August 23, 2019

Opinion: Vote Tuesday in Old Lyme’s Referendum on Sewers, Then Respect the Result

OLD LYME — Tomorrow Old Lyme voters will go the polls to decide whether the Town of Old Lyme should bond $9.44 million to fund the installation of sewers on three streets in Sound View. The facts of the proposal have been widely reported, for example, Mary Biekert of The Day authored a comprehensive article on the subject published Saturday on TheDay.com at this link.

As a community newspaper that cares passionately about the community we serve, we never endorse politicians and rarely choose sides in town referenda. Therefore, we will not be making any recommendation on how you should vote tomorrow, but we will, however, take the opportunity to make a few comments.

This sewer issue has polarized the town with the residents of Sound View understandably not wishing to pay the whole installation cost of sewers saying that is unfair and the cost should be divided between all town residents.  Meanwhile, most townspeople, excluding the Sound View residents, do not see why they should pay for someone else’s sewers when no one would pay to fix their septic system if it failed.

It is important to remember that the Town is under a state mandate to install the sewers and so doing nothing is not an option. The volunteers on the Old Lyme Water Pollution Control Authority (WPCA)  have dedicated an incredible number of hours to this project and our impression is that they have no political agenda. Rather, they are simply hard-working individuals trying to solve an extremely challenging problem and we salute their efforts. If the referendum fails tomorrow, there seems to be a fairly general consensus that the costs will rise in any subsequent plan.

Some have argued that the Town, that is, all Old Lyme residents, should be paying for the work in the streets since they are town-owned and the Sound View residents should only be paying for the hook-ups to their houses. This sounds logical but does not seem to follow the precedent set elsewhere in the state, nor significantly in the four other beach associations in Old Lyme that have already signed on for sewers to be installed at their own expense.

We have enormous sympathies for the residents of Sound View, who — if the referendum passes — will have to pay a median cost of over $31,000 to pay off the loan that the Town is taking out on their behalf. This can be paid in full right away or financed over 20 years at 2 percent interest. The key question is what is a home worth after sewers have been installed?  The assumption is that the sewers will increase the value of any house by more than the homeowner has paid. No one other than the owner benefits from that increase in value, but we also recognize many of the houses in Sound View are never sold but passed down from one generation to the next.

Finally, we are intensely distressed by the deep rift opening up once again in our community over the sewer issue. We recall the green ribbons of yesteryear when residents publicly displayed their support of the first school building project brought to referendum by Region 18 to the anger of those who were not in favor of the proposal. Those were difficult days with palpable mistrust and resentfulness on both sides. 

But back then, there was no social media to fuel the argument and too much has been said on the sewer issue on this virtual town square, some of it inaccurate and/or laced with political venom. This mounting tension spilled over into last Monday’s Special Town Meeting at which  procedural confusion sparked some most unfortunate behavior.

There is no place for this in our beloved town so, regardless of how you are going to vote tomorrow, let us quietly and respectfully take our differing opinions to the ballot box … and then treat the result in the same manner.

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Comments

  1. Bill Folland says

    There are several misstatements in your opinion letter. They are as follows:

    1.Para. # 3, You stated that a majority of townspeople do not support paying for someone else’s sewers but you have no factual basis for your claim, i know of no survey that will support your claim.

    2. Para. # 5, You stated that state wide and local president supports the towns current financial plan whereas Soundview residents pay 100 %.. This is incorrect. Old Saybrook approved a sewer plan for their beach communiyies and agreed that the town would pay 25% of the project cost. The private beaches are mini municipalities 100% of the property owners in these beach communities share the cost of their proposed sewer systems.

    The Town of Old Lyme is one of, if not the largest, property owners in Soundview. They own a large parking lot, they own the beach area at the foot of Hartford Avenue as well as all the roadways in the area. Pollution comes from more than just the private wells, Stormwater runoff and vehicle traffic are major contributors. Are these contributing factors to the pollution issue the fault of just Soundview property owners?, I think not.

  2. Thank you for your comments, Bill. We have amended our text in response to your first comment.

  3. I am a year round full time resident of Misc Area B. I would like everyone to understand why we owners are opposed to the sewer project. The town reached out to the state concerning sewers at Sound View after the private beaches chose to install sewers themselves. We were told that testing was done and the state mandated a resolution. This is not true. There has been no testing and as far as I could find in records ,the beach water is rated a A- or B+ for cleanliness…not polluted. I had my well tested and there is no contamination at all. No one has had a septic crisis that I know of in the area. As for cost recovery of an infrastructure project, yes towns have recouped money but never at 100% of all costs. The town is laying the whole project cost in our laps. That is the most ridiculous thing to expect citizens of a certain area to be responsible for a project on town owned roads that the town wanted and we didn’t need or want. As far as never selling our homes, that a is pretentious assumption and no excuse what so ever! Just imagine a utility company deciding it wants to change your public street to underground pipes or wies and just the people on that street being responsible for all planning, construction, and future maintenance costs of their project, not just your connection. Please consider what I wrote before voting. Your neighborhood could be the next victim.

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