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SEWER SERVICE ISSUES
IN NEW FAIRFIELD, CT

 

COPY OF NEW FAIRFIELD, CT 2003 PLAN OF
DEVELOPMENT TEXT CONCERNING SEWERS

The following text is drawn from the New Fairfield Plan of Conservation and Development Town Plan which became effective 7/15/2003. All of the text that follows in this section is copied directly from the New Fairfield Plan:

Current Sewer Avoidance Program
New Fairfield has enacted one of the most progressive septic management / sewer avoidance policies in the State of Connecticut. This program (first instituted in 1991) required that all properties be walked at least once every three years and owners of properties that fail the inspection have to repair or replace their septic system.

Since its inception, the rate of septic failures has decreased by 50 percent and identified septic problems are closely monitored until they are successfully resolved.

Sewer Plans
Since 1970, there have been several studies of the cost and feasibility of extending sewer service to parts of New Fairfield (areas such as the Ball Pond area, Candlewood Isle, Candlewood Knolls, Charcoal Ridge, New Fairfield Center, and the Town schools on Gillotti Road).

Most of these studies have been prepared in response to recognized water quality problems or State orders to abate pollution.

New Fairfield residents have generally opposed proposals to extend sewage service to the community due to concerns over cost and fear that sewers would attract inappropriate development.

Consider A Public Sewer System In The Center
Properties in New Fairfield are generally served by private septic systems. Although such systems are common in rural and suburban communities in Connecticut, they have resulted in some concerns over the years in New Fairfield due to the density of development in the lake areas (Candlewood Lake and Ball Pond) and septic failures (due to poor soil types, installation, or operation).

To help address the continued use of septic systems, New Fairfield should continue the septic management program presently in use.

While the septic management program is working well on an overall basis (failures are addressed professionally and reasonably quickly), there is little doubt that sewage disposal will continue to be a prominent local issue.

Economic development in the Town Center area and the interest for alternative development patterns is complicated by the lack of sewage disposal capacity due to the soil types prevalent in this area. In addition, three New Fairfield schools have required extensive repairs to their septic systems (total cost $2.7 million) in recent years.

As a result, some people have indicated that New Fairfield should at least begin to explore alternative options for sewage disposal in the Town Center area.

An area that may be the most appropriate for establishment of a limited sewage treatment system is the Town Center area, the schools on Gillotti Road, the police station, and the fire station.

In the event that New Fairfield would need sewage treatment capacity, the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection has provided that treatment capacity of 700,000 gallons per day be reserved at the Danbury sewage treatment plant for New Fairfield.

A limited-capacity sewage disposal system within the New Fairfield Center area could:
• provide safe treatment of sewage,
• protect groundwater and reduce environmental impacts,
• encourage node development patterns in New Fairfield Center, and
• eliminate future septic repair costs at municipal sites.

The cost of this system would be borne by the beneficiaries(users) of the system.

If New Fairfield decides to consider a sewage treatment option, the Plan recommends that the program contain the following elements:

• A Defined Service Area - a service area with a sewer limit line where properties inside the area are eligible to receive sewer service and properties outside the area will not receive sewer service.

• A Sewage Discharge Allocation - each property in the service area receives a specific sewage discharge allocation (gallons per day) that is related to the current use of property or the future development potential allowed by the zoning regulations or a specific plan. A "transfer"of allocations between properties is not permitted.

• Sizing of Improvements –sewer improvements are sized to only accommodate the amount of sewage discharge allocated to the properties in the service area (with a small surplus held by the Town).

In this way, selected properties can be provided with sewer service to accommodate those uses and activities that the community wants and where the community wants without opening a “Pandora’s Box” for other uses or sites (some people are concerned about the cost of a sewer system and fears that availability of a sewer system would result in unbridled growth).

In the allocation system, each development would have to "tune" its scale to the sewage allocation. The allocation prevents unwanted or undesirable development that may not be inappropriate for the community.

