Published April 15. 2014 4:00AM
It is understandable why the good people of Montville might get queasy over the prospects of the town entering a deal with the Rand-Whitney Containerboard paper-mill company concerning the treatment of wastewater. The last time the town entered into a deal with the company it turned out very bad.
In 1992, the town signed a 60-year contract with Rand-Whitney to supply treated wastewater to the plant, which opened its $100 million factory on Route 163 in 1995. However, the company soon contended the water was not meeting the quality standards outlined in the contract, increasing company costs and limiting its product line. The town fought the resulting contractual dispute far too long. Montville officials finally ended the fight in 2008 with an $11.7 million settlement, with voters approving bonds to pay the breach-of-contract damages.
In addition to extracting those big damage payments from Montville, the Rand-Whitney plant posed another costly problem - the need for the town to expand its waste treatment plant at an estimated cost of $27 million. The Rand-Whitney mill recycles corrugated cardboard boxes, a plant-based product. That sends a lot of organic material to Montville's waste-treatment plant.
Treatment plants measure such material as biochemical oxygen demand - BOD - and a plant can only handle so much of it. A 2010 report concluded that if nothing changed, Montville would have to boost its BOD treatment capacity to handle future development growth, producing the $27 million price tag.
That brings us to the latest proposed deal between the town and Rand-Whitney. Unlike the prior arrangement, it is a money saver rather than a money loser for the town.
The deal calls for building an Anaerobic Pretreatment System (APS) at the Rand-Whitney site. The system would utilize anaerobic digestion, with microorganisms breaking down the organic material before the wastewater is shipped to the Montville treatment plant. That would reduce BOD levels by upwards of 85 percent, leaving the plant with the capacity to handle substantial development growth in Montville without an upgrade, saving the $27 million.
A $5 million state grant would cover all or most of the APS construction costs, a political plum pushed forward by Montville's representatives in Hartford, all Democrats - state Sen. Andrea Stillman, Sen. Cathy Osten, Rep. Kevin Ryan, Rep. Betsy Ritter and Rep. Timothy R. Bowles. (There are advantages to having your town chopped up among several multi-town districts.)
Why put the facility on the site of the plant that wrung nearly $12 million in damages out of the town? The answer is engineering. The APS works best at the site. The arrangement means the water will be far less corrosive as it travels the pipe headed to the treatment facility. Rand-Whitney is also outfitted to make use of the methane gas that is a byproduct of anaerobic digestion. The town would retain ownership of the APS unit.
The agreement creates a legal barrier that minimizes the threat of future litigation between Montville and Rand-Whitney. A third party would run the APS. It would have a contractual arrangement with Rand-Whitney to treat the plant's wastewater and address any problems. That third-party operator - replacing Rand-Whitney - would become the Montville Water Pollution Control Authority customer.
Some remain leery. The resolution accepting the $5 million grant passed 5-1, with Councilor Kathy Pollard of the Independence for Montville Party voting against over concerns with Rand-Whitney's litigious record. There was an attempt to repeal the resolution accepting the grant, but the petition drive failed to get the necessary signatures.
While no deal is bulletproof, the positive aspects - avoiding a costly waste treatment plant expansion, utilizing a state grant to pay for the work, and supporting a business that is a top-five taxpayer and employs 113 - far outweigh the dangers.
Town residents should support this process as it moves forward.