An opinion on West Cornwall’s septic problem

I have spoken with quite a few property owners in the town of Cornwall who do not agree that the entire town should pay for the septic solution of West Cornwall’s private property owners. That said, I was willing to listen and hoped more would. I went to the West Cornwall septic meeting held Friday night, June 28. The majority of people there appeared to be from West Cornwall. I was disheartened not seeing many of the people I had spoken to.

Only a few people spoke against the system. One person stated that they had paid over $50,000 dollars to maintain and then finally replace their system and the town offered no assistance with the costs. Another stated that, contrary to West Cornwall’s argument, installing a treatment system would not “save Cornwall.”

I went with the pre-thought of not being willing to pay for another private property owner’s septic. But I also went to listen. And what I heard almost swayed me.

Those speaking for the system gave these (weak, I believe) arguments:

They argued that the sewer system for West Cornwall should be the responsibility of all because it would be part of Cornwall’s infrastructure. They were comparing the private septic of a few residents with our roads and our school. That was farfetched and certainly did not sway me.

They also argued that the private treatment system of a few private properties would save all of Cornwall, bringing families and jobs to our town. I had a hard time wrapping my head around that theory, and was again not swayed. The reality of our demographic loss is another story and encompasses all of northwest Connecticut.

Then someone spoke about the river. And they said that the overflow from these private septic systems was contaminating the river. That got my attention. Then I felt some concern. And I wondered what would happen if the town voted this down? And I began to feel panic and concern for our river. So I asked the question: Is there a plan B? 

The answer I heard sickened me: If the town does not vote to pay for the West Cornwall property owners’ aging systems (not failing —  I can tell you based on a phone call to the Torrington Health Department that they have not stepped in and told West Cornwall that they need to replace their systems), then it will not get done. All I could think was, “How irresponsible can these property owners be?” If someone doesn’t pay for their septic problems, which they are saying are polluting the river, then they’re simply not going to do anything? I couldn’t believe what I heard. You can’t help yourselves? Then how can you expect the rest of the town to help you? At that point I was turned off again and still plan to vote no.

If you go on the town website, you will read a summary of what the septic committee’s past three years of work have produced. 

Below are the numbers.

There are approximately 65 dwellings/businesses in the central village and immediate proximity (although the inventory outlined in the meeting only mentioned a handful).

The approximate cost for the planning, design and construction of the complete wastewater collection and treatment system is $3.8 million.

So let’s do the math: $3,800,000/65 = $58,462.  Factor in to this the claim that 45% can be paid for by grants. This would leave the costs for each property owner at $32,154. Based on what other private property owners have paid for their septic systems, it seems within reason that these private property owners can handle their own costs.

The three years mentioned is how long the committee has been formed to look at the issue and come up with a solution — get someone else to pay for it.  The knowledge of their aging infrastructure has been around many more years than that. What if effort was put into creating an escrow account and depositing into that escrow for the past five years?  How far along would they be on their own?  

That to me seems far more responsible than, “If someone else doesn’t pay for it, then I’m not doing anything.”


Martha Lane lives in Cornwall Bridge.  She is a licensed architect and holds a master’s degree in regional planning.  She worked in regional planning for two years, but was too discouraged by the heavy influence of corrupt politics and returned to architecture.