Inspectors have been visiting houses in the sewer district, looking for sump pumps, floor drains, gutters, and storm drainage systems that are hooked into the village sewers — connections that allow millions of gallons of rainwater to flow into the system and overwhelm a treatment plant designed to clean wastewater from bathrooms and kitchens.
“We know how many properties are on the sewer line. How many of them have a sump pump that’s connected to the town sewer, we don’t know,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said.
“What we do know is that during a rain event our flows — which are in and around 800,000 gallons a day, plus or minus — go from that number to over 4 million gallons per day. So that’s a fivefold increase, attributable to a multitude of potential issues.”
Possible causes for the deluge include Ieaking sewer lines that allow in high groundwater, manholes with poor covers that let in surface flows, as well as basement sump pumps, floor drains and roof gutters that are tied into the sanitary sewers.
The District 1 sewer plan serving the village — there’s a separate District 2 system serving properties around the intersection of routes 7 and 35 — has an official treatment capacity of 1 million gallons a day, so it exceeds its permit limits during rainstorms. Marconi insists, however, that even the high flows are receiving some treatment.
The house inspections now being conducted are done only if an adult is home.
“While these inspections are not mandatory, the cooperation of the sewer users is requested to assist the WPCA by permitting the inspection to help in locating sources of storm water and groundwater that can be redirected out of the sewer system,” says a release from the town Water Pollution Control Authority, which oversees the town’s sewer operations.
Wayne Addessi, who has commercial property on Main Street in the sewer district, objected to initial publicity about the inspections, saying the town didn’t make it clear that people can decline to let inspectors into their homes.
“Residents should know it’s a voluntary thing, You’re being nice to the WPCA if you let them on your property,” he told The Press.
Addessi attended a recent WPCA meeting and wrote a letter to the editor this week, outlining his concerns.
In raising the issue to The Press a week ago, he cited to the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution and citizens’ right to be free from illegal searches and seizures.
Marconi said the inspectors wouldn’t bully their way into the homes of people who didn’t want inspections done, but added that the right to do inspections is based on town ordinances approved by Ridgefield voters years ago, creating the WPCA and authorizing its operations.
Marconi didn’t understand the point of people refusing sewer inspectors.
“It kind of doesn’t make any sense to oppose this,” he said. “Their cooperation is what is going to bring the future sewer use costs down.”
The inspections are part of an effort to reduce storm water flows into the sewer system, and reduce the cost of upgrading the sewage treatment plant.
The town is under orders from state environmental officials to replace the District I wastewater treatment plant, a project Marconi expects will exceed the $13 million spent to build the plant back in the 1980s. Cutting down the amount of water flowing through the system will reduce the size — and cost — of the new plant that will have to be built.
“What needs to be explained clearly to people is that the reason for this exercise is to reduce the amount of water getting into the system, and as a result our having to treat and purify,” Marconi said.
“Because once a number of actual flow into the plant has been calculated, the requirement for upgrades and the size of financial investment will be based on that number.
“Therefore, it is in all of our best interests — and by all, I mean anyone connected to the town sewer system — to be sure that the only discharges to this system are from the sanitary system within the house.”
Marconi said the inspection process isn’t difficult or intrusive for homeowners.
“We’re not going through your whole house,” Marconi said. “It’s a quick check in the basement, and a walk around the outside of the house to be sure that the leaders and gutters are not tied into the sewers.”
The inspections are being conducted by people from EST Associates, a firm working for the town’s consulting sewer engineers, AECOM. The firm has worked with the town WPCA for decades, and is designing the sewer plant upgrade.
The inspections take about 15 minutes.
Inspections are being done Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., weather permitting.
Before inspectors come, there will be notices — “door hanger notifications” — to buildings in areas being inspected. The inspectors are supposed to carry a picture identification and a letter of authorization from the town. The inspections are being fully coordinated with the Ridgefield Police Department, which will know each day what streets inspectors are on.