Sewer line capacity, in a limited-capacity system, is determined by the total allocations for all properties within the sewer limit line. If the system requires an 8-inch pipe to handle the current and future needs of the system, then that size pipe determines the maximum amount of sewage that can ever flow from that system.

The Plan also recommends that, if State or Federal agencies direct the Town to install sewers differently than the Plan suggests (a sewer limit line with a discharge allocation and a limited-capacity force main), the Plan does not support any concept other than that described in this Plan.

During the planning period, New Fairfield may wish to consider whether it may be desirable to provide for a limited sewage disposal system in the Town Center area, the schools on Gillotti Road, the police station, and the fire station.

Reference
The Town of Simsbury, CT has used a limited-capacity sewage disposal system (a sewer limit line with sewage allocations) for over 30 years. Simsbury has found this type of system to be an important tool for supporting desired community development and conserving important resources.


EXCERPTS FROM THE 2000 REPORT OF THE
NEW FAIRFIELD SEWER STUDY COMMITTEE
INTRODUCTION
Sewers are often discussed as a permanent solution to potential public health hazards; indeed, they are a permanent solution. Once installed, sewers will never be removed, so before we walk through the door marked sewers, we should discuss the issue thoroughly.

HISTORY OF THE CT DEP ABATEMENT ORDER
As far back as 1970, New Fairfield engaged Camp, Dresser & McKee to study the town's potential wastewater disposal problems. Over the next eighteen years additional studies suggested that action by New Fairfield seemed warranted to prevent a potential health problem due to a perceived widespread failure of septic systems.

Many of the more serious failures were in the Ball Pond area, as well as parts of Candlewood Isle and Candlewood Knolls. Most of the problem properties were summer bungalows that had become full-time residences, without an upgrade of their sewage disposal system.

Some of the systems were crude cesspools (a 50-gallon drum filled with stones), or were undersized septic systems. Making matters worse was a widespread failure to adhere to a minimal septic code in town. Many septic systems were undersized or were installed incorrectly (usually deep in the surficial aquifer) because of ignorance or worse. At the same time, when these seriously undersized systems were repaired, they were brought into minimum compliance with the state and local health codes.

In October of 1989, the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued an abatement order instructing the Town to stop polluting the waters of the state and to prepare an engineering report in order to evaluate the wastewater disposal needs and to devise a plan for properly dealing with problem areas. Initial estimates suggested that a septic failure rate of more than 10 percent was occurring in certain areas of the town. New Fairfield's Water Pollution Control Authority (WPCA) engaged Fuss & O'Neill, a Connecticut engineering firm, to undertake a study and make recommendations that would satisfy the DEP abatement order.

Early 1991, based on the Fuss & O'Neill study the WPCA recommended that a sewer system be installed in the Ball Pond area; at a later date other problem areas would be added to the system. At a public hearing residents overwhelmingly spoke against a sewer system. Subsequently the Planning Commission and the Board of Finance rejected the proposal.

At a Town meeting on March 26, 1991 a Septic Management Sewer Avoidance ordinance was adopted. A significant requirement of the ordinance was that all properties are to be walked over no less than once every three years to inspect for septic system failures. A permit to operate a septic system would be issued to owners of properties that passed the inspection. A violation notice would be issued to owners of properties that failed the septic system inspection and the Health Department would take the necessary steps to enforce compliance.

Over the period 1991 through 1998 the Health Department walked over every property in town three times. The data demonstrates that significant progress has been made in reducing the number of major failures; 117 or 2.3 % on the first round of inspections, 82 or 1. 6% on the second round and 62 or 1.1% on the last round. A major failure is a septic system that needs major renovation or replacement The average cost to repair major failures has been $13,400 with the range being between $2,000 and $29,000.

