Council rejects wastewater upgrade proposal


Marlborough – Marlborough city councilors traded sharply diff erent opinions concerning a proposed $41 million dollar bond bill at the City Council meeting June 25. The measure would have authorized the money to upgrade the westerly wastewater treatment plant. It was voted down by councilors after a lengthy debate.

If the measure passed at this meeting the city could have qualified for a special low-interest loan from the state's MORE program, which could have saved the city $10 million dollars. The deadline for that program runs out Saturday June 30, and the passage of the proposal was required for the city to be eligible.

So it was with a sense of urgency that councilors deliberated whether to approve the $41 million bond issue.

The proposal had been passed by the Finance Committee, 5-0, earlier in June.

But the chair of the Finance Committee, At-Large Councilor Michael Ossing, told his colleagues he had changed his mind and no longer supported passage of the proposal approved by his committee.

Ossing told colleagues he was disturbed that the city has yet to come up with any designs for the plant, nor a firm estimated cost.

"I am a little nervous," Ossing said. "We don't know what we are getting. We don't know what the design is going to look like."

Other councilors echoed these concerns.

Council President Arthur Vigeant said he was opposed to the measure because this was the last stage councilors could review the process. After the vote was taken to approve the bond, Vigeant said, councilors would have no more oversight.

"The City Council is completely out of the process until the project is done," Vigeant said. "I think we need more answers for this."

Vigeant also said the $10 million in savings could be eaten up by poor oversight.

"If we have [cost] overruns of 30 percent, which we are famous for in this city, that eats up the $10 million," Vigeant said.

Both councilors recommended sending the proposal back to committee to evaluate the design when it comes out. The city has hired an outside consulting firm to evaluate three different designs. It is also waiting to hear back from the state Department of Environmental Protection on whether the upgraded plant will need to send part of the outflow into the ground, at an additional cost of $17 million. The state will not rule on this requirement for another six weeks, Mayor Nancy Stevens said.

Other councilors supported the measure.

"I don't understand what you are looking for," Ward 4 Councilor Peter Juaire said to Ossing.

He said he was not an expert in wastewater plants and would anyway rely on the city's expertise when any design was created.

Ward 2 Councilor Paul Ferro said the bond issue was inevitable and he was comfortable trusting that the city would get the design right.

"We kind of have to have faith," Ferro said. "We can approve $41 million now or in one month or six months from now."

Stevens answered questions from councilors for over 20 minutes. She told councilors the plans were not yet done, but the major project details were already established.

"Do we know what technology we are going to use? No, we do not," Stevens said. "We do know what we are going to get in the end. We just don't know what it will look like."

Stevens told councilors the plant would have expanded capacity and meet federal guidelines on emissions.

Stevens also said that by missing the June 30 deadline for the low-interest state loan, the city could lose the chance of ever getting it.

"We may not get on the list next year," she said.

She explained to reporters that the number of cities and towns applying for the state low-interest loan will likely increase next year. Marlborough is currently on the priority list, but missing the deadline will cause it to lose its slot.

A motion to refer the measure back to the Finance Committee was defeated.

A motion to approve the bond issue was also defeated. Seven councilors voted for it, but eight votes were needed to approve it.

Councilors voted to reconsider the measure at the next council meeting in July.

The mayor told reporters she will submit another bond request in the future, but there is less hurry now that the June 30 deadline cannot be met.