’re finding at the site appear to be where they, historically, did their sludge drying operations on the northeast corner of the property.”

Carey said the hardening project is still under budget, but the town is running into issues with the amount of material buried on the site.

“Between stumps and rocks and everything else that was land-filled throughout the site… we’ve had to go in and over-excavate those areas in order to drive the sheets,” he said, noting that added costs to the project.

Carey said the project is about a third of the way done. He said the town is hoping construction will go more quickly now that it has a handle on the environmental issues.

“We’re looking, probably, at best case scenario, working through the better part of December into January before we’re completed with the project,” he said.

Vice Chair Christopher DeWitt, who lead the meeting, reiterated that it does not appear the contaminants are related to the fill pile.

“This is just contamination just from years of dumping stuff and being all the things that that parcel of land was in its prior history,” he said, asking Carey if he agreed.

Carey, who has previously said the land was the location of a Nike Site up until the 1950s, said local manufacturers were pumping and discharging processed wastewater into the sewer without treatment prior to the Clean Water Act.

“As that sludge dries, they basically put it out and spread it out and allowed it to dry,” Carey said. “Then they would use it as fill or whatever on other parts of the property. That is most likely the source of the issue. It is not a Julian issue. The areas that were being excavated as part of this project are not sites that have not been disturbed in decades of the operation of the plant.”

When asked about the cost associated with remediation, Carey said the cost overrun in the context of the project is about $300,000 and was covered in the initial contingency. He noted any further upgrades to the plant would require a full investigation of the site.

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