Contamination adds nearly $2M to Fairfield berm project

A brochure prepared by the Water Polluction Control Authority details the work that needs to be done to the treatment plant on Richard White Way. Fairfield,CT. 1/12/18

A brochure prepared by the Water Polluction Control Authority details the work that needs to be done to the treatment plant on Richard White Way. Fairfield,CT. 1/12/18

Contributed / Contributed photo

FAIRFIELD — The cost of a berm and pumping station project is now expected to cost triple the original $3 million budget, due in part to contamination found in soil during excavation of the site, officials said this week.

The latest increase to the project is expected to total nearly $2 million, bumping the entire cost to $9.6 million.

The town will pick up about $2.27 million, which includes the entire $1.88 million increase. The Water Pollution Control Authority will cover $3.7 million and grants will cover $3.63 million.

This is not the first increase the project has faced since funding was first approved back in 2015. The cost had already more than doubled in 2019 and further increased in 2020.

The project came about in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy when the wastewater treatment plant on Richard White Way almost flooded and the town realized it needed to protect it from future storms.

Contaminated soil was found during the excavation phase after construction began in January 2020.

“That needed to be remediated and dealt with,” said Jared Schmitt, the town’s chief financial officer.

The contamination there isn’t connected to the fill pile scandal, though the precautions the town now has to take there are.

“When the fill pile issue emerged, the regulating agencies became involved and consequently, everything and anything we did down there became scrutinized,” said John Marsilio, the acting public works director. “There’s no choice anymore as to what we have to do.”

He said they’ve already increased testing in other parts of town.

Selectman Thomas Flynn said the fill pile scandal expanded the scope for projects across town, adding an additional level of scrutiny.

“The fill pile issue has raised the level of testing and raised the bar in all of these issues,” he said. “We have to be extra cautious.”

The contaminated soil at this site dates back to the 1940s, back when this type of fill was allowed. The issue was compounded in the decades after with wastewater from industrial sites going to the treatment plant from the 1950s to 1970s. During that time the discharge was processed and the sludge placed near the plant, according to town documents.

Work was paused when the contaminated soil was found so more testing could be done and the town could get direction from the Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, officials said.

“These findings contributed to the extremely costly methods the town now had to proceed in order to complete this critical project,” according to town documents.

This includes excavating, handling and disposing the contaminated soil, as well as modifying the landscaping. The work also requires more traffic control and the delay meant increased consultant fees.

The authority is now handling 62 percent of the non-grant costs and the town is handling 38 percent. Prior to the most recent allocation, the authority was handling about 91 percent and the town was responsible for 9 percent, or $385,000.

Schmitt said the town picking up the whole increase made sense because there are town assets that are also protected by the project, including the regional fire training school and animal control center. Putting the full burden on the authority would also affect rates and some board members felt the split should be even back when it was first approved.

“We thought this was fair,” he said.

The selectmen authorized bonds for the costs this week.