By Richard Gaines
---- — Mayor Carolyn Kirk has asked City Council for a $4 million loan authorization to pay for the next phase of the 6-year-old combined sewer overflow project mandated by the state and federal environmental protection agencies.
The new work, separating waste water from storm runoff in jury-rigged, often strange and surprising sections of eccentric drainage systems that brought both kinds of water together under the city center’s streets, is projected to begin in February or March and continue through the summer, said Public Works Director Mike Hale.
The $4 million will pay for remedial work separating the flows so they no longer mix along Mount Vernon, Perkins, Staten, Prospect, Marchant, Warner, Spring and Main streets, as well as Herrick, Spring, and Winchester courts.
The combined sewer overflow, or CSO, project, required by a modified consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Protection, began in 2006 and has already cost roughly $25 million to $30 million, Hale estimates.
The U.S. Clean Water Act mandates that no wastewater flow into the harbor, ocean and estuaries.
The next phase will eliminate the numerous old drainage setups at homes and businesses that merge wastewater and runoff in pipes under the streets, sending a dirty mix down to the harbor when the volume is larger than the capacity of the system that runs to the sewage treatment plant. Hence, the use of the word “overflow” in the descriptive term “combined sewer overflow.”
Since the project got underway in 2006 with a $27 million loan authorization, the concept of the project has evolved in the Kirk administration and Hale’s office.
Hale said he has come to see the project as essentially an endless series of small appropriations to underwrite continuing appraisal and preventative maintenance of what soon will be a largely modernized system of storm runoff isolated from the flow of wastewater, as the Clean Water Act requires.
The idea, said Hale, is “smaller borrowing, more frequently, more accountability.”
The inconveniences of the street work is not only required, he said, but will in the long run “take the burden off the neighborhoods when we upgrade the old and put it back together again,” but also “allow another generation to enjoy their neighborhoods.”
Hale said he believed that in subsequent phases of work, after the street work in the city center and adjacent residential neighborhoods, the focus will shift to East Gloucester, where sewer drains were laid on bedrock, a circumstance that leads to infiltration with runoff.
Immediately after the completion of the upcoming phase of the project comes what Hale described as “reassessment. It’s a quiet process ... waiting for a couple of big weather events” so that the city can observe where sewage mixed with runoff is flowing into the harbor.
Since the signing of the consent decree, the city has systematically begun the process of replacing a patchwork system created over many decades that did not distinguish between wastewater and rainwater or snow melt with two separate and independent systems, one for the flow to the sewer plant of wastewater and one for runoff to drain into the harbor.
The same expensive, tedious and labor intensive plumbing repair has been under way across the nation under the mandate of the Clean Water Act, written by Congress in 1972 as the nation and the world became acutely conscious of the harm done to the environment by human activity.
Gloucester deferred the CSO project during the 1970s and 1980s, when federal financial incentive subsidies were available.
Richard Gaines may be contacted at 978-283-7000 x3464, or firstname.lastname@example.org.