Ansonia Sewer Authority to Pay Cost of Sewer Collapse; Chairman Walks Out

By Michael P. Mayko

ANSONIA, Conn. — A heated dispute over who will pay for the massive sewer pipe collapse in Ansonia, Conn., ended with the apparent resignation of city's Water Pollution Control Authority (WPCA) chairman after his commissioners authorized paying the bill.

Steel shoring is unloaded at the site of a sewer pipe collapse in Ansonia, Conn. (Photo by: Brian A. Pounds Hearst Connecticut Media)

“Municipalities do not want people who do a good job,” said Nunzio Parente, who announced “I’m done” before he stormed out of the meeting. “They want people who say ‘Yes.’ ”

Mayor David Cassetti said the WPCA has the money in its accounts to pay the bill. If the agency didn’t pay, the city would have to.

“If the WPCA had not voted to pay this bill, the residents would be looking at least a half-mill tax increase,” Cassetti said. “With this vote, we’ll be able to keep taxes stable or lower them a little.”

On Feb. 21, a nearly century-old underground pipe collapsed, sending raw sewage into the nearby Lemko Social Club’s basement.

 The city set up a portable pump with a backup to bypass the break and send sewage from Clifton and Howard avenues to the treatment plant.

The damaged pipe is not far from the entrance to the Riverwalk; another backup could threaten several businesses and restaurants along Pershing Drive.

On Wednesday, a crew from Brennan Construction began building a retaining wall to allow a crew to go underground and repair the pipe.

City officials have been debating who will pay the bill, estimated at $760,000. Additional work, including a recommendation to reline the trunk line, could up the cost to $1 million or more.

For nearly two hours Wednesday night, Charles Stowe, a Water Pollution Control Authority member and a first ward alderman, held the floor. He urged his fellow members to pass several motions, including requiring a WPCA employee to review a daily log of the construction work kept by Public Works and the city engineer.

“I’m going to ask for a copy,” said Stowe. “I’m going to review it and I’ll put my name on anything. We got stores and stuff up there that can get flooded out this weekend.”

WPCA does not have an on-call contractor, although Public Works does — Frank Pepe Construction. When the pipe collapsed, Pepe was called out.

Stowe also recommended that a list of contractors who can do sewer work be kept by WPCA.

“So that the next time something like that happens, all the contractors are brought to the crisis site and they’re all competing against each other instead of somebody thinking they got us by the…,” he said.

Earlier Parente indicated WPCA would pay a portion of the final bill.

“We’re not gonna pay the whole bill … I can tell you that right now,” he said. “We intend to work with the city.”

But the discussion grew heated when Stowe suggested —and eventually moved — that WPCA be responsible for the entire bill.

“Where do you get the idea we’re paying the bill?” Parente asked.

“Well, it’s never been cleared up who is responsible for paying these things,” Stowe said.

“That’s your interpretation,” Parente said. “It has been cleared up.”

While many municipalities require the sewer authority to be responsible for maintaining the underground pipes, Parente said the WPCA’s lawyer advised the group that the underground pipes are the city’s responsibility. He said WPCA is only responsible for the plant.

“If we were to maintain the lines under the city, our budget would be as big as Public Works... (and) we’d have more than four employees,” Parente said.

Stowe then moved “that when this job is finished and we go over the bill, that the WPCA is going to pay for this break because it’s so big.”

“Not a chance in hell,” Parente said.

However by a 3-2 vote with one abstention, the Authority voted to pay the whole bill.

That’s when Parente apparently had enough.

“Charley, here’s your seat. Come over and sit down … take over (the chairmanship). I’m done,” Parente said, as he grabbed his coat and walked out. “Next January, you’ll have seven aldermen on this board and you can do whatever you want.”

Afterward, Stowe complimented Parente on the job he has done as chairman, saying, “He’s done wonders with the WPCA.”

Cassetti said if Parente is serious and submits his resignation, he will accept it, thank him for his service and replace him.

But Sheila O’Malley, the city’s economic development director, said she will reach out to Parente, who she said has “a lot of institutional knowledge.”

Republished with permission of Hearst Connecticut Media

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