Inevitably, every septic system can be expected to eventually fail, which is why new construction requires a 100% reserve area on the property that can serve to replace a failed system. Once a new reserve system is installed, a homeowner can switch back and forth between the reserve and original septic areas, making the septic system last indefinitely.

STATUS OF WATER POLLUTION IN THE TOWN TODAY
The Sewer Avoidance Act requires that all property owners pump their septic systems every three years. This means we are already sending sewage to Danbury, but it is a sewer line on wheels: the tank trucks that take septic pumpage to Danbury's treatment plant. This arrangement was the result of an Interlocal Agreement negotiated years ago with Danbury....

... Despite statements that many commercial properties are having trouble with their septic systems, it appears that there are no widespread failures in the center of town. Examples of past failures (since repaired) include a restaurant's neglect to properly operate grease traps, which resulted in clogged fields.

The balance of this section deals with the Health Department and WPCA summary of walkovers on residential properties. It is also clear from this synopsis that the septic failure rate throughout the town is low, and is in fact declining, not increasing.

We conclude that there is no compelling reason from a public health standpoint to install sewers in the town at this time.

The Fuss & O'Neill 1990 study estimated the 20-year cost per dwelling for sewers in the Ball Pond area would be $26,080, which includes $232 for annual maintenance and user fee to Danbury. The construction cost for sewers, only, in the Ball Pond area was $29,200,000.

The expected cost to repair septic systems in the Ball Pond area over the next 20 years is around $3,591,000. This study indicates that, over the long term, the expected cost to repair residential septic systems will probably be significantly less than the cost of sewers. Additional studies will probably be needed in order to have a high degree of confidence in the actual long term cost of septic systems vs. sewers.

Currently New Fairfield is under a town wide Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection abatement order and a sewer avoidance ordinance passed by the town in 1989. If sewers are extended into New Fairfield, the probability is pressure will be put on the current zoning regulations and zones in the town. The following is not expected to be an unabridged dissertation on the effects of Zoning and Zoning regulations. It is a practical view of several of the factors that would effect zoning if New Fairfield was to modify its current sewer avoidance ordinance and extend sewers to part of or the whole town.

Zoning uses the following issues to create and maintain reasonable land use regulations. Pressure on Zoning comes from the change of one of three (3) elements that are used to limit zoning: - Transportation and access, is the direct relation of the size and availability of roads to safely manage traffic congestion. - Availability of fresh water is necessary. This is determined by the ease of access to the water and the land's ability to support a level of development. - Ability of the land to support waste disposal. Sewers would increase the land's ability to maintain an increased level of development.

One-acre and 2-acre zoning can be sustained for one very important reason, and that is because it maintains sufficient area for on-site subsurface sewage disposal (septic tanks and fields). With that size building lot, there is sufficient dilution of nitrogenous waste by rainwater to prevent pollution of the deep bedrock aquifer on which the town depends for its water. If a homeowner has at least an average 40,000 square foot lot (about an acre), it is possible to place a septic system and a 100 percent septic reserve area on that lot. With the reserve area, a properly maintained septic system can last indefinitely.

We must emphasize again: the only reason that can maintain our current zoning regulations against a legal challenge to downzone is the dilution of nitrogen that occurs on large lots. This is the key to controlling rapid and unwanted development. Once sewers are installed, there is no longer any compelling reason to maintain the I-or 2-acre building lots, and downzoning inevitably occurs.

By developing or improving one or all of the factors adds to the value and cost of each piece of land and thus creates a need for a higher return/price. Extending sewers into the town would automatically change one of the three conditions used to determine the land's viability. The higher costs of land and development would lead to the need for the land to produce a higher utility to be able to re-coup the costs of development The higher costs create a pressure for higher density and/or utility. The increased land cost will naturally lead to a higher cost of development.

This will mean that the currently lower use land (generally residential zoned) would be required to bring a higher return/price. This can mean several possibilities of development could occur: - Residential housing prices increase. - Zoning regulations are pressured to be reduced to allow for an increased residential density (smaller parcels of land). - Zoning regulations are pressured to be changed to allow for a higher utility (i.e. commercial development).

