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U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, Westfield officials, announce $1 million for wastewater operations center

U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal announced Friday a $1 million federal earmark for a new operations building at the Westfield Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The project — which is not yet fully funded and is expected to cost $5 million — would separate the offices, labs and control rooms from the building where the city treats waste and applies chemicals, said Jeffrey Gamelli, deputy superintendent for wastewater at the Westfield Department of Public Works.

The current setup, where wastewater is treated in the same building as staffed spaces, is outdated as it causes smell and air-quality problems for staffers. His office was once a locker used to store chlorine tanks.

The plant along the Westfield River was built in 1972, Gamelli said. It dates back to the early days of the Environmental Protection Agency, established in 1970, and the Clean Water Act passed in 1972, both under President Richard Nixon.

In his remarks, Neal pointed out that those innovations happened with a Republican president and Democratic House and Senate.

“I think we need to use these opportunities to remind the citizenry of the success of the EPA and what the Clean Water Act did,” Neal, D-Springfield, said. “The one item that has done more to ensure public health is clean water.”

Neal, a former Springfield Mayor, said being head of a department of public works is the toughest job in local government because people second guess and at the same time take the important functions for granted.

Westfield Mayor Michael A. McCabe said the city has applied for state funding toward the project since 2019 and he hopes that Neal’s support will bolster that case.

The $1 million announced Friday is congressionally directed spending from the Department of the Interior and the EPA. Municipalities apply and the member of Congress, Neal in this case, makes decisions based on the merits.

“That’s the way the earmarking process works,” Neal said.

This Westfield project is one of ten congressionally directed spending projects submitted by Neal, totaling more than $9 million in the 1st Congressional District of Massachusetts.

The Westfield’s Neck Road Water Recovery Facility treats 3.25 million gallons of wastewater a day from sewer customers in Westfield and part of Southwick. It also processes pumped septage from the septic tanks of homes not hooked to the sewer system, Gamelli said.

The new operations center will be located next to the current plant on Neck Road.

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