Wastewater study area focused

By Stephanie Grinnell | Aug 09, 2017
Photo by: Stephanie Grinnell Selectmen Peter Curley, left, and Betsy Bradley, along with Town Manager Courtney O'Donnell, study maps of a proposed wastewater treatment study area. At right is Michael Stein of Wright-Pierce.

Engineers behind a new wastewater study met with Stockton Springs' Board of Selectmen Aug. 3, seeking clarification of the area of town to be studied.

Chris Dwinal and Michael Stein of Wright-Pierce, a Topsham-based engineering firm, met with board members during the weekly morning meeting and perused maps of the town marked with suggested parcels for the study.

“The main thing is we need to delineate the study area and what parcels to include,” Dwinal said.

Selectman Peter Curley said parts of Main Street were considered but later rejected because it is mainly residential, although some properties are commercially zoned.

“So our thought process was Route 1 and Route 1A,” he said. “If Stockton's going to bring in commercial activity, it's there.”

Curley suggested the final study should also include an outline for connecting downtown properties in the future.

Dwinal also clarified with town officials the reason behind the study – economic development. There are no failing septic systems or other problems, according to the board.

Curley said talk around town has noted Searsport, with existing wastewater treatment services, has “a lot of empty storefronts.” He said Stockton Springs selectmen think their town “needs something to attract (or) offer developers. We didn't even include Town Hall.”

Town officials had considered connecting to Searsport's system, but the distance and small size of the Searsport treatment plant were a problem, Dwinal previously said.

The two engineers indicated hybrid options could be included in the new study based on current zoning, as well as on potential future zoning changes.

“Obviously we're looking at a very defined area now but it sounds like, down the road, it could expand,” Dwinal said. “The important part is to make the pipe big enough to allow for expansion. You don't want to box yourselves in and be limited to this small area.”

He noted future expansion could happen through a public/private partnership and might not financially fall squarely on taxpayers.

Curley said the study should include input from private landowners as well, a sentiment Dwinal echoed.

“Eminent domain and taking land is not something you want to get into,” he said.

Regarding required acreage for a potential pump station, Dwinal said the building occupies very little property — but the field for disposal of the treated wastewater could be as large as 5 to 10 acres, based on anticipated use.

Former Selectman Lesley Cosmano offered feedback as a resident when asked. She said she is concerned excluding certain areas of town will cost approval votes if/when a proposal is brought before voters. Cosmano said the town can't afford a town-wide treatment system — estimated by a previous study to cost more than $10 million — and residents often question if a project will benefit them as it relates to costs paid.

Dwinal responded by noting the cost structure for billing is ultimately up to the town to establish via ordinances. He said there are many options for funding construction, including grants. Town Manager Courtney O'Donnell added voters must approve ordinance changes.

Typical yearly costs for wastewater treatment average $500, Dwinal said, but can range from $300 to $1,000 per year. Billing is similar to water, he said, with use billed at a minimum charge and assessing additional fees if the minimums are exceeded.

“As part of this (study), we won't develop an ordinance but we do need some discussions on what it might look like,” Dwinal said.

Because much of the proposed study area is around state-owned property, few easements should be needed, he said.

Should the study take longer than the projected 60 days, Michael Stein added the town will not be charged additional fees beyond the voter-approved $12,000.

At town meeting in June, residents narrowly approved funding for the study, with opponents stating a study already has been done, expressing concern about forced connections and noting no businesses have expressed interest in the town based on availability of wastewater treatment.

Supporters of the study expressed hope that a treatment system could attract development to expand the town's tax base.

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Stephanie Grinnell
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Stephanie is editor of The Republican Journal in Belfast. She previously served as editor of Camden Herald following its return in April 2012.

Stephanie also was editor of VillageSoup's Capital Weekly in Augusta and has nearly a decade of experience in the newspaper business ranging from southern and central Maine to Waldo County.

Outside the office, she enjoys reading, cooking and gardening.

Stephanie lives in Washington with her husband Jeff, four children, a dog named Chewbacca, a rabbit and chickens.

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