Lastly, we would like to comment on the risk of losing our 700,000 gallon hook-up with Danbury if we continue our sewer avoidance program. Connecticut's DEP mandated that this capacity be added to Danbury's waste treatment plant in order to accommodate New Fairfield's sewers. There is no way this will be given to another municipality, such as Newtown, which has asked, until the DEP is convinced that New Fairfield does not need sewers. They are nowhere near convinced that we do not need sewers, and we think that they will never be convinced. If the allotment is ever given away and we eventually do need sewers, we would then have to negotiate with Danbury because we cannot build our own waste treatment plant.

ALTERNATIVES TO SEWERS
Can we continue to have septic systems operate in town into the foreseeable future? Newer technologies include small, more sophisticated on-site treatment systems that may extend the life of septic systems for years, and may even eliminate the need for sewers entirely.

CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE FUTURE
We also recommend that the town establish a groundwater/watershed protection program as outlined in Protecting Connecticut's Groundwater (1997) CT DEP Bulletin 26. We currently have excellent groundwater quality in town, and a long-range plan to maintain that water quality should be put in place. Rivers and streams can be cleansed of pollutants (say, a sewage overflow) in a matter of days, but if the deep aquifer is contaminated, the slow movement of water through that zone may require decades to centuries before being clean enough to drink.


NEW FAIRFIELD CT SEWER STUDY I
SSUES (UPDATED ONLY TO 1992)

In 1970 New Fairfield was first ordered by the State to undertake a study of sewerage needs. The resulting 1973 consulting report prepared by Camp, Dresser & McKee identified priority areas for municipal sewerage systems, including the Ball Pond area, the Town Center, Charcoal Ridge, and Candlewood Lake neighborhoods.

The report concluded that if New Fairfield found it necessary to construct a municipal sewerage system, the most cost-effective plan would be based on a connection southerly to the Danbury sewer system via Barnum Road. The initial phase of a New Fairfield sewerage system would include purchase of flow and treatment capacity in the Danbury sewer system. Total estimated cost for a complete sewage system covering all problem areas within New Fairfield was $49 million.

The high cost for such a relatively small population served was attributed to New Fairfield’s low population density and scattered centers of development, difficult construction conditions and long distances to any neighboring municipal sewerage systems for treatment. At the time, no consideration was given to a possible sewer avoidance program.

In the late 1970’s New Fairfield successfully fought a CT DEP order to pipe collected raw sewage under Candlewood Lake, eastward into Brookfield, and eventually to New Milford’s sewage treatment plant on the Housatonic River. This idea was proposed in a 1977 report entitled Final EIS for Wastewater Collection and Treatment Facilities, prepared for the U.S. EPA by Anderson-Nichols & Co. After that debate, the Town’s orientation for future sewage treatment needs returned to Danbury.

In 1979, a CT DEP field survey found 43 of the 480 septic systems in the Ball Pond area to be failing and allegedly contaminating the Putnam Lake watershed to the west, in N.Y. State. In 1980 the New Fairfield Water Pollution Control Authority was created at CT DEP’s request. The New Fairfield Health Department attempted to confirm the CT DEP field survey through dye testing. This testing substantiated the CT DEP findings on less than half of the failed septic systems found by CT DEP.

In 1982, the WPCA engaged the firm of Malcolm Pirnie, Inc. to study the Ball Pond area to reconcile the differences between the CT DEP findings and those of the local Health Department. Malcolm Pirnie found high fecal coliform counts in numerous surface water and shallow groundwater samples. However, the deep groundwater aquifer did not show contamination.

Septic system failure rates of approximately 10% were found in the study area by field survey and questionnaire. The study recommended that the WPCA implement an active wastewater management program in the Ball Pond area which would subsequently be expanded to cover the entire Town.

