Old Lyme has historically been opposed to sewers. Yet at a special meeting in mid-August, Old Lyme Shores Beach Association voted overwhelmingly in favor of installing them.
Of the 192 total residents in this Old Lyme beach community, the vote was 135 for and only 30 against, with an 86 percent voter turnout. Old Lyme Shores Beach Association President Paul Rowean described it as the largest and best-attended meeting he'd ever seen.
Old Lyme Shores Beach Association is the second beach community to decide to install sewers. , which voted 147-10 to hook up to New London's sewer system earlier this summer.
"I think it's the best move," said Old Colony Beach Association President Doug Whalen. "We understand the town has a sewer avoidance program. Old Colony Beach WPCA [Water Pollution Control Authority] does not. We are working to clean up our brown water. Our WPCA is working with DEEP [Department of Energy and Environmental Protection] and is moving forward."
Although the two beach communities will pay to install their own systems, they'll join forces along Route 156, where both will share the installation and maintenance costs of pipes that will carry waste water through East Lyme and Waterford to New London's waste water treatment facility.
For Old Colony Beach Association, this proposal is year two of a five-year plan that, after hiring consultants to study the problem, residents feel will be the most cost-effective way to ensure that their beaches are no longer polluted by waste water from their housing development.
That isn't likely to be the end of it, however. Scott Boulanger, who is president of the Old Lyme Federation of Beaches and vice president of Miami Beach, also said his organization is seriously considering following suit.
"Shoreline communities are having huge problems with drainage issues," Boulanger said. "If we're polluting on Miami Beach, Sound View Beach [which the town owns] is right next door. We want to be nonpolluting. We want to do the right thing."
Beach vs. Town: Sewers vs. Septic
Beach associations in Old Lyme are independent governing bodies that can enter into whatever agreements with state and local governments that their membership empowers them to. As the beach associations exist as separate entities from the town of Old Lyme, they also assume responsibility for all costs and liability associated with projects such as installing and maintaining sewer systems.
But though the town of Old Lyme and its taxpayers have no financial or legal responsibility for any contracts or construction that the beach associations decide to enter into, a number of townspeople would prefer to see no sewer systems installed, period.
When the Old Lyme Water Pollution Control Authority was established in the 1990s, its mission was sewer avoidance. More recently, residents have expressed concerns about ground water being shipped out of town because of water scarcity issues and potential water shortages in the future.
To date, the town has managed to get by without sewers. Old Lyme closely monitors waste water and well water to ensure that no nitrates are polluting local water. It has also adopted a policy that mandates people pump out their septic systems on a regular basis and that waste is treated locally at Shoreline Sanitation in Old Lyme.
Even so, members of the Board of Selectmen concede that the densely-populated areas around the beaches and Rogers Lake are a cause for concern. With that in mind, they invited Lombardo Associates Inc. to give a presentation at a special meeting last week to discuss community waste water disposal options that stop short of sewers.
The selectmen are pretty exicted about the alternatives that favor four-inch pipes from septic tanks that would pump out into drip irrigation systems that could be installed at the driving range behind the site of Cherry Stone restaurant or at Black Hall Golf Course. Members of the Board of Selectmen said that DEEP is supportive of this idea and they'd like to explore it further.
"It does what we've talked about, keeping groundwater in town," said First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder. "It also provides a solution to the other communities and gets us land that we could use for other things."
"Overall, the country is moving away from "large pipe" [sewer systems]" said Selectwoman Mary Jo Nosal. "Four-inch pipes do less damage to the ecosystem and are cheaper. I like the idea that we're opening our eyes to other options."
"I hope the beach associations will embrace what we're trying to do," said Selectman Skip Sibley. "No matter what the two beach associations do, I think we should continue to look at the options."
Beach Communities Stand Alone But They're Banding Together
So far, however, the recent suggestions for alternatives to sewers have only served to anger many beach association members, who say the town has no business interferring.
"I don't feel like you guys are listening," said Rowean. "We've got major drainage problems on our beach."
Beach Associations such as Old Colony and Old Lyme Shores say they've been working on ways to solve the problem of waste ending up in Long Island Sound for years. They've commissioned studies and considered all the options. Most of their housing lots are too small to accommodate the septic systems the town would require, they say. Hooking up to New London's sewer system is the best and most affordable option and they say they have the support of DEEP.
A Sea Change in Old Lyme
Clearly, this isn't an issue that's going to be resolved overnight but the movement toward sewers does seem to have resulted in a sea change on the part of the town of Old Lyme when it comes to dealing with waste water.
"Let's look at it differently," said Reemsnyder at last night's Board of Selectmen meeting. "The biggest thing is this town is going to take an active role. I hope that everyone sees this as a change in tone. There are issues. Let's step up to the plate as a town."