AP NEWS

WPCA approves payment for three Ansonia sewer collapses

May 12, 2019

ANSONIA — Members who attended a special emergency meeting of the city’s Water Pollution Control Authority voted unanimously to pay Frank Pepe Construction’s full $915,738 bill for repairs to the recent sewer collapses on Pershing Drive, Woodlawn Avenue and Hull Street.

The money was taken from the Authority’s $2 million undesignated reserve fund.

There were no membership challenges, no yelling over each other’s comments and no controversy over the actual vote.

However, Rita St. Jacques, the city’s sewer administration, warned that draining the rainy day fund may eventually lead to an increase in the sewer usage fees charged homeowners and businesses.

She said the Authority will set the usage fee following a public hearing in July.

St. Jacques also told the Authority that Chairman Nunzio Parente, who was unable to attend Thursday’s meeting, was “on board with paying the full bill.”

Until Thursday, Parente offered only half payment and opposed paying the full amount using only WPCA money.

“I’m gratified that the two people (Parente and Andrew Geruntho) who were fearlessly opposed to paying the bill did the right thing,” said Charley Stowe, a WPCA member and first ward alderman. “Why have a rainy day fund if you are not going to use it for emergencies? And this was a major emergency.”

Stowe said several residents have complemented him for standing up in the face of adversity and pressing to pay the bill.

“I didn’t like what went on in our last two meetings but I felt I had to stand up for the taxpayers,” he said.

But Stowe also believes the sections of the City Charter which deals with WPCA has to be cleared up in its next revision.

The debate over the bill was a result of a major sewer collapse on Feb. 23 that flooded the basement of the Lemko Social Club with raw sewage and threatened businesses and restaurants on Pershing Drive. The collapse required digging a 30-foot trench, blocking the Pershing Drive breakdown lane with barriers and slowing vehicles to 10 mph through the repair zone.

It took nearly a month to repair the break — then a 10-foot pipe broke on Woodlawn Avenue near Forest Street and nearly 70 feet of pipe collapsed on Hull Street.

In response, Mayor David Cassetti to begin work on a $16 million capital improvement project to photograph the inside of the entire system running through the city’s six square miles. He said he wants to repair the broken areas and reline the remaining century-old clay pipes.

John Hinson, pastor of First Baptist Church and a WPCA member, arrived after Thursday’s meeting had adjourned. He was allowed to register his abstention on the record.

“I’m still not convinced we had to pay anything,” Hinson told his colleagues. “I’m not convinced we are responsible at all.”

“I’m not saying we shouldn’t help,” Hinson said.

Parente had recommended the WPCA pay half of the bill and let the city pick up the rest.

In early March, the Authority voted 3-2 with Hinson abstaining to pay the full bill.

Parente refused to accept that vote, claiming it was illegal because he believes Alderman Domenico Filippone should not be on the Authority. He cited a city charter line which allows an alderman and a Public Works employee to sit on the Authority, which he said meant only one alderman on the board, a seat filled by Alderman Charley Stowe.

Corporation Counsel John P. Marini disagreed, saying if that was the case, the Charter would read “no more than one Alderman.”

Nevertheless, the Alderman revised the line last month by passing an ordinance that change the wording to “at least one Alderman.” Their ordinance also adds two more members, including a third alderman.

Parente brought the WPCA lawyer to the May 1 meeting, who claimed the ordinance and the new members could not take effect until May 19 — 30 days after its publication in the newspaper.