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City, DHMC Agree to Sewer Contingency Plan

Lebanon — City officials have outlined a contingency plan that could be triggered if the town of Hanover decides to no longer accept wastewater from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and other nearby developments.

In a so-called “security agreement,” DHMC and the city have begun laying the groundwork for a potential sewer extension that could be called upon if Hanover decides to pull the plug on accepting wastewater under its current agreement with Lebanon, which was formalized late last year for the first time since the city began sending wastewater to the college town in the 1960s. The deal between Hanover and Lebanon established a maximum threshold of wastewater flow and required Lebanon to develop a contingency plan detailing how it would redirect all its wastewater flow to its own facility within a year.

Under the deal between Lebanon and DHMC, endorsed by the City Council on Wednesday, the construction of a sewer line extension — estimated to cost more than $9.5 million — would be paid for by the medical center.

Gail Dahlstrom, vice president of facilities planning and management at DHMC, said the agreement is in place “to ensure that if Hanover does reject wastewater going forward, the city has some commitment that we will participate appropriately in the new connection to the Lebanon sewer.”

“Do we think it’s going to happen? I hope not,” Dahlstrom said. “I hope Hanover is able to accept wastewater from the Gile tract.”

In exchange for footing the bill for a sewer extension, DHMC would receive a “proportional share” of fees charged to non-DHMC users served by the additional sewer line. Lebanon City Manager Greg Lewis said Friday that he expects to sign the agreement “shortly.” The medical center has already set aside $475,000 as a down payment of sorts on a potential construction project.

Lebanon currently sends all of its wastewater from the Gile tract watershed, which encompasses all of the land in the Route 120 corridor north of the Centerra complex and DHMC to the border of Hanover, as well as sewage from the Sachem Village area off Route 10, to the town of Hanover for treatment. The arrangement is necessitated by the fact that Lebanon’s own treatment facility is beyond the “point of gravity” of those areas, and the city would need to install extensive infrastructure improvements to pump all the sewage in that direction.

Hanover Public Works Director Peter Kulbacki said the town is still awaiting word from the Environmental Protection Agency on the conditions of its upcoming wastewater discharge permit. He anticipates getting a draft of the permit at the end of this year or early next year, though he has been trying to arrange a meeting with EPA officials to get a heads-up on what might be coming, because once the conditions are in draft form, it’s hard to change them.

The ability of Hanover to accept Lebanon’s wastewater isn’t dependent on capacity; Kulbacki said the town’s treatment facility has “adequate” ability to handle Lebanon’s flows. Kulbacki is instead worried about the EPA discharge permit, which is renewed about every four years typically.

“What we’re guessing is going to happen is we’ll get some sort of monitoring limit for nitrogen or phosphorous, or some limit that we will have to meet through some minor process change,” Kulbacki said.

But Kulbacki said that what starts as monitoring levels inevitably turns into enforcing limits, which could then require improvements to the facility, a situation that may well prompt Hanover to reject Lebanon’s wastewater. He anticipated that the town will be faced with strict limits in five to 10 years, though he added that the EPA sometimes gives some leeway in how quickly municipalities are expected to come into compliance with the new regulations.

In any case, Kulbacki said he is growing nervous as he follows other communities in the state that also discharge wastewater into the Connecticut River, as Hanover and Lebanon do. He said he is finding that the limits for nitrogen and phosphorous are beginning to show up in the discharge permits.

“We’re nervous enough that we are looking to meet with the EPA before they write the draft, because we don’t really know,” Kulbacki said of the potential limits on the discharge permit. “That’s the concern we have: it’s not clear.”

The security agreement was first required as part of the major expansion of DHMC that took place in 2002, but it was never formalized over the years. In January, the Planning Board reiterated the requirement as a condition of approval for the six-story Williamson Translational Research Building, a $116.5 million addition to the medical campus currently under construction.

Lewis, the city manager, said that the agreement between Lebanon and DHMC should be viewed separately from the agreement between the city and Hanover.

“To make some kind of triad out of it is just, I don’t think it’s the right way to look at it,” Lewis said.

Dahlstrom also sought to distance the security agreement from the intermunicipal agreement.

“If there’s an overarching statement, it would be that we, as any institution, will expect to pay appropriately for the services and infrastructure that we would benefit from, and this is one way that the city has determined that they would have the capacity to meet the need, were the need to arise,” she said.

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