In 1984, the WPCA hired an Assistant Sanitarian and the Health Department began a program in the Ball Pond study area of septic system inspection and repair. The inspection program found 70 failing septic systems.

In 1985, the Town Sanitarian issued a report of program results to the WPCA recommending temporary abatement guidelines be established for homeowners with failing septic systems, an engineering consultant be hired to recommend alternate forms of on-site or off-site disposal, and a moratorium on building in the Ball Pond area be adopted until a long-term groundwater contamination abatement program was instituted. His report concluded that given the small lots, poor soil conditions and high water table in the Ball Pond area, it was almost impossible to repair failing septic systems on site.

In 1986, a New Fairfield town meeting approved a three year moratorium on construction within the Ball Pond study area, while the Town investigated its sewerage disposal options. In 1987, the WPCA hired Fuss & O’Neill to prepare a wastewater management study for the entire Town. In 1988, a town meeting adopted the most stringent health code in the State with requirements in excess of the state health code. Also instituted by the Board of Selectmen were annual surprise audits of the Health Department work and records by an outside engineering firm to insure compliance with and enforcement of the new health code.

In 1989, CT DEP issued a town-wide pollution abatement order to New Fairfield.

In 1990, the WPCA’s wastewater management study by Fuss & O’Neill proposed a sewage collection system for the Ball Pond and Town Center areas, as well as the Town’s public schools located on Gillotti Road, as a first phase of sewering. This collection system was proposed to connect into the Danbury sewer system via Barnum Road and the existing Padanaram Brook interceptor sewer line.

The report also identified seven other areas within New Fairfield which did not require sewering at that time but might require sewering in the future due to limitations in on-site subsurface disposal. As a result, the report recommended that the sewer piping installed in phase one be sized to accommodate future flows from the identified potential problem areas. The Ball Pond area system was to serve 652 properties at an estimated cost of $19.1 million. If designed to serve 1,023 properties, the estimated cost was $26.4 million. If Charcoal Ridge, Indian Hill and Candlewood Knolls were added, the total cost would be $42.8 million.

In 1991, the WPCA proposed a sewer system for the Ball Pond area, the town schools, and the Town Center at an estimated cost of $29.2 million. The Board of Selectmen approved the proposal. But in the face of strong public opposition from the proposed users to the estimated cost ($1,304 per year for 20 years plus $1500 connection fee for a house assessed at $100,000), the proposal was rejected by the Planning Commission and the Board of Finance. The WPCA than turned their attention to developing a town wide on-site wastewater management program that would be acceptable to the CT DEP.

The WPCA, Board of Selectmen, and Health Department jointly developed a septic management program incorporating property inspections, homeowner education, water quality testing, investigation of alternative technologies, legal action to force septic repairs, and exploration of funding sources for low and moderate income homeowners to make repairs. In March of 1991 the Town adopted a Septic Management/Sewer Avoidance Ordinance. Town Health Department staff systematically inspects 1/3 of all properties in Town per year, check for evidence of above ground discharges and illegal connections to storm drains, brooks, etc.

Properties with no observed violations are issued a three-year permit to discharge. Those with violations are issued orders to take corrective action. Homeowners are mailed an inspection report and an educational pamphlet on water conservation and proper care and maintenance of a septic system. If the septic system has not been pumped within five years, they also receive a reminder notice to pump. After the first year of inspections of 1549 properties, 32 failures had been found, a failure rate of 2.1%.

Water quality testing of drainage outflows, catch basins, streams and eight shallow groundwater-monitoring wells is performed six times per year at 55 locations throughout the Town. Samples are analyzed for fecal coliform, fecal strep, nitrates, ammonia and phosphorus.

Investigation of alternative technologies included a proposal for a pilot project to test anaerobic type septic systems in New Fairfield. Another involved a proposed test of the hypothesis that in tight, impervious clay soils, shallow groundwater and deep bedrock groundwater are two separate groundwater systems and thus justify two separate groundwater classifications. CT DEP has not yet responded to these proposals (Note: a reminder that this text was written in 1992).

