Bridgton voters to decide new sewer rules Nov. 3

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Nothing less than the future growth potential of Bridgton is at stake in the sewer referendum to be decided by voters on Tuesday, Nov. 3.

That’s one reason why Bridgton Selectmen and the Wastewater Committee have come out so strongly in publicly supporting passage of the amended sewer ordinance, as evidenced by the big ad in this week’s edition of the Bridgton News.

Without making fundamental changes in the current allocation-based rate structure, there’s little chance the town can secure state and federal funding in the years to come for an expansion to the system, which currently serves around 55 users.

Woodard & Curran engineer Brent Bridges, who helped write the amendments, said Tuesday that if the town ever wants to expand the system, it needs a system capable of capturing all of the users, both actual and potential.

“You don’t have any current debt on the system, but if you wanted to expand, you have to have a way to pay back the debt,” Bridges said. Instead of paying based solely on how much water is used, he said, “From a fairness standpoint, the town needs to charge users based on what it costs to operate the system as a whole. Everyone will pay a base amount, and those who use more will pay more.”

Bridges said Bridgton’s sewer ordinance was workable over the years for a small system serving downtown Main Street, as long as its two leach fields could handle the flow. But in recent years the system has neared its capacity. It’s currently estimated that only 2,000 to 3,000 gallons per day of excess capacity remain. A few new businesses could easily use that up, and max out the system, he said.

“It’s just septic tanks and leach fields right now, basically a big subsurface system, like serving a building, but only bigger,” Bridges said of the municipal sewer system. Using leach fields to process the waste severely limits how much it can grow, he said.

Bridges is currently working on finalizing a preliminary engineering report and environmental review, both of which will be needed when the town submits an application to Rural Development and other agencies for funding an expansion to the system. The ordinance amendments are the first step in the process, but they are a crucial step.

“At the end of the day, we want an ordinance that’s fair, that outlines who will pay, how would you operate the system — all of the elements you have to have in place,” he said.

The amended ordinance does away with the allocation system for future use after Sept. 1, 2021, in favor of a system of sewer assessments, fees and service charges based on debt retirement, operational costs, flow rates and a reserve account fee.

In addition, a “readiness-to-serve” fee would be charged to those persons along the sewer line who are currently using a private septic system. If their system ever failed, those persons would be required to hook up to the system.
Grandfathered allocation holders who are holding their excess allocations in reserve, in anticipation that they may someday expand their business or change the use of their property to require more sewer capacity, would be invited to sell their excess capacity back to the town. If they don’t, they would be charged an “equivalent use,” based on their current sewer use. Any reserved allocation, not exercised by the grandfathered allocation holder by June 30, 2021, would expire, and the town would refund the holder for any amount paid for the unused reserved allocation.
If the amended ordinance is enacted Nov. 3, the next step will be for the selectmen and the Wastewater Committee to look at designing the expanded system. The committee envisions a system that would serve not just Main Street but the entire downtown residential area, including all the side streets to capture as much density as possible. The Wastewater Committee has created a map showing the system extending down Portland Road to Sandy Creek, turning right up to South High Street and back to Main Hill.

Bridges said such a system could be built in phases to keep costs lower, or selectmen could decide to try for funding of the entire route all at once. A lot depends on what kinds of environmental challenges arise, things like ledge that must be blasted or gravity pumping stations that must be built.

Another big consideration is the type of treatment system that would be used. Bridgton doesn’t have the option of releasing treated wastewater into a water body, said Bridges. “Either you’ve got to put it in the land or on top of the land.”

Since there is limited land available downtown for creation of a new leach field, the committee is currently envisioning a spray irrigation system similar to that used by Camp Wildwood, in which treated wastewater is sprayed into the woods.

Bridges said he hopes to be able to submit the preliminary engineering report and environmental review to Rural Development as early as Nov. 20, but he adds that no decisions on an expansion will be made without voter approval. Selectmen will be required to hold public hearings once plans have been finalized.

Please follow and like us: