BROWNVILLE, Maine — Faced with low water pressure and the associated risk of contamination from the old water lines in the Junction, Brownville residents voted 33 to 10 Wednesday to borrow up to $450,000 for improvements to the town-owned water system.
The 30-year loan is the local match for a $1,265,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the Stimulus package. The loan funded through the Stimulus program will not have to be repaid by the approximately 450 users.
The $1,715,000 funding package will allow the town to:
• Replace a transmission main from the reservoir to Railroad Avenue.;
• Provide backup generators for both the village and Junction pump stations;
• Add a backup well for the Junction;
• Pay for engineering reports;
• Replace the Henderson Street main and a portion of the Center Street main.
Town Manager Sophie Wilson told residents that there have been “pockets of issues” concerning the water system over the years which have included significant and costly freeze-ups, low water pressure and the risk of contamination from the insufficient flow.
If the Junction pump station failed, it could take 15-20 hours to assemble the equipment needed to repair or replace it, which would present some safety concerns, Wilson said. “It is going to risk the water supply to the Junction,” Wilson said.
The replacement of the Henderson main, a primary main, would improve the flow in the Junction from 400 gallons a minute to 1,200 gallons a minute, according to Jim Lord of Dirigo Engineering of Fairfield, the town’s engineer. He told residents Wednesday the project would help conserve energy as well.
“What I told selectmen is this is not one of those projects that I am coming to you and telling you this absolutely, positively must be done today or else we’re going to be in trouble or we’re not going to be able to operate,” Wilson told residents.
However, the town has the unique opportunity now to obtain Stimulus money, which allows a larger grant than usual and a better interest rate for the loan, Wilson said. “Might it make sense to make that change now, make the upgrade to the system, get more water into the Junction and know that we are not risking the break and having to go out and spend $1 million of district money to fix it five years down the road when there may or may not be grants.”
Some residents, who were not swayed with the grant enticement, worried aloud about the debt they would be leaving their children. One resident said there is not enough population for the debt that is being incurred. Another resident, who had health issues, said he had little left in his wallet now and couldn’t afford another in-crease in his water rates.
Town officials are in the process of completing a rate case to the Maine Public Utilities Commission to increase the rates to customers. With the debt repayment and increased water costs, users will see an increase of about $19.48 per quarter. If the project had been defeated, users would have seen an increase of about $15.75 a quarter. A public hearing on the water rates is tentatively set for Nov. 18.
Residents were told that the project will be designed this winter and placed out for bid in the spring. Construction is expected next summer.