|Pittsfield Votes Down $74 Million Wastewater Upgrades|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
03:56AM / Wednesday, February 28, 2018
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council rejected a $74 million capital request to renovate the wastewater treatment center late Tuesday night.
Shortly before midnight, the request from Mayor Linda Tyer to borrow for upgrades to the plant fell one vote short of the supermajority needed. Councilors Christopher Connell, Melissa Mazzeo, Kevin Morandi, and Donna Todd Rivers all voted down the project.
"I cannot move forward and vote on this, say yes, until all of the questions are answered," Mazzeo said.
The council only discussed it briefly at the end of Tuesday's five-hour meeting. The vote had been put off multiple times, with Connell using a charter objection two weeks earlier to thwart a vote.
The rejection could very likely make the city miss the next deadline as part of an administrative order issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has warned the city that it is prepared to impose fines for not lowering the levels of phosphorous and aluminum in the water coming out of the plant. The project proposed by the consultants, Kleinfelder, also called for a nitrogen optimization process.
"Further delay also will result in increased costs of the upgrades and in the ongoing discharge of higher levels of pollutant to the Housatonic River for an even longer period of time. In light of the history of this matter and the importance of the upgrades to the protection of human health and the environment, please be advised that EPA is prepared to take further enforcement as necessary to ensure compliance with the requirements of the permit should the city fail to meet its obligation to begin construction by August 1, 2018," reads the letter penned by Karen McGuire, acting director of the office of environmental stewardship.
The issue dates back to a 2008 National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit restricting the flow of contaminants into the Housatonic River. The city had fought that in court but ultimately lost. Since then, the city put forth money to design a plant that would meet specifications laid out by the EPA.
The design came back to the City Council early this year and the administration sought to receive the borrowing authority for construction.
The City Council had many concerns over that design and debated over multiple lengthy meetings. But ultimately, not enough councilors were convinced to move forward.
At this point, it isn't clear what the vote will mean. But it is likely to come back to the council in the future, in one way or the other.
For more information, read our prior stories on the topic below.