East Lyme — Voters on Wednesday agreed to distribute $126,053 in federal coronavirus pandemic-relief funds among seven local and regional organizations, with the Board of Selectmen convening immediately afterward to identify another $1.01 million in projects.
Since August, taxpayers at town meetings have authorized $606,610. Included in the growing list is a roof replacement for the leaky public safety building, enhanced youth services department staffing so kids can better deal with the mental health effects of the pandemic, and a nod toward regional groups like Ledge Light Health District and the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments that have helped the town get through the pandemic.
East Lyme so far has received half of its $5.46 million American Rescue Plan allocation, which is part of a $1.9 trillion federal plan funneling $2.6 billion to municipalities in Connecticut to help them recover from the pandemic. Officials said they expect the second installment in June.
Wednesday’s unanimous vote took place during a 12-minute meeting. Selectmen convened afterward to propose the biggest allocation to date, which includes the $920,000 reconstruction of a well in the vicinity of Pattagansett Lake.
Town utilities engineer Ben North told selectmen the reconstruction is the highest priority out of four projects it hopes will be funded with the federal COVID-19 relief funds. Guidance from the U.S. Department of Treasury specifies the federal funds may be used for water, sewer or broadband infrastructure investments, among other, less clearly defined uses.
North said Well 5 was constructed in 1994 to feed off the “pristine water source” in the upper reaches of the town’s aquifer system. It was permitted to produce 780,000 gallons of water per day, but in the past few years has dwindled to about 200,000 gallons per day at its maximum, according to North.
“That’s a well that used to produce 540 gallons per minute, which is now down to about 120 gallons per minute,” he said.
Typical wells last 20 to 30 years, North told selectmen. He said the well has been redeveloped, which is the process of dislodging built-up growth and sediments, four times since 2009 with deteriorating yields.
He said the well’s current production equates to one-tenth of the total yield from the town’s six wells. The two highest-producing wells were recently upgraded for $5.97 million, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony expected later this month.
North said the proposed three-month reconstruction process includes drilling a new well about 40 feet from the current one, which will be abandoned. The price also includes upgrades to the water treatment building.
The well is part of the aquifer included in the Hathaway property, a 120-acre tract the East Lyme Land Trust wants the town to purchase from developers for $1.65 million. Part of the land trust’s sales pitch involves the importance of keeping the land pristine by ensuring it is not developed.
About 32 acres not currently being offered to the town is slated for residential construction, according to developer and former land trust member Steve Harney. He told The Day last week that his family is behind the venture selling the property.
The property has been floated as a potential site for a new well, but North told selectmen he has reservations about the idea because a new well would end up competing with Well 5 within the same aquifer.
Selectmen also approved $30,000 for a study from the Yale Urban Design Workshop to build on the 25-year-old Charette Report that helped turn Niantic’s Main Street into a model for shoreline success.
Dan Walsh, Main Street Niantic president, said the 1997 study resulted in the development of Main Street Park across from Pennsylvania Avenue, streetscape improvements, collaborations with businesses and numerous events to draw people to the area.
“It’s time to say ‘What’s the next 25 years going to look like?'” Walsh said. “We need the experts around the table. We need to be picking the brains of people in town.”
Selectmen approved a $30,000 chunk this time around. They suggested members of Niantic Main Street come back with more project details for the rest of the requested $200,000 allotment over two years.
Also approved was $4,000 for a new refrigerator for the Care & Share of East Lyme food pantry and $60,000 to digitize land records in the town clerk’s office.
The proposal goes next to the Board of Finance and must be approved by voters at a town meeting.