Aldermen approve plan for sewer upgrades

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A slide from the presentation by Sheppard on Tuesday. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

MANCHESTER, N.H.  –  On Tuesday, the Board of Aldermen approved $231 million for several sewer upgrade projects in eastern portion of the city.

The proposal was just the second phase of required upgrades to the city’s sewer infrastructure mandated in the mid-1990s by federal legislation outlawing “combined sewer outflow” or CSO systems that do not separate stormwater runoff from sewage.

According to Manchester Department of Public Works Director Kevin Sheppard, approximately 50 percent of the city’s 385 miles of sewer pipe is still CSO, a lingering problem he says that is shared by other municipalities throughout New Hampshire.

The first phase of CSO replacement took place on the West Side from 1999 to 2009 and cost $58 million, a result that was quicker than expected and under budget.

Sheppard added that without the federal mandate, many of pipes in the second phase of updates are over 100 years old and were not designed for Manchester’s current population or other factors such as impervious drainage area or severe precipitation events.

Due to the magnitude of required upgrades accompanying the mandate, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has aimed to accommodate municipalities as they update their sewage systems.

According to McClain-Middleton Attorney Greg Smith, who represented the city during negotiations on Phase II with the EPA, the agreed upon timetable for this next phase of upgrades is as favorable as the city could hope to expect.

Sheppard said that the upgrades would be paid through a combination of bonding, money from the city’s sewer enterprise fund and possible financial support from the state and federal government.

He added that the upgrades would change the average annual household sewer bill from $418 this year to $508 in 2024, still under the current state average of $678.

At-Large Alderman Joseph Kelly Levasseur voiced concern with that estimate, with city officials replying that the $231 million figure was accurate and that if nothing was done, negotiation would restart with the federal government. At that point, Smith said that the city would likely just return to where it is now, although the cost may be altered.

Levasseur also questioned why this phase of the project cost more than the first phase on the west side, with Sheppard answering that this second phase includes unique challenges not found during the first phase, with construction costs also different now versus the timeframe when the first phase was completed.

The second phase is expected to take up to 20 years, and will include 11 separate construction projects.