The Town spends over $12,000 per year in legal fees to take property owners to court who do not voluntarily repair failing septic systems. This involves approximately 20 cases per year. The Town has won every case.

In October 1991, the Town received a Small Cities grant through CT DOH of $350,000. Low and moderate-income homeowners can receive low interest or no interest loans, with deferred payments, for use in repairing failing septic systems. Approximately 30 homeowners will be served initially, with more in the future, as the fund is replenished from loan paybacks.

The Health Department has been expanded from 3 1/2 to 6 1/2 full time employees in order to accomplish the goals of the Septic Management Program. According to the ordinance, key purposes of the program are to develop on-site inspection data from all areas of Town which can be used by the WPCA in a wastewater management plan for the entire Town, and to delay as long as possible or avoid completely the need for sewer installations throughout New Fairfield. The 1975 Plan of Development and the proposed 1992 Plan of Development support a strong sewer avoidance/septic management program for the Town.



NEW FAIRFIELD CT CONSIDERATION
OF SEWAGE TREATMENT OPTIONS (UPDATED ONLY TO 1992)

The 1973 Report on Wastewater Collection and Disposal for New Fairfield, prepared by Camp Dresser and McKee, investigated a variety of potential options for treatment of sewage effluent collected by any future Town sewer system. The alternatives considered included treatment within New Fairfield, treatment in the township of Southeast in New York State, treatment in New Milford, and treatment in Danbury. The report concluded that the Danbury sewer system would provide the most feasible overall solution for the future anticipated pollution problems in New Fairfield.

In 1977, consideration was once again given to connecting any future municipal sewer system in New Fairfield to a treatment plant in New Milford. The report entitled Final Environmental Impact Statement: Wastewater Collection and Treatment Facilities in New Milford prepared for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considered such a connection. The report concluded that if a town-wide sewer system were eventually required, connection to the Danbury system for treatment might be more costly than to the New Milford system.

The 1990 consulting study prepared by Fuss & O’Neill proposed a municipal sewerage system which would connect to the Danbury sewer system, via Barnum Road, to the existing Padanaram Brook interceptor sewer line. The volume of sewage collected by the proposed phase one sewer service area was estimated at 0.253 MGD. The 20 year design flow rate, which included seven other identified potential problem areas, was estimated at 0.7 MGD.

In 1991 CT DEP mandated that a 0.7 MGD allocation of treatment capacity be set-aside for New Fairfield in the upgraded Danbury sewer plant. The City of Danbury, which is responsible for the construction, maintenance and operation of the Danbury sewage treatment plant, questions this current allocation on the grounds that New Fairfield has not agreed to pay for the CT DEP mandated allocation. Danbury would like to be able to allocate a portion of this additional regional capacity to Newtown for its proposed sewer line serving the Hawleyville area.

This would maintain the integrity of Danbury’s share of the treatment plant’s capacity and would provide fiscal relief to the City, with Newtown paying for a portion of the construction and maintenance costs of the CT DEP mandated additional regional capacity.

New Fairfield supports a cooperative regional approach to serving the region’s sewerage needs for economic development and environmental protection. The 0.7 MGD set-aside for New Fairfield in the Danbury sewer plant was mandated by CT DEP as a result of the pollution abatement order issued to the Town in 1989.

When there is sufficient data to show that the Town’s Septic Management Program is adequately protecting the groundwater and surface waters to the satisfaction of both New Fairfield and the CT DEP, and/or the 20 year design flow rate can realistically be adjusted downward for potential problem areas in the Town, CT DEP may reallocate a portion of the 0.7 MGD regional need set-aside designated for New Fairfield in the Danbury sewer plant. The Town has not voted to pay for the set-aside capacity since it is not currently being used.

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