HAVERHILL — The City Council last night gave Mayor James Fiorentini approval to borrow $6.9 million to begin phase II of the city’s Combined Sewer Overflow program.
The low interest loan through the state’s revolving fund will pay for upgrades to the city’s water/wastewater plant in Bradford as well as tackle storm water and sewer pipes polluting the Merrimack River.
Deputy DPW Director Robert Ward said the goal is to begin paying the loan without increasing water/wastewater rates this year or next year. He said the full amount of the debt service payment is scheduled to begin in Fiscal Year 2017, when the city will be paying $430,000 a year for 20 years.
Last month, city officials told the council regulators were preparing to crack down on the city’s slow progress in improvements to the so-called combined sewer overflow system.
The network of underground pipes, which serves about one third of the city including the downtown, collects rainwater runoff, domestic sewage and industrial wastewater.
Most of the time, the collections flow into the city’s sewage treatment plant, where it is cleaned before being discharged into waterways. But during heavy rainfall or the melting of snow, the pipes are allowed to discharge some of the mixture — about 30 million gallons annually — directly into the river.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency has been after Haverhill, as well as other old mill cities across the country such as Lowell and Manchester, N.H., to get rid of combined sewer overflow systems or make expensive improvements to them.
Ward recently said $9.5 million is needed to upgrade the system this year, including the $6.9 million requested by the mayor, and possibly $30 million or more in the future to appease regulators.
Last night, Ward told councilors that retained earnings will be used in Fiscal Years 2015 and 2016 to pay the debt, in addition to potential new revenue from the sale of water and wastewater services outside of the city, and anticipated savings in operation and maintenance costs from new equipment, most notably two giant centrifuges.