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Thursday, April 19 News

Saugatuck Shores residents ask town help with sewer pump problems

While they're generally pumped up to have municipal sewer service, Saugatuck Shores area residents are somewhat deflated by the quality of town-purchased pumps needed for the system to function for each property.

A handful of residents, including representatives of an unofficial neighborhood group, attended Wednesday night's meeting of the Water Pollution Control Authority to share their concerns and to ask that the town assume some of the potential financial burden for the problem-plagued pumps.

The residents vented as the Board of Selectmen, acting in its capacity as the WPCA, unanimously approved a total benefit assessment of just over $5 million to finance the sewer project completed almost three years ago for 342 properties in and around Saugatuck Shores. Each house has been individually assessed $14,824, which the owner is required to pay, most likely in installments over the next 19 years.

"This had a long history and a lot of discussion back and forth," Public Works Director Steve Edwards said of the sewer project, which was first proposed in June 2000.

The project, which extends to Route 136 to the train station, was initially conceived in partnership with Norwalk, but that city ultimately dropped out. The plan was originally estimated to cost about $6 million, a figure that would have passed on an assessment of approximately $18,700 to each property owner. However, the overall cost came in around $1 million less, thanks partially to the town's purchase of pumps in bulk for each home at a reduced rate.

As a rule, Edwards said, the homeowners buy their pumps, but since linking to the main sewer line was mandatory for this project -- one of the largest projects in the state at that time -- Westport negotiated a deal with the pump manufacturer that brought the cost from about $4,200 down to $2,000 for each E/one-brand pump.

"There's no questions that we have a higher failure rate than anywhere else that we're aware of and I don't think it's because they didn't do their job," said resident Marty Bell, referring to Edwards and his staff. "I think it's because of the manufacturer."

Edwards concurred that the pumps appear to be "substandard."

"We're in 100 percent agreement with you that we have a higher rate" of problems than expected, he said, noting that some of the problems were caused by homeowners' failure to abide by the guidelines for proper disposal of waste.

Because of this, Edwards agreed to have the town back up a year's worth of warranties on the pumps if the manufacturer failed to.

"The town said, `Yes, we installed a product that has an unacceptable failure rate,' " noted resident Paul Myerson, who spoke on behalf of "an ad hoc Saugatuck Shores Sewer Committee."

"One of things that we were successful in getting from the town was a one-year extension above and beyond the two-year warranty from the manufacturer," he said.

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But now he and his neighbors have asked for more.

"Why should the town give warranty coverage?" asked Selectman Avi Kaner. "This is the first I'm hearing of this."

Edwards explained that the town was able to use its influence to get the manufacturer to honor most of the warranties on what he said has been an average of two pump malfunctions monthly. He said only in a few cases did the town have to cover the cost, amounting to about $1,500 over the past year.

"I think I speak for everyone behind me that I would like the town to step up and provide a three-year extension," Myerson said, noting the dozen or so neighbors in attendance.

"When I'm outside the town warranty I don't' have that comfort feeling that I'm going to be taken care of," he said.

Edwards estimated that it might cost the town between $15,000 and $25,000 annually to cover the pump warranty extensions. He pointed out, however, that it wouldn't be fair to other town residents who have the same pump systems.

Because of the Saugatuck Shores topography, the town was unable to install a gravity sewer system, and instead has to rely on pumps to move the sewage

"Part of the $14,000 we're paying is for a piece of ...," Myerson said, leaving his sentence unfinished. "I didn't pick E/one," he said, noting that the town selected the equipment.

The selectmen agreed the pumps' reliability is an issue worth discussing further, but not Wednesday night.

"I'd be very interested in helping these homeowners out by exploring ... what we might be able to do," First Selectman Jim Marpe said.