Our View: Vote will significantly shape Bridgton’s future

Tick…tick…tick…tick…

For Bridgton, a day of reckoning is approaching. When local voters head to the polls on Tuesday they face a critical decision in regards to Bridgton’s immediate and long-term future. Three referendum questions will shape whether Bridgton moves forward in terms of economic growth and environmental protection, or whether the town halts its potential as an inviting place to live and visit.

The clock is ticking.

Question 4 asks voters to approve a $22.8 million wastewater system upgrade and expansion. No question, this is a huge number. The good news is the town landed a significant federal grant to reduce this overall figure. In fact, the $11.5 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Office was more than what the agency gives the entire state. What does that say in how important the feds feel this project is to Bridgton?

Any homeowner dreads the idea of replacing a septic system. At today’s rate, the average system goes between $8,000 to $10,000 — a lot of cash for something one doesn’t see. Few of us ever think about the septic system as we run the kitchen sink, take a shower or flush the toilet until it fails. The same is true here in Bridgton. The system is out of sight, and out of mind, except that of its superintendent, who recently warned selectmen and the public that the current wastewater disposal system is teetering on collapse.

It is a ticking timebomb.

If the project is rejected, Bridgton still has a major problem on its hands and it will be an expensive one — with funding coming exclusively out of local taxpayers’ pockets. A “No” vote flushes away those federal dollars to another community that will surely welcome the chance to accept the money to offset costs of their infrastructure improvements.

We were smart to accept outside funding and low interest loans to fund major renovation and expansion of our high school — work that will benefit our students and communities for several decades.

We need to take the same approach in regards to the wastewater project. Selectmen and engineers have been studying and working on a solution for several years now. They both agree, a band-aid is no longer a viable option.

We support Question 4 because Bridgton needs to address a serious problem, one that threatens the environment — tourism and the secondary home market on our lakes are a lifeblood of the local economy — if not corrected and stalls economic growth. People often say they wish their children could stay close to home, but they can’t because of few good-paying job opportunities. Without an expanded wastewater system, Bridgton is in no position to attract or possibly even keep businesses here. No economic growth means a higher tax burden falling onto the shoulders of local residents.

Some critics say a new system will lead to a development explosion that will forever change the small-town feel of Bridgton. If people really want to retain our charm, then they need to be willing to assist and support planners in developing standards and regulations to ensure that the town does not become “another Windham or North Conway.”

Nobody likes the mess that comes with construction. Yes, the project will create delays and some hardships, much like what Bridgton went through during the early 1980s with revitalization, what Naples went through in replacing the Causeway bridge, and what motorists recently had to experience with the reconstruction of Route 302 from Bridgton to Fryeburg. If there is a glimmer of hope it is the fact that the engineers have promised to talk with business owners regarding construction schedules in search of ways to least impact their customers.

We also support Questions 5 and 6 to make improvements along Main Streets and polish the town’s look, giving people a reason to stop, shop and visit this lovely town. We give credit to our town leaders for considering all angles of these plans, pointing out possible trouble spots and suggesting better options. These plans are well-thought-out. Again, we know it all comes at a cost — a big cost, which will be difficult for some, no question. We might have to sacrifice to fit our personal budgets. However, it will be worth it in the end and for the future of Bridgton.

For several years Rob Knowles ran a triathlon to benefit Good Neighbors. My job was to sit on some rocks on Pleasant Mountain and photograph runners as they made the difficult climb to the summit. Numerous times, competitors remarked, “This area is so beautiful. You’re lucky to live here.” Yes, I am lucky to live here. We all are. To protect and retain the beauty that draws so many here, there is a financial responsibility to assume. “Yes” votes on Questions 4, 5 and 6 keeps Bridgton on the right track.

The clock is ticking.

— Wayne E. Rivet, Publisher

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