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.
The administration is seeking authority to borrow the $74 million in an effort to comply with an EPA administrative order, which calls for significantly decreasing the amount of phosphorus, and aluminum treatment, released into the Housatonic River. The plan developed in consultation with Kleinfelder also calls for a nitrogen optimization process.
The City Council doesn't want to rush into making a $74 million decision. Mayor Linda Tyer had put forth a petition calling for the borrowing of $74 million for a massive project with the wastewater system. The city is under an administrative order from the Environmental Protection Agency holding the system to higher standards of phosphorus, aluminum treatment, and nitrogen removal. The project has been in design for about a year, coming after years of ultimately losing appeals in federal cou
The mayor is asking for the authority to borrow $74 million for a major upgrade of the city's wastewater treatment center. The expense has been a long time coming, starting with the city seeking to renew its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit in 2005. The Environmental Protection Agency oversees those permits in an effort to keep waterways clean and had issued a permit in 2008 requiring significantly higher standards of phosphorus, aluminum treatment, and nitrogen removal.
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