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Lebanon Sewer Riles Engineer

Lebanon — With growth along the Route 120 corridor a major issue in the city, a civil engineer is complaining that a proposed office building on Etna Road is being “stymied” by city officials to slow the pace of development.

Dan Nash — of the engineering firm Advanced Geomatics and Design — is challenging the city’s denial of a sewer approval for a nearly 47,000-square foot building on Etna Road with an equally sized parking garage beneath it. Sewer approval is a precondition for the developer to get a building permit and begin construction, but that has been held up by sewer work slated for the intersection of Route 120 and Etna Road.

“It is my opinion that the refusal to grant sewer approval smacks of an illegal growth control measure,” Nash, an alternate of the zoning board, wrote in a June 6 letter to Lebanon Senior Planner David Brooks.

In the letter, Nash contended that the city’s original timeline for the sewer project indicates it would be completed by “early next summer,” and operational for the office building on Etna Road. Therefore, Nash said, the building permit should be granted.

“We have been stymied by Public Works reluctance to approve the sewer for this project,” Nash wrote, later adding, “To not allow any applications until the sewer repair is complete places an undue burden on new or expanded users of the sewer system.”

In an interview Friday, Brooks rejected Nash’s argument, contending that the project has not “complied with a single condition of the approval yet,” specifically pre-building permit conditions such as submitting two sets of revised plans and a stormwater report. He added that the state Department of Environmental Services indicated to the city that it would not issue a conditional sewage discharge permit until the infrastructure work is done.

“The Planning Board is not involved (with the delay) at all,” Brooks said. “They’re not really the holdup here.”

A message left for Planning Board Chairman Larry LeClair was not returned Friday.

The office building on Etna Road is being developed by ICV Holdings of NH, which also developed the office building that houses the Mascoma Corp. adjacent to the proposed project. That office building, built in 2009, represents the first phase of the developer’s plans for the property.

The sewer issue has also snagged a proposed hotel and conference center nearby, being developed by Hanover resident Jay Campion, who raised similar concerns when the timeline for that project was extended in May.

Campion criticized the city for moving slowly in the permitting process, but also said he recognized the need for Lebanon to perform what he described as long-overdue upgrades to its infrastructure. His main concern was that he had been made to “tread water,” waiting for the sewer work to be completed while other Upper Valley hotels and conference centers were approved and updated.

According to City Engineer Christina Hall, the infrastructure project is still very much in flux. As recently as May, the sewer work was anticipated to be completed by October 2014, but the recent discovery of a concrete casing where the sewer line runs underneath Interstate 89 has thrown a new wrench into the mix.

The concrete casing means that instead of running the new sewer line through the existing path, work crews will have to bore a new casing underneath the road, according to Hall. She said the development could cause further delays and has led the Public Works department to request an additional $1.9 million in financing for the project, which was initially estimated to cost $2.1 million.

Hall said that the work is needed due to the infiltration of groundwater into the sewer line, which takes up more capacity than it can handle and causes it to break.

“We have major cracks and gushers from infiltration water actually going into this line,” Hall said. “And it’s in the wetlands, so it’s just continuously infiltrating. It’s not that the sewer line itself would have been at capacity; it’s just because of so much additional flow.”

At Monday’s Planning Board meeting, Nicole Cormen — the City Council representative to the board — said that the extension should be granted for two years, but she added that she would not be voting for another extension of the project beyond the recently approved one “barring a major catastrophe,” given that the office building project has been in the planning review process since 2008 — long before the Etna Road sewer issue made its way to the Public Works checklist.

“It’s really not the city’s business if people can get their projects built in the time they say they will,” Cormen said.

Former Planning Board Chairman Matt Brown, who was a member of the board for 10 years, has been critical of the city’s maintenance of its water and sewer infrastructure.

In an interview Friday, Brown again said that city officials had not invested nearly enough money into its water and sewer systems. It’s a problem that he says stretches back half a century.

“Hindsight is 20-20, but had their been a little recognition that this has been an existing situation and problem for years and years, perhaps we wouldn’t be confronted with one massive bill right now,” said Brown, a sales manager at solid waste disposal firm Casella Resource Solutions.

Brown said that both developers and the city share blame for the quagmire on Route 120, and, “Whether it’s deliberate or not, (the sewer work) is certainly functioning as a de-facto growth moratorium.”

He said that the city has not addressed its infrastructure needs on a “timely basis,” and he often wondered when on the board why the Etna Road sewer project was not included in capital improvement plans even though there was awareness of an issue there.

“It just never seemed like this was part of the program, and I was always curious as to why,” Brown said. “Whether it be coincidence or not ... certainly is convenient now for the city to say, ‘We can’t possibly allow any more development until we get this done.’ ”

Ben Conarck can be reached at bconarck@vnews.com or 603-727-3213