Old Lyme - Two beach communities are planning to install a joint sewer system, because their individual septic systems are polluting the ground and nearby water, according to engineering studies.
The Old Lyme Shores and Old Colony beach associations plan to connect their systems via a sewer pipe along Route 156 to East Lyme and Waterford to transport wastewater to the New London Treatment Plant.
As chartered municipalities under state law, the two communities on Long Island Sound would use loans and a grant from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to partially fund the project. The neighboring Point O' Woods beach community already is connected to New London.
But Old Lyme, which as a matter of policy seeks to avoid sewers, wants to consider alternative solutions. The town has asked an engineering firm, Lombardo Associates, to consider others options and is forming a task force to determine the feasibility of a community septic system for certain areas.
"We should at least be looking at it to see if it's a better solution," First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder said.
Ecological and health reasons are driving the overhaul of the individual septic systems in the 192-lot Old Lyme Shores Beach Association, said Paul Rowean, the association's president.
"We're polluting our properties, our beaches and our Sound," he said.
The community's groundwater was found to contain bacteria, including E. coli and fecal coliform, in amounts above the state-imposed limit, according to letters from the association to residents. The letters presented the findings of a 2011 study conducted by the engineering firm Fuss & O'Neill at the association's request.
While the septic systems were built to last 25 years, they are between 50 and 80 years old, and most are located on less than the quarter acre of land needed for proper water filtration, according to the letters.
The engineering firm identified other alternatives, such as a small community system for wastewater treatment, but recommended against those solutions for reasons such as high cost and a lack of available land, according to a draft study sent to residents.
Pollution in nearby Old Colony, a 216-house community, is also a concern. The water level is so close to the surface - only about 13 inches in some parts - that waste from septic systems easily may leach into the ground water, said Doug Whalen, chairman of Old Colony Beach Association.
Both associations are under DEEP consent orders to install sewers and perform other tasks, including securing permits, within several years, according to George Hicks, DEEP supervising sanitary engineer. DEEP funded and approved their engineering studies, he said.
The two communities are in the process of applying for DEEP funding, he said. If there is adequate funding available, DEEP could pay for the project with grants and low interest loans from the Clean Water Fund's small community reserve program.
Whalen, the Old Colony chairman, said that while he is open to ideas from the town, he can't delay the clean-up program because he is under DEEP order. He wants to ensure that another solution wouldn't be costlier or short-lived. He also said there is no identified aquifer in the region where the sewer pipes would be installed, so there would be no impact on the town's fresh water.
For Old Colony, the average cost of the project to each resident would be $25,000 to $30,000 over a 20-year period, according to Whalen.
For Old Lyme Shores, the cost per resident would be between $24,000 and $37,000. That project also would include a new drinking water delivery system, drainage pipes and roads, according to letters sent to residents.
But the town remains concerned that installing sewers would not be in its best interest, Reemsnyder said.
Old Lyme has a sewer avoidance policy, which responds to the state DEEP's 1981 Water Pollution Abatement Order, as stated in the town's Plan of Conservation and Development. The plan states that "depletion of aquifers by the transfer of water out of town in public sewers is a major concern."
There is an increased likelihood that if the two communities installed sewers, the remainder of the shoreline also would want hook up to sewers, Reemsnyder said.
A large pipe through town also could change the small town's character by possibly drawing larger homes and bigger business developments in future years, she added.
At the last Board of Selectmen's meeting, Selectman Skip Sibley said the task force should include members of the beach communities.