The City of Pittsfield has been mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to complete upgrades to its wastewater treatment plant, a project that is estimated to cost tens of millions of dollars.
Upon a revision of Pittsfield’s wastewater discharge permit for a plant located on Holmes Road, an EPA mandate from 2008 would require the city to restrict the amount of aluminum and phosphorus released in its treated discharge into the Housatonic River.
Pittsfield fought the mandate for years before losing an appeal in federal court in 2010. A 2011 administrative order by the EPA said that Pittsfield was to begin conducting a feasibility study and assemble a timetabled plan to put the wastewater treatment plant into compliance. In a preliminary estimate, the upgrades could cost $40 million.
Pittsfield mayor Dan Bianchi said that he understands the EPA’s firm stance on the new standards, but said the financial strain put onto the city without available federal financial relief is another issue.
"Whenever there's a mandate like that you would think that there would be the opportunity for relief for that kind of federal mandate. There doesn't seem to be one in this case," said Bianchi.
Bianchi said that he recently attended a National League of Cities conference in Washington D.C., and saw that the issue of American cities in need of financial assistance to comply with federal standards is not uncommon.
“There were little towns from Montana, folks from California, this is a big issue," said Bianchi. "I think the EPA will be as understanding as they can be but unfortunately...this new standard is going to be met one way or the other and they don't offer a lot relief as far as financing it."
It is unclear how much the upgrades would affect the average ratepayer. A bond to pay for the upgrades has not yet been obtained.
Ward 5 City Councilor Jonathan Lothrop said the city council recently authorized funding to the Department of Public Works to conduct the feasibility study that can determine the true costs of the project.
"Hopefully we'll have that study back and we'll have some better clue of what the true cost going forward," said Lothrop.
Lothrop said that although the project could have an impact on ratepayers, he considers the work necessary. Lothrop also noted that Pittsfield’s water rates are currently far lower than the statewide average.
Bruce Collingwood, Pittsfield’s Commissioner of Public Works could not be reached in time for broadcast but recently told the Berkshire Eagle that the city is complying with the EPA but the process is “frustrating.”
Jim Murphy, a spokesman for the EPA told WAMC that while costly, the upgrades are necessary, and that it’s "unfortunate" that no financial assistance for the city is currently available.