Engineer Vents Over Sewer Line
Lebanon Chided Over Permit Holdup
Lebanon — Engineering consultant Dan Nash took his complaints about the city’s permitting process for a sewer line extension on a Lebanon development project up several notches by putting them squarely before the City Council on Wednesday night.
At the Council meeting, Nash argued that Lebanon officials are creating a “chicken little” situation and overreacting by denying a sewer discharge permit to an office building project over what he termed as a relatively small amount of additional volume in the sewer line.
“For this little bit of sewage that we want to put in there, I think this is an extreme measure,” Nash said.
The sewer dispute heated up this summer when Nash accused the city of enforcing an “illegal growth control measure” on the crowded Route 120 business corridor between Lebanon and Hanover by refusing to grant sewer approval for an office building off Etna Road being developed by ICV Holdings of NH, a project that was initially approved in 2008 and is being denied a building permit pending the completion of sewer work at the intersection of Route 120 and Etna Road.
Nash has described the city’s refusal to accept new sewer connections on the Etna Road line as unjustified and a result of a policy decision made by the Council last year, when it denied a sewer connection to the nearby Chaloux hotel and conference center — also pending construction and held up by the sewer work — on Labombard Road, following a study that showed the sewer was at full capacity. Nash wrote in a July 3 letter to the City Council that he has been told that the denial was a “ ‘policy decision’ for all subsequent connections on the Etna Road sewer.
“The ICV project was approved in 2008,” Nash wrote. “The imposition of the city’s policy, made in mid-2012, to this project is grossly unfair. Not only is it retroactive imposition of a policy, it in effect revokes a previous approval.”
City officials, for their part, contend that the decision was purely administrative, based off a study showing considerable deficiencies in the sewer system. City Manager Greg Lewis responded to Nash’s concerns in a July 19 letter to the Council, stressing that the city’s decision not to accept the sewer connection has been backed by the state Department of Environmental Services and the city’s attorney.
“As city manager, I have independently reviewed all sides of this connection request, the opinions involved, and the legal and factual underpinnings, (especially with regard to all of the assertions of Mr. Nash),” Lewis said. “I have made my administrative decision to confirm to Mr. Nash my agreement with (the Public Works Department’s) decision. I find that the connection requested would adversely impact the environment and public lands.”
On Wednesday night, Nash and ICV’s attorney, Stephen Girdwood, centered their argument on an engineering perspective. While Public Works Director Mike Lavalla has argued that the additional sewage from the office building could lead to environmental damage because the system is already at capacity, Nash and Girdwood contended that the sewer line is is under pressure from the outside.
The pressurization, they argued, means that the additional sewage would in fact displace the groundwater infiltrating the sewer line. The two also argued that the project will not be constructed and ready to hook into the sewer for another 18 months, beyond the stated timeline of the sewer work.
City Councilor Bruce Bronner sided with Nash and Girdwood.
“Why can’t we give them a construction permit so they can start doing the job, knowing full well that they can’t hook onto the sewer until the sewer is ready?” asked Bronner, who works for the Star Johnson real estate firm. “This doesn’t seem to make any sense that you look at the end game here and prohibit the beginning of it. I just don’t get it. I think this is unreasonable and I think this is unnecessary.”
Other city councilors, such as Erling Heistad and Mayor Georgia Tuttle, worried that tweaking the Planning Board condition that lists the sewer discharge permit as a requirement of a building permit would set a precedent that future city councilors would regret.
“You try to be as fair and uniform as you can in all situations,” Heistad said. “Going back against a decision made by the Planning Board — I don’t think that would be a good path for this Council to take.”
Jay Campion, who represents the Chaloux Properties developer behind the hotel and conference center, also spoke against the sewer hold up.
“We’ve already lost two seasons of work and we’ve experienced a lot of delays even as the process has gone along,” Campion said. “We’re hopeful that it will be fixed soon and we can move forward, but I do feel that it’s not correct to make a building permit be the price for the sewage discharge permit, because that should much more likely be stipulated for the certificate of occupancy, when you’re actually going to be using the building and putting material in the pipe.”
In the end, the city council took no action.
Only Bronner spoke fully in support of Nash and Girdwood. The Etna Road sewer project is estimated to cost $4 million and is being done to correct major structural issues with the line, which has become cracked and degraded, leading to the infiltration of groundwater into the sewer system, which is housed in a wetland area. The infiltration of groundwater has resulted in a sewer line that has no capacity for additional connections, according to city officials.
ICV Holdings also developed the offices that house the Macoma Corp. adjacent to the proposed ICV project on Etna Road. The Mascoma Corp. building, constructed in 2009, represents the first phase of the developer’s plans for the property.
Ben Conarck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3213.