Sewer line cost: study could paint clearer cost figure

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

As members of the Bridgton Wastewater Committee begin to embark on a public outreach campaign for an expanded sewer system, the question arises: is it too early to talk about how much it might cost?

Engineers from Woodard & Curran estimated in a feasibility study that extending the current Main Street system — down Portland Road to Sandy Creek Road, up Sandy Creek Road to South High Street, and back along South High Street to connect back up with Main Street at Main Hill — could cost up to $21 million.

That number, however, is based on many assumptions of unknown engineering details — and does not at all reflect the actual cost to taxpayers, after other sources of funding are factored in. Because of that, the committee chose not to include the estimate in the informational brochure they created, and brought to the Board of Selectmen for final approval at their Feb. 10 meeting.

“Nowhere on this do I see the expected cost,” said Paul Hoyt, as Wastewater Committee member Lucia Terry gave them all a copy of the brochure. Hoyt has previously expressed his reservation that Bridgton’s sewer system needs to be expanded.

“We don’t have an expected cost,” said Wastewater Committee member Glen “Bear” Zaidman. “We were told the worst-case scenario was $21 million. If you folks decide to go to the next step, and let the engineering people look at a piece of land and (tell us) what the land value will cost us, then we can put a number to it, to give the people,” Zaidman said.

“But you could put a value to it, without the land, and say it’s a worst-case scenario,” answered Hoyt. To this, the other selectmen shook their heads negatively.

Zaidman, who chairs the committee that has been working for the past year on the project, said it’s far too early in the process to be talking about costs. The $21 million estimate does not include the cost of the land for a septic field, but it also does not include the potentially millions of dollars’ worth of grants from such agencies as Rural Development and the Economic Development Administration that could be applied to the project.

“If we do soil tests, that (number) might drop significantly,” Zaidman said. “Hydrology reports will also drop it considerably, because this pipe will follow the (Bridgton) Water District’s pipes.” He said Woodard & Curran did not factor in the possibility that the sewer pipes would follow the water lines, and therefore their estimate includes significant costs for soil removal and blasting of ledge.

Zaidman said the project engineer, Mike Stein, “feels pretty confident that if the water district will share their information, there’s going to be a lot come off of (the estimate).”

Hoyt, however, was not to be deterred.

“That would be great. But if we’re promoting this, the people ought to have the information we now have available. I agree it’s a worst-case scenario, but that’s a possibility,” Hoyt said. “We can say we’re looking for grants. But why wouldn’t we want to put a price on it, if we’re asking people to support it?”

“The cost factors are so unknown at this point,” added Terry, who said she understands that the $21 million “could be knocked in half” once the studies have been done and the funding sources secured. Holding up a brochure, she said, “This is meant to be more of a general overview.”

Terry added that she continuously asked the board to comment on the brochure’s content as she was preparing it. Hoyt replied that he mentioned the need for cost information when the initial draft brochure was presented to the board at the previous meeting.

If you want it in there, we’ll put it in there,” said Terry. “That’s why I keep asking for input.”

But Zaidman repeated his point that it was too early to put a number on the project. “We could go back and forth about this, but this is a tool to get out to the people, so they can ask questions and come to the meetings,” he said. “When the engineering stuff is done, we can give them a rock-solid answer.”

The rest of the board agreed with Zaidman, and the brochure was formally approved by a vote of 4-1, with Hoyt opposed.

Before objecting to the lack of a cost estimate, Hoyt also questioned a statement in the brochure that said one of the benefits of an expanded system would be that it would “increase the commercial tax base and lower residential taxes for all citizens.”

“Wasn’t there a great possibility mentioned of making (the land to be served by the system) a TIF Zone?” And if so, that statement wouldn’t be correct,” because any increase in land value realized by the sewer line would be captured by the TIF, said Hoyt.

Zaidman said it is anticipated that new businesses would locate along the sewer route, and thereby shift some of the burden from residential taxpayers, who currently make up 93% of the tax base.

Town Manager Bob Peabody said that any increased value under the TIF would not contribute to increasing school or county subsidies. And resident Mark Lopez explained further that money generated by the TIF District could be used for projects that otherwise would have to be funded through the general fund.

“So, at the end of the day, (the TIF District) increases the tax base and lessens the burden on taxpayers,” Lopez said.

Zaidman again pointed out the need for selectmen to take the next steps, by locating a piece of land for a leach field and doing soil tests and surveying. In answer to a question from Selectman Bob McHatton, he said that permitting could take from two to six months, and the project could start after that, in perhaps a year.

 

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