The Public Works director outlined a $4.2 million plan to replace major aspects of the sewage treatment plant at the Town Council meeting Monday night. The proposal would include removing the roof to be able to replace the large equipment inside.
“We’ve been pushing off capital needs. At some point you have to take care of capital needs,” Duarte said. He said the machinery had reached the end of its life and would continue to require expensive repairs until it was replaced.
The main components in need of replacement are the eight very large rotating biological compactors (RBCs). The plant has two tanks with four RBCs per tank. Ever since large water users On Semiconductor and Bostitch left town, the system operates only one tank at a time. But, at this point of the plant’s life, parts are constantly breaking, Duarte said. Right now, the tank in use is down to three RBCs because the fourth is broken. There are two RBCs down in the other tank.
While the system has survived with only three of the four RBCs through the winter, Duarte said four were needed going into the summer, which is typically a tougher season for the treatment plant.
“We continue to do expensive repairs,” he said. “I’ve got a laundry list of things we’ve had to do since 2000 – fix a pump, fix an axle … “
Duarte said he’s been spending anywhere between $25,000 and $90,000 a year on repairs. To repair that one RBC will cost between $30,000 and $35,000, he said.
The $4.2 million estimate would cover replacement of the entire current system but not expand it. Duarte said a recent capacity study indicated there would be no need to expand the system in the foreseeable future. Even with adding the proposed Commons on Frenchtown Road development to the system, there would still be more than 400,000 gallons of unused capacity.
“Do you really anticipate having to use both tanks in the near term?” said Council President Michael Isaacs. “If the flows are such that you don’t anticipate using both tanks soon … do we have to replace all eight of these at the same time? Could we replace four of them now and see?”
“We need redundancy,” said Duarte, referring to the other tank as a backup system. He argued in favor doing the whole job at once, even it that meant waiting. “I would rather wait a year, two years, to get the job done right.”
The council’s hesitancy came from a reluctance to increase the town’s debt burden, which is finally starting to come down after a decade of increases.
At the same meeting Monday night, a representative of investment bank First Southwest detailed the town’s indebtedness as the council considered the possibility of refinancing some of that debt. That particular discussion was tabled but according First Southwest, the town owes a total of $83.5 million, though a more accurate number is $38.8 million after factoring in state Dept. of Education reimbursements for education building projects. That number drops to $79.3 million ($35.7 million counting RIDE reimbursement) as of June 30, then $73.2 million ($32.5 million) as of June 30, 2015. Without incurring further debt, the town’s debt would be down to $55.9 million ($24.3 million) as of June 30, 2018.
Spending on sewage treatment plant repairs would be financed through the state’s Clean Water Finance Agency (which is headed by EG’s own former town manager, Bill Sequino) at an interest rate one-third below prime. So, if the prime interest rate is 3 percent, the town would get its money for 2 percent interest.
Declining to vote on the proposal, the council asked Duarte for an estimate of repair costs over the next two years if replacing the system is put off.
For Duarte, it may not be this year, but he is adamant: “At some point we have to take care of our infrastructure.”