New waste water system could cost millions

By Stephanie Grinnell | Feb 17, 2018
Courtesy of: Wright-Pierce Map shows location of the area (center) targeted for economic development along Route 1 in Stockton Springs. Existing downtown area is to the left.

Stockton Springs — Selectmen on Feb. 15 learned about two multimillion-dollar waste water collection and treatment options for a 144-acre area along Route 1 that is targeted for future development.

Wright-Pierce engineers Chris Dwinal and Michael Stein offered the completed “Downtown Wastewater Collection and Treatment Facility Feasibility Study” to the board based on projections of both current and 20-year use of the system. Construction costs could range between $2.9 million and $5.5 million, depending on the time frame chosen, Stein said, with total projected costs landing between $4.43 million and $8.34 million.

The study — which is expected to cost the town up to $12,000 — does not include the existing downtown area along West Main Street. Selectmen previously said the study area was chosen in the hope of attracting economic development to town.

During the presentation, Dwinal noted only land-based disposal was considered, though he said the town could look at disposing of treated waste water in Stockton Harbor. The cost estimates were broken down into the collection system (in-ground pipes and manholes for access as well as connection Ys for users) and treatment facility (building and disposal area). Each estimate also contains a healthy contingency fund for unknowns, between $1.3 million and $2.5 million.

“None of these numbers are guaranteed,” Dwinal cautioned.

Selectmen questioned how operating and maintenance fees would be distributed among users as well as the process for contacting property owners within the study area. At present, no property owners have been contacted, including one who owns the land engineers used as the treatment plant and disposal site to project all costs. Selectman Betsy Bradley was most vocal about contacting landowners.

“If the landowners don't want it, we're stuck,” she said. “Shouldn't we talk to them? I think I'd love to know what their thoughts are.”

Her comments were echoed by Selectman Peter Curley.

“I agree, you need to find out the landowners' input,” he said.

Dwinal suggested inviting the landowners to a meeting — which Town Manager Courtney O'Donnell noted must be public — to share thoughts, though he said some might not want to speak publicly. O'Donnell said landowners could be invited to participate in a closed-to-the-public executive session, which is allowed under law for economic development talks.

“Four million (dollars) between 11 people, common sense tells you that won't work,” Curley said, referring to the existing 11 residential properties within the study area. Those who chose to connect to the system would not fund initial construction costs, which would be paid by all town residents through property taxes. However, Dwinal noted, “The cost per dwelling unit (to cover yearly staffing and maintenance) is significant.”

Dwinal and Stein also presented several options for grant funding, as well as loans, for the project. Dwinal encouraged a grant application this year to request funding and said the town can apply again the following year. He said agencies are more likely to offer funding when some already is secured. Other funding, such as Rural Development, requires a preliminary engineering study, Dwinal said, which could cost the town up to an additional $50,000, though he indicated there is grant funding available to cover that cost as well.

Residents narrowly approved the $12,000 in June 2016, with many referring to a previous study of a larger area completed nine years ago, which projected a $10 million cost. Residents also argued at the time that businesses do not chose a location based on the availability of sewer service; questioned whether, where the service passes by a residence, that house would be required to connect; and expressed concern that by-products could contaminate Stockton Harbor.

Previously, town officials considered connecting to Searsport's system, but the distance and size of the treatment plant in Searsport were a problem, Dwinal said.

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