Berlin and Cromwell residents blasted a deal to allow Middletown to join the Mattabassett Sewer District at a public hearing held by its board of selectmen Wednesday, says a town selectman, in a decision that’s largely been made, according to the lawmaker who co-sponsored the bill.
In June 2011, the state legislature passed a bill to allow Middletown to join the regional sewer authority. Town leaders in the three member districts of New Britain, Berlin and Cromwell are slated to vote on a charter revision approved in June by the district’s board of directors.
At Wednesday's public hearing, Cromwell leaders did not vote on the changes, said Selectman Al Waters, a longtime and vocal opponent of the deal. About two dozen residents spoke up Wednesday, Waters said, looking for more information and concerned that "Cromwell was getting the short end of the stick," he said.
Despite some opposition from the Cromwell side, Democratic state Rep. Matt Lesser says the idea that the town wouldn’t ratify the charter changes is “unthinkable.”
“I think we’ve seen a clear indication from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the U.S. EPA that these upgrades need to happen,” Lesser said.
Last November, Middletown voters approved spending $37 million to install a pipeline along Route 9 connecting sewer lines to the district plant in Cromwell. In February, the city paid the $13 million buy-in fee to join the district.
A deal was made to give Cromwell an extra $100,000 a year from the other member towns to compensate them, Lesser said, for the burden of being a host town to the sewer plant.
Still some Cromwell residents are wary of adding Middletown because the additional burden on the wastewater treatment plant could exacerbate problems. Others object to the city's potential voting power on the board of directors if it gets four votes as compared to Cromwell's and Berlin's three each. New Britain has five members on the commission.
“I think it would be pretty difficult for a few folks in that town to stand up to decisions that have already been made not only by the town but to their obligations locally, statewide and federally,” Lesser told Middletown Patch.
Still, Waters said, his town should have equal representation on the board. "New Britain and Middletown could be in cahoots and going back and forth to overrule Berlin and Cromwell."
Lesser is looking at the bigger picture. The point of a regional sewer authority is to clean up Long Island Sound, he said. “The improvement in the environment that is going to result is long overdue, it is essential to the entire region’s economy, it’s critical for us to meet our commitments under federal law, and it’s really unthinkable that a small group of folks that would be able to hold this up at this point,” Lesser said.
Special Act No. 11-15, An Act Concerning the Mattabassett District, is a long and difficult bill to understand and the hundreds of words of text are in red, blue and black, further confusing the reader.
Most of the statute is the same, Lesser said, as put forth in the original legislation from 1961, when the state Senate and General Assembly established the regional sewer authority that comprised Cromwell, New Britain and Berlin.
Bill amendments primarily detail the number of representatives each town shall have on the sewer district’s board of directors and the length of each representative’s term.
“The office of legislative research provides a plain English summary of the bill but because this is a special act, they don’t general provide a summary for special acts,” Lesser said.
The gist of the amended bill is, “the law made a number of changes to the membership of the governing board and explicitly allows Middletown to be admitted assuming it pays a fee to the District and assuming local legislative bodies approve,” Lesser explained.
The charter ratification, expected over the next few months from leaders of all three towns that comprise the district, is nearly a done deal, according to Lesser.
“I would expect that Cromwell will do the right thing because I don’t know what the alternative is,” he said.
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