Two weeks after Cromwell selectmen blocked Middletown's admission to the regional wastewater treatment plant, it's unclear how negotiations between lawmakers, the sewer authority board and municipal leaders will proceed.
On the heels of Cromwell's rejection, Brian Armet, Mattabassett District's executive director, was at a loss for words. The town's decision has left him frustrated and guessing the General Assembly will revisit the issue. "I don't know whose responsibility it is now," Armet said.
It's been a decades-long effort on the part of Middletown to join the Mattabassett District Regional Sewer Authority, which comprises Cromwell, Berlin and New Britain.
Middletown's membership to the board would allow its River Road sewage treatment plant to be decommissioned and the city to move ahead with its riverfront redevelopment plan.
State Rep. Matthew Lesser who in August said it was "unthinkable" that Berlin, New Britain and Cromwell would decline Middletown joining the sewer district, maintained the wastewater treatment expansion is an economic and environmental win for the region and the state.
"It's important that people not lose sight of the big picture," Lesser said. "The project makes sense. The process is not the most important thing. We need to focus on the bottom line. There are a number of options on the table. The actual procedure is something that needs to be worked out."
In June 2011, the state legislature passed a bill to allow Middletown to join the regional sewer authority and taxpayer dollars have been heavily invested in the plan.
Last November, Middletown voters approved spending $37 million to install a pipeline along Route 9 connecting sewer lines to the district plant in Cromwell. In February, the city paid the $13 million buy-in fee to join the district.
A deal was made to give Cromwell an extra $100,000 a year from the other member towns to compensate them for the burden of being a host town to the sewer plant. But that wasn't enough to persuade Cromwell leaders. On Sept. 18, the board of selectmen voted 6-1 against allowing Middletown to join Mattabassett.
Despite selectmen overwhelmingly rejecting the measure, Cromwell First Selectman Mertie Terry said giving each of the wastewater treatment district's four member towns the same number of votes would persuade leaders to approve the measure.
Under the district's charter, New Britain has five representatives and Berlin and Cromwell are each allowed three members. Adding Middletown would give the city four votes, an unfair distribution, Terry said.
"The legal decision to bring Middletown in changed the playing field. We are not against it, we're not a vindictive little town," she said. "We're the host town. It impacts our river and tourism on the riverfront. Anything that gets dumped in the river here flows downstream."
Equal representation, she said, would clinch the deal for Cromwell.
Meanwhile construction of the three-year $100 million nitrogen removal project which meets new state and federal requirements, about 55 percent completed, Armet said, is moving ahead with a June 2015 completion date.
In early September, Berlin's common council voted 5-1 to approve the inclusion of Middletown into the district. The lone dissenter, Selectman David K. Evans, said his town also has reservations about representation.
“The biggest concern is that a community that has, and had tried to run their own plant, will come in with more voting direction than other communities that have run this quite well for over 50 years,” he said.
At New Britain's Sept. 11 common council meeting, the Mattabassett issue was sent to the consolidated subcommittee, according to Town Clerk Peter J. Denuzze, with an uncertain time frame.