We are moving forward with long-standing plans to sell the physical assets of the municipal water system that the Town of New Fairfield is operating. It provides water to town buildings and a number of commercial establishments in the center of town, including Stop and Shop, the New Fairfield Market, and a number of food establishments. The system grew out of the leak of solvents decades ago from a dry cleaning store in the Stop and Shop plaza and has been operated by the Town of New Fairfield since 2004. Under the terms of a 2010 Consent Decree with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), the Town has been looking for a long-term solution to what was conceived as a stop gap measure to address groundwater pollution in the center of town.
A proposal to sell the system to Aquarion Water Company has been in the works for over three years, but was not brought to completion. Aquarion has been designated by the State Department of Public Health as the Exclusive Service Provider for New Fairfield and surrounding towns. They are currently reliably providing water to a number of other parts of town, including Ball Pond, Dunham Pond, and the Birches.
The current system is run largely by volunteers. While they have done yeoman’s work, we cannot continue to rely on them to provide safe drinking water to town and commercial employees who drink our water or to residents who purchase food and beverages made using our water. The system failed a year ago and water had to be shut off to a number of customers for a period of time. Another failure almost occurred again in early July. There is no contingency plan for such failures.
All contracts are the result of give and take. Neither party gets one hundred percent of what they want. This contract has had a lot of give and take over the past three years and has been adjusted to address changes in circumstances – i.e., the fact that the Town waited so long to conclude negotiations two to three years ago that bond money is no longer available to address potential expansion. Balancing everything, I am convinced this contract is fair to New Fairfield and its taxpayers.
We will receive a payment 0f $150,000 from Aquarion for the water system assets, which is the price recommended two years ago by the Public Utilities Regulatory Agency (PURA), the state agency that has jurisdiction over these matters. While everyone would like to see us get more, I believe that is a fair price – and it would be difficult hard to argue with PURA’s recommendation.
The sale will not affect the use of Memorial Field, which is where the system’s pumping is done. Aquarion would like to expand the system to cover more commercial and residential establishments in the center of town, possibly by connecting to the water systems at Dunham Pond or the Birches as had been recommended several years ago in a consulting report to the Town. Expansion will take place if the costs of doing so are commercially viable.
Selectman Kim Hanson has argued that the Town should extract a promise from Aquarion that they will not pump more than 30,000 gallons a day, siting the possibility that the Town will need that water many decades in the future. The Town currently pumps 6-7,000 gallons a day. Since we do not own the water under our property under governing law, the Town has no jurisdiction to require such limitation.
By signing this contract, we are turning the system over to Aquarion professionals who know how to run and expand a system. We are getting out from under a potential liability. The head of Water Pollution Control Agency (who also happens to the water system operator) and Director of Public Health believe this is in New Fairfield’s best interest. I agree and fully support the sale.
The Board of Selectmen voted 2-1, with Selectman Hanson opposing, to move the sale forward. The proposal now goes to the Planning Commission, which has jurisdiction under state statute to review all sales of town assets. Following their action, the proposed sale will come back to the Board of Selectmen for scheduling a Town Meeting with a vote later this summer.
New Fairfield Day
We are making plans for this year’s New Fairfield Day and have scheduled it for Saturday, September 15, with rain date of September 16. We are planning to expand activities, including more family-oriented activities. Mark your calendars!
– Khris Hall, Selectman