Northborough approves settlement in sewer litigation with Marlborough

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Water rates in Northborough will increase in the next fiscal year according to a town consultant. Photo/Dakota Antelman
The Select Board approved a settlement agreement with Marlborough over sewer litigation. (Photo/Dakota Antelman)

NORTHBOROUGH/MARLBOROUGH – The Select Board approved a settlement agreement with Marlborough over sewer litigation.

During its May 13 meeting, the board also approved an intermunicipal agreement.

“I just want to thank all those involved over the six to seven to 14-year — depending on how you count it — process for making this happen,” said Chair Mitch Cohen. “… This is a big, big thing that’s great to get behind us. I’m very pleased with the outcome.”

Marlborough filed a complaint in Worcester Superior Court in 2016, seeking a declaratory judgment “to determine the rights and obligations of the parties under a now-expired Intermunicipal Agreement (“IMA”) for wastewater treatment services” provided at Marlborough’s Westerly Treatment Plant to Northborough.

Marlborough and Northborough have had a contract for the town to pay the city for its wastewater treatment services since 1973. The municipalities had an IMA that expired in 2009, and in 2012, Marlborough completed an upgrade of the plant, according to the city’s complaint.

The city argued that the upgrades were only borne by Marlborough.

“The amounts charged to Northborough under the now-expired IMA failed to adequately compensate Marlborough for the full value of the wastewater treatment services provided,” the city’s attorneys wrote.

In the complaint, Marlborough contends that the town paid $1.75 per 100 cubic feet (CCF) of sewage, and the cost to supply sewer service was about $8 per CCF. The city wrote that in 2014, it began to invoice Northborough based on the sewer rate applicable to outside users, which was $6.05 per CCF at that time.

“Northborough asserts that, notwithstanding the expiration of the IMA in 2010, Northborough is entitled to the rate calculation set forth in the IMA, apparently in perpetuity,” the city wrote.

In a counterclaim, the town argued that after the IMA expired in 2010, Northborough “attempted to negotiate a further IMA with the City, but has been rebuffed with the City claiming that it will not enter into any further IMAs with the Town until the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issues the City a NPDES permit allowing additional flow from the City’s Westerly Wastewater Treatment Plant.”

Northborough argued that after the expiration of the IMA, the town continued to send its wastewater to the plant and pay the user fees under the previously-agreed billing and payment procedures.

In 2014, Marlborough’s Department of Public Works commissioner notified Northborough that the billion methods have been modified and the town would be invoiced bimonthly at the $6.05 per 100 CCF rate. The town argued that this would more than triple the user fees.

Since the complaint was filed in 2016, the case has remained active in Superior Court.

During Town Meeting, voters approved an article appropriating up to $7,619,607 for payment toward the settlement. Town Administrator Tim McInerney said during Town Meeting that he hoped to use the article as leverage to get the city to accept the settlement and for an IMA beneficial to Northborough.

The documents were also approved by the City Council on May 20.

Update: An earlier version of this article stated that the documents had yet to be approved by the City Council.

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