The town Water Pollution Control Authority (WPCA) invites people who can’t be home during the week to call in and make appointments for Saturday inspections, again, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. To schedule a Saturday appointment, people may call EST Associates at 203-273-4404.
Diana VanNess, the Water Pollution Control Authority’s administrator, said Tuesday, May 10, that the visits by EST inspectors didn’t seem to trouble people.
“The inspections have been going very well, the feedback we have received has been extremely positive from homeowners who have been inspected,” VanNess said. “I went on an inspection to see what the procedure entails. They (two inspectors) showed up on time (two minutes early), with proper identification on vehicles and person — very professional. Conducted a complete inspection of basement, drains, downspouts, exterior and pulled out of driveway in 15 minutes. The homeowner was completely satisfied with the inspection, and EST answered all her questions to her complete satisfaction.”
The inspectors have been been working in a neighborhoods they mapped out as “Sub Area 1,” south of Governor Street and east of Main Street, but including some areas west of Main Street along West Lane and to the south. They expect to keep working there through Friday, May 13, or Monday, May 16. After that they’ll start going door to door and putting notices out in Sub Area 2, which is largely west of Main Street in the area including High Ridge, King Lane, Peaceable Street, Griffith Lane, Bryon Avenue, Catoonah Street, and parts of Gilbert Street.
They may also be doing follow-up inspections in Sub Area 1.
If the town finds properties with storm drainage directed in the town sewers, the property owners will be asked to correct the problems.
The costs will vary, depending on the work needed.
“Gutters are no problem. You just cut them and run them out into your lawn,” Marconi said. “That’s easily done, if in fact there’s a connection.”
Not every pipe going underground is tied into the town sewers, he said.
“A lot of people have them connected underground and they go to another location. They may go to a dry well, they may run to daylight somewhere on their property.”
Sump pumps may also need correction, and the cost can vary, as Marconi found out when he moved to Main Street a few years back.
“When I bought the house we’re in now, the sump pump was connected to the sewer line in our basement,” he said. “It is no longer connected, and we had it re-routed out of a basement window onto our lawn, and it works fine. That cost was approximately $700.
“Now, I already had the pump there, so that did not involve the purchase of a new pump, which could be in the area of $200 to $250. But if people already have a pump, they don’t need to buy a new one, they just need to reroute the pipe.”
More expensive downtown
The kind of work could be more expensive in an area like the downtown village — where there’s a lot of pavement and properties don’t have lawns to absorb the excess storm water that has been going into the sewers.
“If you do have a sump pump, you’d need to remove it from the sewer line and reroute it to a catch basin. That could be expensive relative to the excavation to provide for the line to go to a catch basin,” Marconi said.
He was asked a question Addressi posed: Does the town, or the sewer district, have a plan to help property owners who may face high costs to correct hook-ups of drainage systems into the sewer line — that in many cases were done long ago, by previous owners, before they were considered problematic?
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Marconi said.
“All of this work is being completed prior to the actual engineering that needs to take place to draft plans for an upgrade to our sewer plant,” Marconi said.
“The plant when we built it was $13 million in 1989-90. So the upgrading — which includes de-nitrification, phosphorous reduction and a multitude of new compliance requirements — the anticipated cost will be well above and beyond the original plant cost of $13 million.”
The state will require the town to build a new plant that treats all flow into it — regardless of how much of that flow is, at times, rainwater.
“This upgrade is required by the state of Connecticut. And we are legally bound to address improvement to our sewer plant,” Marconi said. “So before we begin designing a plant, based on a calculated flow rate for the plant, we want to be sure that we have eliminated all potential other sources that would cause us to incur a greater expense to treat this additional water.
“Let’s get that overage down to as realistic a number as we can, so when we submit the plans to DEEP, we don’t have an inflated number. Because the cost of our upgrades, which will undoubtedly be substantial, will be absorbed by members in the district — those who have town sewers.”