As debate continues in Washington over funding to rebuild the nation’s aging infrastructure, a major project is beginning to improve part of the wastewater treatment system in western Massachusetts.
The Springfield Water and Sewer Commission broke ground Monday to build a new pump station to take wastewater from Springfield and three suburban communities and convey it across the Connecticut River to the regional wastewater treatment plant in Agawam.
Located on York Street in the city’s South End, the new pump station will replace one that is 80-years old. Three new pipes will be laid under the Connecticut River.
The total cost for the project is $115 million.
"The cost of not doing this work is far more than the cost of actually doing it," said Water and Sewer Commission Executive Director Josh Schimmel.
Once the new pump station is online in 2022 it will reduce combined sewer overflows into the Connecticut River by a projected 100 million gallons a year. It will also accommodate future growth in the region.
"Any project we do has a lot of plannig behind it and it can not be for any single purpose. It has to address climate change, resiliency, aging infrastructure," said Schimmel.
The project is being paid for with a low-interest loan from a revolving fund of federal money administered by the state. Schimmel could not say how rates for the commission’s 270,000 water and sewer customers will be affected as the loan for the project is paid off over 20 years.
" The good thing about our finances is we are well positioned and have the ability to keep rates affordable," said Shimmel adding "We have some of the most affordable rates in the region."
The commission is eyeing an additional $1 billion in projects over the next 20 years to rebuild and update the water and sewer infrastructure.
Congressman Richard Neal, who participated in the groundbreaking ceremony along with federal and state environmental agency officials, will be meeting with President Trump at the White House later this week to talk about a sweeping infrastructure bill.
Neal, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, said the Democratic Congressional leadership and the Republican president previously agreed on a target of $2 trillion to repair roads, bridges, rail lines, broadband, and water and sewer infrastructure.
" Now we hope the president and his staff will be willing to put some of their revenue suggestions on the table," said Neal, adding " We certainly have some ideas on our side, but we want to make sure they are well met."
The new pump station is being built on the site of the former York Street Jail, which was torn down about a decade ago.
Springfield Chief Development Officer Kevin Kennedy said the Springfield Redevelopment Authority is currently in negotiations with three hotel companies about building on another part of the property.
"That is particularly encouraging given the fact the city has been trying to develop this site for many many years," said Kennedy. " It is a good indication of not only the national economy, but a good indication of the local economy."
The pump station construction work will employ about 150 people.