MANCHESTER - If the looks on the faces of Town Council members appear glazed and more than a bit confused, chances are that Todd Black is somewhere nearby.
Mind you, it has nothing to do with Black himself, but more with the message he inevitably delivers to the council month after month.
As the primary consultant on this town's slow-moving $11 million sewage treatment plant expansion, he seems to bring nothing but bad, expensive and headache-inducing news to Manchester's elected officials.
"I've got a lot of news for you. But I'm afraid not a lot of it is favorable," Black recently began one of his regular reports to the Town Council.
But that should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the project, the town's largest ever public works development.
For, in the 12 years since the expansion and improvement project began, not a lot of the news has been favorable.
The latest backup comes in the first -- and most expensive -- phase of the project, which includes the doubling of capacity at the existing Beaver Street plant to 500,000 gallons.
Or, as it could be dubbed, the phase that wouldn't go away.
Supposedly completed in July, the sparkling-new, 15-foot-high 250,000 gallon tank was expected to be treating sewage by now. Engineering problems, a few technical glitches and some further complications have kept the tank idle.
"The town's got a very good product in the expanded plant," Black insisted late last month. But he didn't offer any concrete date for sewage to begin flowing.
The first phase is not the only one delayed. Design of the project's second phase -- construction of two pumping stations to help move that sewage to the plant -- is months behind schedule. The third phase -- acquiring land to spray with the treated water -- also is moving slowly.
The expansion -- originally expected to cost less than $6 million and now likely to cost in excess of $12 million -- has been on the books for more than a decade.
When completed, the plant will be able to process 500,000 gallons of sewage a day and provide room for growth in this North Carroll town of about 2,670 people. Now, only 10,000 gallons separate an operating treatment plant from one that is about to become obsolete: The town already generates 240,000 gallons of sewage a day. Current capacity is 250,000 gallons a day.
Mayor Elmer C. Lippy Jr. has spent all of his more than three years in office "worrying, sleeping and dreaming about sewage."
But worries over the project's completion date are not the only ones weighing on the minds of town officials and residents.
Sewage rates went up 12 percent this year, the second increase in two years. The size of the sewer fund -- the part of the town budget dedicated to sewage plant expenses -- has jumped 86 percent in the last three years, from $120,360 in fiscal 1988 to $224,220 this fiscal year.
And it is expected to be even higher next year.
To pay for the increased costs of sewage treatment here requires a growth in demand for sewage treatment. Homes and businesses must be built -- and pay to be hooked up to the sewage treatment plant -- to provide that demand. But in the current economic downturn, the development of new homes and businesses has slowed considerably.
Even so, some developers willing to build face planning and zoning hurdles. The 102-acre Black Farm tract, on the northern edge of town, stands waiting to be annexed. And what was once the town's largest housing development -- the 63-acre Dell project -- has been scaled back. Neither is close to preliminary approval.