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Rowley

Rowley water treatment plant delayed

Completion of a long-awaited $12.3 million water-treatment plant to reduce contamination of Rowley’s drinking water supply has been postponed until August amid construction delays, according to town and state officials.

The town is required to build the new plant under a 2010 administrative consent order with the state Department of Environmental Protection. The plant was scheduled to have been completed by January, but permitting and construction issues have delayed the project.

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“We were a little surprised to learn that it would be delayed that long,” said Town Administrator Deborah Eagan. “But we understand that these kinds of delays happen and we’re confident that things are moving forward.”

In a letter to the DEP, the town’s engineering firm, Weston & Sampson, explained that the project had experienced several setbacks, including the bankruptcy of a subcontractor responsible for pouring concrete for the new plant and modifications to designs for plumbing, electrical, and structural work.

MassDEP spokesman Joe Ferson said the agency granted Rowley’s request for an extension and that the town will not face fines as a result of the construction delays. Under the consent order, the town could have been hit with sanctions of up to $1,000 per day for not getting the project done by the January deadline.

Routine tests of Rowley’s water supply in October 2010 detected high levels of E. coli in samples from two of the town’s three wells. State regulators ordered the town to build the plant, which is under construction off Route 133, to treat the water to a higher level to comply with federal Clean Water Act regulations.

A Town Meeting in 2010 approved a $9 million budget for the project, but design modifications and other factors have driven up the price tag by $3.3 million.

Tests of the water supply in 2010 detected high levels of E. coli.

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Most of the project is being financed with a $10.9 million low-interest loan from the State Revolving Fund, set up to assist pollution abatement efforts. To cover the costs, the town has increased water rates by 30 to 45 percent.

Besides contaminated wells, Rowley has had a number of other issues with its Water Department, which provides drinking water from several wells to Rowley’s roughly 5,800 residents, except for about 400 homes that have private wells.

In November 2012, two Water Department workers admitted to butchering three deer at a town pump station on Boxford Road. MassDEP ordered the pumping station shut down while tests were done to see if there was any risk to the public drinking water supply from the deer-butchering. The well was put back into operation a few months later after follow-up tests found the water was not contaminated.

State environmental police charged the two workers, Jason Kneeland and Jason Masse, with three counts of violating deer tagging laws. They were convicted last May on multiple deer poaching charges in Newburyport District Court and had their hunting licenses revoked for a year and each were fined $50 per violation.

Both men resigned from their jobs following their arrests, and the town’s longtime Water Department superintendent, John Rezza, resigned this January without citing a reason. None of them could be reached for comment.

State regulators fined the town $25,875 for the violations, but agreed to drop $10,000 from the fine if the town complied immediately with steps to improve the Water Department operations.

Last May, town voters also approved spending $10,000 to develop a manual of operating procedures for the department to ensure protection of the public’s drinking water, and $6,000 on safety improvements, such as purchasing new locks for the town’s three pumping stations. Both improvements were required under the state settlement over the deer butchering incident, officials said.

In response to the increased state scrutiny, town officials formed a panel to review spending and operations of the department. They uncovered evidence of questionable spending by Water Department officials involving the construction of a $140,000 garage at the department’s 401 Central St. headquarters.

The garage included a kitchen, lounge, bathroom with a shower, and office space outfitted with new furniture, town officials said. The state inspector general’s office was notified about the questionable spending, which included $12,164 owed to an electrical contractor in Manchester-by-the-Sea, purchase of a $584 electric stove, and a $99 coffee maker.

Eagan said the town has since increased oversight of the Water Department, which has for years been largely overseen by a board of commissioners, including hiring a new superintendent and town accountant to oversee the department’s finances and outsourcing the town’s water billing and collection.

“We have instituted quite a few changes and it seems to be working,” Eagan said.

Christian M. Wade can be reached at cmwade1969@gmail.com.

Christian M. Wade can be reached at cmwade1969@gmail.com.
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