Improvements to the town's system of aging water mains are the driving force behind a rate hike that the Searsport Water District Board of Trustees recently approved, and all of it is unrelated to a proposal from DCP Midstream to construct an liquefied petroleum gas terminal at Mack Point.

That was the message from Searsport Water District Superintendent Herb Kronholm, who addressed the Board of Selectmen on that subject Tuesday night, Dec. 18. Kronholm spoke during the public portion of the meeting, and his presentation was in response to a request from a resident who wanted more explanation about the rate hike, which Kronholm said trustees set at 9.48 percent.

Kronholm said the water district has not considered a rate increase for three years, and during that time the district has worked to replace water lines that run underneath or in the vicinity of Route 1. Many of the water pipes were more than 100 years old, Kronholm said, and while much of the work was covered by grant money there are other expenses that are on the upswing, such as the costs of water treatment chemicals and fuel.

Even with the rate hike, Kronholm said the district would continue to operate on a tight budget.

"These are bare bones we're going for with this rate increase," Kronholm said.

Resident Harlan McLaughlin asked how a proposal from Colorado-based DCP Midstream to build an LPG storage facility at Mack Point related to the trustees' decision to boost rates.

"How does DCP figure into these rate hikes?" he said.

Kronholm said the water district's work over the past few years was planned well before DCP initially unveiled plans for the proposal in late 2010.

"This has nothing to do with DCP's project," said Kronholm.

Kronholm said DCP representatives have since approached the water district with questions about whether the local utility had the capacity to provide enough water to the proposed site of the LPG terminal.

"We told them we can serve them if they invest in us," said Kronholm.

There is an .8-mile section of water main leading to Mack Point that would need to be upgraded, a project Kronholm estimated would cost the company $1 million. Kronholm said as of Tuesday, there are no plans in place to complete that work.

McLaughlin also asked Kronholm why the public hearing regarding the rate increase was scheduled on Thursday, Nov. 29. That date was also the fourth of what turned out to be five full nights of public hearings that the Searsport Planning Board scheduled regarding the DCP proposal.

"There were a lot of people who wanted to go to both public hearings," said McLaughlin.

Kronholm said the water district must go through a process involving the Maine Public Utilities Commission every time a rate increase is proposed, and trustees must schedule a public hearing as part of that process. Kronholm said the timing was unfortunate, and while the public hearing was rescheduled to another date and the district paid $800 to send out notices to alert residents of the time change, the hearing did not result in a good turnout.

"Nobody showed up," said Kronholm.

Kronholm invited anyone who has questions about the water district or the rate increase to stop by the office on Prospect Street.

Later in the meeting, Selectman Roland LaReau answered questions some residents have raised about the availability of the recorded public hearings on the DCP proposal that took place through the week of Nov. 26-29.

LaReau said he's heard some express concern that all of the hearings have not yet been posted to the town's web site, and he read an explanation that was provided to him from Searsport Community TV Program Director George Kerper.

LaReau said while all of the hearings have run on the Searsport cable access channel, they have yet to appear on the town web site for viewing. That's because the town currently uses the web-based Vimeo to display videos of meetings, said LaReau, and Vimeo has a data limit.

Vimeo allows no more than five gigabytes worth of video to be posted in a given week, and LaReau said just one night of the public hearing videos can be between 3.9 and 4.9 gigabytes in size.

"You can't put on more than one," said LaReau.  "It's going to take five full weeks… It's a capacity issue."