Stockton Springs wastewater system debated

Posted May 28, 2010, at 12:03 a.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:09 p.m.

STOCKTON SPRINGS, Maine — The question of whether the town should build its first wastewater treatment system made a lot of residents see red Thursday night at an informational meeting.

After listening to Steven Hallowell of the Portland engineering firm Wright-Pierce explain the findings of an $18,500 study commissioned a couple of years ago by the town, residents expressed their displeasure at the idea of agreeing to build a $15 million sewer project which, at least in its initial phases, wouldn’t be available to everybody.

“Why are we talking to begin with?” asked Guy Perkins, who appeared to be firmly opposed to the endeavor.

Stockton Springs, a town with 1,481 people in the 2000 census, is one of “very few” Maine communities with no wastewater treatment system available, according to Hallowell. Residents are responsible for their own septic systems, many of which — mostly located in the village center — have failed in the past few years, said Town Manager Joseph Hayes.

“But that raw sewage does flow,” he said after the meeting. “It’s a definite problem.”

About 10 years ago, residents voted to investigate the feasibility of getting a wastewater treatment system, but nothing was done with the results of the study, Hayes said. The selectmen two years ago decided to have another study done because they continued to get reports of failing septic systems.

Hallowell explained that the Wright-Pierce study found that the most cost-effective method for Stockton Springs would be to build its own secondary treatment facility instead of pumping all its waste to Searsport. A secondary treatment facility would filter, chlorinate and dechlorinate wastewater, he said.

A map showed a possible scenario that located the treatment plant on Upper Cape Jellison Road with a buried outflow pipe to carry away the water that ultimately would discharge the treated sewage a half-mile off Fort Point Cove into the Penobscot River.

The plant would be used to treat wastewater but not storm runoff, Hallowell said, and the estimated cost would be $10 million in its initial phase and $15 million overall. As conceptualized, sewer users eventually might number 750 “equivalent water users,” each of which is what USDA Rural Development considers to be roughly equal to a single-family home.

If built, it likely would be paid for through a combination of state and federal government assistance, such as grants and low-interest loans, and local dollars, Hallowell said.

“Wastewater service right now is expensive, and it’s only going to get much more expensive in the future,” he said, explaining how the larger southern Maine community of Windham is faced with the same predicament. “Nothing was done here or there in the 1970s when the government was providing 90 cents to the dollar to build sewer systems. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the scenario you’re under.”

Jack McLaughlin, who owns property on Fort Point Cove where the outflow pipe could be located, said he opposes the plant.

“I’d vote [the project] down. Definitely,” he said.

Dan Coulters Jr., a former selectman, said in the meeting that he didn’t think anyone would argue that a sewer system would benefit the downtown.

“The question is, can we afford it,” he said.

According to Hayes, the benefits of such a system could be significant — and might include encouraging commercial development at the high-traffic intersection of Routes 1 and 1A.

“A septic system will help the community to grow,” he said.

Hayes said that the warrant for the June 19 annual town meeting does not now include any articles on a wastewater treatment system. The next step for Stockton Springs on the matter will be to see if the town receives a $500,000 state grant for which it applied in February to help fund the project.

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