NORWALK, Conn. – The guardians of Norwalk’s sewage are managing a messy legal battle over pumping equipment while denying a request to waive a pricy fee for a Norwalk developer.
The Water Pollution Control Authority (WPCA) last week discussed its pending litigation against pump manufacturer Flowserve over what Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord called a refusal to honor a warranty, an amount of at least $150,000. Authority members also voted unanimously to deny a request to waive the $176,040 sewer connection fee for the Waypointe’s mid- and north-block projects.
WPCA Chairman Darren Oustafine said he was unaware of any history of waiving sewer connection fees for Waypointe.
“The current WPCA voted unanimously to maintain connection fees for Waypointe. I cannot speak for other members of the WPCA as to their thinking. My thinking, as I stated in the meeting, is that the WPCA should focus on protecting the environment and the payer of sewer user fees,” Oustafine said.
Meeting minutes show that the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency requested the fee waiver as far back as November. The matter was dropped until last month. NRDA Senior Planner Sue Sweitzer argued that a considerable amount of public money had been invested into the infrastructure for West Avenue to attract investors to what is classified by the state as a blighted area. Agency commissioners voted to request the waiver. Board of Estimate and Taxation Chairman Jim Clark is quoted in the minutes as saying waiving the fee would not be fair to taxpayers.
The litigation with Flowserve dates back at least to November, according to meeting minutes. It was discussed in an executive session Monday.
Five of six pumps at the new sewage treatment plant headworks facility have failed, Alvord said. “They are refusing to honor their warranty. We have outside experts that have proven that it’s not the city’s operating, that we operated the pumps the way we are supposed to,” he said. “They made a thousand reasons why they can’t honor their warranty, or they’re not going to.”
It has cost the city about $30,000 per pump, he said. Meeting minutes quote DPW Operations Manager Lisa Burns as saying one pump cost $37,000 to fix.
Replacing the pumps would cost $1.2 million, according to minutes from the March 17 WPCA meeting. Flowserve had offered to pay for one third the cost of repairing one pump. Norwalk said no and was paying for repairs at a Flowserve-authorized repair shop, the minutes say. In May, WPCA voted to spend up to $50,000 for an engineering technical investigation into replacing the Flowserve pumps with Flygt pumps.
Alvord said in May that the city can prove that it’s not at fault.
“Fortunately we have sensors and probes in the system that show that it was never run dry. It was impossible for it to ever run dry,” Alvord said. “Then every time we sent a pump to a Flowserve authorized repair facility we had an independent engineer there from a firm, had nothing to do with the city, nothing to do with Flowserve, who was there to observe when they opened the pump up and took it out to see what it was. So we have an independent report from this guy, his assessment of what the issue was and all of that kind of stuff.”
Alvord said it’s his opinion that there is a design problem with the pumps.
“There are several different seals involved in these pumps,” he said. “Glycol is used as a lubricant and a coolant in a portion of the pump that is down submerged. What’s happened was somehow sewage got into the chamber where the glycol is housed. That shouldn’t happen because of the way the seals, the seals are supposed to prevent that.”
He continued, “These guys are just way off the mark. They just don’t want to accept liability and the reason is they may have had other customers who have had similar issues and they may know they have a design problem with this pump. They could have people from all over the country coming back for them. I mean, they’re a major pump manufacturer. But to me, if we go to court they’re going to lose. There’s no question we can prove that we never ran them dry. We’ve got our independent expert report on every pump that went up there to be repaired. I am amazed that they haven’t just stepped up and honored their warranty up to this point.”