WESTBROOK – Selectman Tony Palermo had expected that on November 1, town residents would be voting for a sewer avoidance ordinance.
However, this all changed during the Oct. 30 Board of Selectmen meeting when First Selectman John Raffa and Selectman Robert Mulvihill voted to cancel the town meeting believing it required “further study”.
It was a surprise to Palermo who said neither Raffa nor Mulvihill expressed these concerns during a joint meeting with the Water Pollution Control Commission, WPCC, in February.
Palermo said their concerns about repetition are unfounded since it was done to “make it less confusing.”
While the town considers entering the Connecticut River Area Health District, CRAHD, Palermo said if the town did “the health district would have to abide by the ordinance,” if it was passed.
In a letter Raffa wrote to the Department of Environmental Protection, DEP, on Oct. 26, Raffa stated “I am not against this ordinance and that’s why I approved an Ad Hoc Health District Committee to address these concerns. I did a cursory review of this document and I’m disturbed with the number of duplications of the Health Code.”
However, Palermo said if the town joined CRAHD, the district would enforce state and town ordinances and this should have no bearing on whether to pass the ordinance.
Palermo warned that failure to pass an ordinance “puts the town in jeopardy”, and that it has become “increasingly difficult to work with these two people” referring to both Raffa and Mulvihill.
DEP’s William Hogan sent a reply letter to Raffa on Nov. 13 stating the proposed ordinance, three-years in the making, was a result of “lengthy negotiations with a number of parties including the Westbrook Health Department, WPCC, state Department of Public Health, Department of Environmental Protection, local businesses (real estate, septic installers, and consultants), as well as regional health and planning authorities.”
Hogan said the ordinance was paid for by special federal grants and DEP’s Office of Long Island Sound Programs and was a “potential viable, sustainable, long-term approach that may address water pollution issues without the need for large-scale municipal sanitary sewers.”
Marilyn Ozols, Chair of the Westbrook WPCC, said the town has worked diligently in drafting an ordinance to avoid the high cost of sewers.
Hogan said the document intentionally mirrors the state Public Health Code “so that there is no confusion about what powers are available to the town’s health department.”
The ordinance, would have allowed the town’s health department to “address long-term management of onsite wastewater disposal,” by creating a pump-out program, permit fees, and an internet-based data entry and management system.
Regarding the relationship between the ordinance and the possibility of joining CRAHD, Hogan said, “Westbrook’s decision whether to join CRAHD should have no bearing on the adoption of the proposed ordinance.”
Hogan warned, “inaction, or failure to show good faith effort to achieve progress on this issue, is unacceptable.”
Failure to act on the ordinance could lead the DEP to “require the implementation of a more traditional approach to wastewater issues: a conventional sewer system,” Hogan stated.
Hogan asked Raffa to contact his office in the next two weeks with a time schedule for bringing the ordinance to the public.
Raffa was unavailable for comment at press time.