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Holyoke, MA nears agreement with Aquarion on $170 million contract
Plan to save ratepayers $8.6 million per year

November 07, 2004
By David Reid

HOLYOKE - The city is up against a strict deadline to clean up the Connecticut River, whether or not it chooses to privatize its sewer department, a top state regulator said last week.

In a Nov. 2 letter to the mayor, Michael J. Gorski, regional director of the state Department of Environmental Protection, said the city has run out of time and must begin abatement of its combined sewer overflow facility at Berkshire Street.

Gorski cites an April 2001 administrative order issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requiring the city complete construction by Sept. 15, 2004 to significantly reduce sewer discharges into the river through its Berkshire Street facility.

"That deadline has been missed," Gorski wrote.

Holyoke's deadline was extended by the state and federal regulators, he said, "due to the city's efforts in pursuing cost-effective options to develop a project that meets the agencies' standard of no more than four untreated discharge events per year."

City officials have said that the Berkshire Street facility, which carries combined stormwater and sewer lines, currently discharges sewer into the river 52-80 times a year during heavy rains.

A draft 20-year contract between the city and Aquarion Water Services of Bridgeport, Conn., calls for treatment plant upgrades and new construction at Berkshire Street.

City-hired consultants have said Aquarion's proposal would reduce the sewage overflows to four a year and save rate-payers between $7.1 million and $8.6 million a year. Some city councilors say the savings might be much less.

The contract, which needs approvals by the BPW and Mayor Michael J. Sullivan, calls for average annual service fees to the company of $8.43 million over 20 years. The company has pledged to hire up to 26 city workers at the same pay and with more benefits.

The BPW meets Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. in the Department of Public Works' 63 Canal St. offices.

At that time, the board will consider public comments on the contract, and will consider proposing a fee increase to help cover the cost of construction. The city has also been approved for a state revolving fund loan of $18 million at 2 percent to pay for the project.

In his letter, Gorski says Aquarion's preliminary design, which reduces odors at the plant and provides secondary water treatment, are positive signs, as is the state's approval of the low-interest loan.

Gorski added that his agency "does not take a position with respect to the proposed public-private partnership.

Whether or not the city signs the contract, however, the Department of Environmental Protection and probably the EPA "will require the city to proceed with the Berkshire Street CSO abatement project in order to meet the agencies' standards," Gorski wrote.

He concluded that the city has been given "sufficient time to explore technical options and financing opportunities. ... The city must now move forward with the remediation of the CSO discharge, regardless of whether it elects to enter into a public-private partnership. "Failure to move forward with the CSO project places the city at risk for further enforcement action, including monetary penalties."