Despite pollution concerns, Brookfield officials drop sewer project from COVID fund plans

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BROOKFIELD — The city’s finance board has voted to approve a finalized list of proposed projects to be funded with federal funds provided through the American Rescue Plan Act.

The proposed list, which is to be considered in a public hearing on Tuesday evening, draws on $3.12 million that has yet to be allocated by the law known as ARPA and includes more than 300 $000 to support all businesses in the Brookfield Fire Department, $200,000 to fund a temporary Behavioral Health Specialist position, and $200,000 to be provided as small business grants.

However, it does not include a recommended $652,000 item to fund the installation of a sewer connecting 11 buildings across nine properties in the Brookfield Market and Brookfield Craft Center area after finance board members chose to remove it last week during their final review of the proposed allocations.

First coach Tara Carr said the sewer work would alleviate pollution problems while benefiting the character of what she called the city’s ‘historic heartbeat’ and would be ‘an integral part’ of efforts wider to revitalize the city centre.

“If we continue to let this situation deteriorate, it will have a huge environmental impact,” Carr said. “If you look at pictures of Brookfield, the first thing you see is the mill, you see the craft center, and when people think of Brookfield, that’s what they think of.”

Septic systems in the area are linked to failing historic dry wells, causing contaminating and disease-causing organisms to leach into the Still River, where rising levels of polluted surface water pose a threat to humans and the environment. region’s ecosystem, according to a report. from the city’s water pollution control authority, or WPCA.

Nelson Malwitz, president of the WPCA, said the problem of installing sewers in the Brookfield Market area has persisted for decades, with the city first presenting plans in 1996.

“They just couldn’t do it because of the cost,” Malwitz explained.

In recent years, Malwitz said plans have become more urgent after the city’s director of health and sanitation asked the WPCA to renew its efforts to address environmental, health and safety issues. related to pollution issues resulting from the properties not being connected to sewers. Then, the arrival of funding via ARPA provided a new avenue of funding for the project.

Typically, beneficiary customers pay the full amount of the sewer installation, “but in this case, the population of beneficiary customers is small and the valuation of properties hasn’t really gone up,” Malwitz said. “The idea is that it would be better for the city rather than a subset of customers to step in to cover the shortfall.”

Opposition

Finance Council Chairman Glenn Rooney joined Carr in supporting the allocation proposal, saying he thought the ARPA allocation would be “the cleanest way to do it.” But other members seemed unresponsive, arguing that the number of residents who would benefit from the project is too small, while expressing concerns that the improved infrastructure would invite developers seeking to build affordable housing projects authorized under state law 8-30g.

“Someone could flip and flip the properties and Brookfield ends up with the bag, that’s really where I’m stuck,” board member Ryan Roudenis said.

In response, Carr noted a recently submitted moratorium on affordable housing developments that would block any residential projects like that. But, as the city’s community development specialist Greg Dembowski explained, that moratorium won’t come into effect until this summer, after the Department of Public Housing issues its final decision 60 days after the close of a public comment period on the issue on April 21.

Setting aside the closing window for an affordable housing development, Dembowski said it would be “extremely impossible, in my view, for multipurpose or high-density apartments to ever be built unless someone buys them all, but even then the river and the road and the railroads are too narrow.

A ladder truck should fit in the front and back of the building, but there isn’t enough space, he said.

More pressing than the potential for a housing estate and pollution concerns, Finance Council members including Eileen Koch questioned the benefit of sewer connections concentrated on such a small number of residents.

“I see the need for it, it’s kind of hard to be that big of the percentage of that relief funding going through such a small benefit,” Koch said before joining Roudenis and his colleague Brianna Ruocco in their vote for. remove the sewer project from the ARPA projects.

In a separate process, officials can still choose to allocate federal ARPA funding for sewer work at a later date; or they could ask the city to approve a 20-year bond sale.

“I’d rather see it in a stand-alone public meeting,” Koch added.

Last summer, Brookfield formed a special advisory committee to gather public input and explore potential uses for a total of approximately $5.2 million allocated to the city through ARPA. The committee collected public input and ranked the proposed projects based on a number of criteria, including ranking each item based on its potential benefits to city residents.

In February, the committee produced its list of ranked project proposals to be reviewed, modified and approved by the members of the Board of Selectors and the Finance Committee over the past few weeks.

About $1.9 million in ARPA funds have already been allocated to date and are listed as “lost revenue” in the city budget. Proposed budget document for 2022-23.

With the sewer project scrapped, the other proposed ARPA positions are due to be presented Tuesday evening at a public hearing held by the Finance Council at 7:30 p.m. The board will also be seeking input on the proposed 2022-23 city and school budgets.


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