The proposed sewer treatment plant expansion and upgrade is a must-do project in New Milford.

So professes Economic Development Commission supervisor Vin Nolan and many other town officials.

Voters will get their say next Tuesday, Aug. 18 at a referendum scheduled between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. at the town's regular polling sites.

Some 40 residents turned out Tuesday, Aug. 11 at Pettibone School for an informational town meeting on the project.

"We absolutely have to do it. It's not a choice any longer,'' Mr. Nolan said Tuesday about the proposed $30 million project, which would be funded through federal stimulus grants and low-interest state loans.

"Capacity issues aside, the plant needs upgrading," Mr. Nolan said. "It's out of date and doesn't comply with state standards.''

The state Department of Environmental Protection has ordered the plant be upgraded or the town would risk putting a moratorium on future connections.

One public advocate for the project has been John Heaton, a Democrat, the former Sewer Commission chairman. Mr. Heaton was voted out as chairman last month, and he subsequently decided to resign from the commission.

He had been appointed in 2003 and his six-year term was to conclude in November.

Mr. Heaton said he is disappointed political machinations pushed him aside but remains committed to getting an expanded and upgraded sewage treatment plant.

"It's so necessary, it's pathetic,'' he said of the new plant, the projected cost of which came in $8 million less than anticipated. "Now is the time to do it.''

The new Sewer Commission chairman is Frank Bidetti, a Republican, who was appointed to the commission two years ago.

"John [Heaton] has been a dedicated leader," said Mr. Nolan, "and I don't pretend to understand the changes, but we're talking about a wastewater treatment facility. I don't think personnel changes on the commission will affect it."

Mayor Patricia Murphy and the town council have both endorsed the project.

The timing of the Sewer Commission's officer election and the merits of the sewer plant expansion and upgrade are unrelated, said town council member Roger Szendy, the vice chairman of the Republican Town Committee.

Without the plant expansion and upgrade, Mr. Szendy said, the new Route 7 sewer line would be worthless.

"It's shovel ready,'' said Mr. Nolan of the plant improvements, which are expected to take about two years. "I hope everyone comes out on Aug. 18 to support this project.''