RENSSELAER — Mayor Stephen Wood recently sent a letter to residents living along Wood Road and Owen Street, inviting them to discuss the city’s sewer plans in an informal meeting Tuesday at City Hall.
The plans to put a sewer system in that area are being handled by Commonwealth Engineers Inc. The company has been carrying out a survey to piece together the final plans. Some of those living in the area are concerned about the possibility of having to pay to support pumps and grinders that might be placed on their property, depending on which setup is chosen for the sewer system.
The meeting was mostly led by Rensselaer’s project coordinator Jerry Lockridge and Commonwealth Engineers representative Andrew Robarge. Counting those three, members of the Rensselaer City Council and citizens who showed up, approximately 19 people took part in Tuesday’s meeting.
“This is just purely an informational meeting and we don’t have the final design done yet,” Wood said during some introductory remarks. “But we do know part of what’s going on out there with the contour of the land and what the survey presented.”
He emphasized that no decisions are being made yet, city officials would not be voting on the project, and there is no consensus.
“All this is, is a purely an informational meeting to keep you people informed as to what’s going on,” Wood said.
Robarge attempted to explain the current status of the project. He said the engineering firm is putting together a definitive set of plans which could then be put up for bid.
“We’ve got a survey nearly complete for this area, to the point where we can start looking at different alternatives as they relate to this area — the Owen Street area and the Wood Road area — and service for homes in those areas,” he said. “It’s been studied for quite a while, but we’re getting to the point now where we’re ready to actually put together a detailed design on this.”
Robarge explained that the firm has narrowed down to a list of three options it could go with, based on the results of the survey as they appear so far.
Finalized plans for these three options may soon be presented to the city council, which will then make a final decision. Wood said it may be another month or so before finalized versions are submitted to the council.
“That’ll all be done at a public meeting,” Wood said. “If the council approves a design and everything, then it will go for bid. We’re hoping to put it up for bid this winter when the contractors are not so busy.”
When the city annexed the area in question, a well was drilled near Wood Road, which eventually caused water pressure problems for those living in the area.
“That has been annexed since 2011, before I came into office,” Wood said. “They have water out there but no sewer, so a lot of their septics are failing and they need a sewer.”
Wood said some in the area initially denied the need for a sewer. But he said “four or five” people out of roughly 20 have since come forward to say they needed a sewer since their septic systems were failing.
Commonwealth Engineers will also be looking into other areas in the city in need of sewers. These projects are funded by money from the USDARD. That funding will go toward building a major lift station for a project separate from the Owen Street/Wood Road project.
“We got $3 million to do other areas that are un-sewered and to build a major lift station,” Wood said. “That’s $3 million in low-interest loans and $2 million in grant money.”
The $3 million in low-interest loans will be paid back through utility rates.
The first option, a low-pressure sewer, uses a pressurized pipe to carry sewage to a gravity-reliant portion of the sewer system. The firm would construct a manhole at the end of the portion on Owen Street where gravity can no longer be used and install the low-pressure sewer.
Each individual house would have a grinder pumping station. The sewer that currently goes to a property’s septic system would go instead to the new grinder station for waste disposal. The septic systems would be done away with altogether.
Robarge said the stations would be purchased as part of the project and powered from the houses themselves. Maintenance on them would be the responsibility of the city. The top of them would be, as Robarge said, “nearly even” with the surface of the ground.
When asked how much of an electric bill increase there would be for the grinders, Lockridge said he had come to understand it could be anywhere from $20-$40 per year. Robarge said he had thought it would be $20-$30.
“There are some options with respect to financing for these types of things,”
Robarge said. “The city, for this project, is using USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) Rural Development as a funding source for this project itself.”
Some in attendance wondered how they would be able to financially prepare for this arrangement.
“At this point, we haven’t even decided this is going to be the option but, if it was, you would get all that information and it would be provided,” Robarge said. “Jerry himself or one of his staff would probably provide that information to you, saying, ‘This is the time frame within which you need to connect. These are maybe some of the contractors that we would recommend you consider. And here are some options with respect to the way that this could be accomplished financially.’”
Lockridge added that there will be time to prepare since the project will be accomplished during the next 18 months.
The second option, a gravity sewer, would require going deep underground, with the deepest portion being at the intersection of Owen Street and Wood Road. The manhole would have to be 20 feet deep to have sufficient depth. A much more shallow section would be along Matheson Avenue.
“This would be, probably, the most disruptive option, with respect to construction,” Robarge said. “The design would include (gravity) sewer laterals constructed to the property lines.”
In this case, the homeowner would be responsible for, again, abandoning their septic tank and the connection of their existing lateral to a stub lateral at the property line.
Gravity and lift station
The third option would still be an all-gravity sewer, with respect to the connection to each of the residences in the area. This functions as an option that allows for a gravity sewer without requiring a contractor to dig so deep.
The firm has looked at the possibility of a lift station near the intersection of Matheson Avenue and Wood Road. This lift station would pump sewage flows from a collection of houses, pumping it through a gravity sewer that would follow the natural grade of the land.
“In this case, the requirements of the homeowners would be very similar to the previous option, with respect to the fact that we’d be looking at laterals that would need to be connected to the new gravity sewer, and we’d be looking at abandonment of septic tanks,” Robarge said.