Treble trouble

As expected, the town has filed motions with the court for costs and treble damages.  That will bring the total award to something north of $25 million dollars.  On the surface this appears to be an absurd overkill, but perhaps it’s part of a strategy to achieve some other end.

How would we know?  While the town was saying to Wright Pierce let’s not try to assess blame, let’s not talk about the overloading leading up to the failure, let’s try to look forward and find a solution, the town had engaged a special outside counsel to look back, assess that blame on Wright Pierce, and prepare a lawsuit.  All this was being done under cover of non-public Selectmen meetings.  The public was never advised of the problem, or the initiatives that were proposed by Wright Pierce.

Here are the invoices that the town produced in support of their motion for $1,425,080.85 in costs.  What’s interesting is that these invoices go back to September of 2010.  That’s 3½ years ago – 1½ years before the lawsuit was filed.  Last fall the town was telling us that they had worked in good faith with Wright Pierce but that because of the statute of limitations, they were forced to file a lawsuit.

Putting aside the whole issue of whether it’s reasonable to expect that the town will ever actually see $25 million from Wright Pierce, what are the alternatives? The town currently has Underwood Engineers investigating that question.

We have asked them to revisit connecting to the regional system in Franklin.  People have pointed out that in order to join that system, the town would not only need to construct a pipeline under or around the lake, we would have to make a capital contribution to the system to retroactively fund our share of the cost of the plant.  Not sure if the net proceeds from this lawsuit would even cover it.  The plus side would be that the town would not need to maintain and upgrade/replace our current treatment facility.  This option is not only a long shot financially, it would take years to negotiate and approve the idea, then more to acquire the rights of way and build such a pipeline.

Another solution being looked at is slow/medium infiltration systems like spray fields and drip irrigation.  Funny, the town isn’t looking for 600,000 gallons per day as they claim they needed from the RIB system  They are looking only for about 450,000 gallons per day to satisfy our actual needs.  The irony is that if they had run the RIB system at that rate in the beginning. it likely would be working fine today.

Spray fields have a net disposal capacity of about 27,500 gallons per acre per week, or roughly 700,000 gallons per acre year.  The town needs to dispose of about 160 million gallons per year.  Do the math.  At that rate we would need 500 acres to satisfy our needs , or about 850 acres to provide the 600,000 gallons per day that we are penalizing Wright Pierce for failing to provide.

To be sure, better soils and improved technologies with longer annual duty cycles would reduce the land requirements, but even at 250-300 acres with higher tech equipment, the town would be hard pressed to come up with an alternative that would be a better choice than the RIB after spending a few million to fix fix it.

But they can’t fix it because they have already invested heavily in a legal strategy that has depended on convincing the public and the court that it’s a total loss and can’t be fixed. Even while applying for and receiving a new permit for 340,000 gallons per day. Even after operating it at that reduced rate for several years. Even after a remediation plan,  suppressed from the trial using legal procedures, was reviewed and recommended by NHDES.  Even after our own geotechnical expert, Mr. Cullen, said in a qualified statement that it could work.

It’s pretty clear we’re in it for the cash and the pound of flesh.  So far, there isn’t any credible solution or alternative, just an ongoing lawsuit most probably headed for appeal.  At the current rates of disposal, the effluent storage pond will be full again next spring.

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