Take 2 on Bridgton Referendum #3

The following column was submitted by the Bridgton Wastewater Committee

The group of individuals who have brought the petition to the ballot, Referendum Article #3, to be voted on next week, have set themselves, in no uncertain terms, in opposition to Bridgton’s Wastewater Committee — for no good reason.

For one, the Wastewater Committee is an advisory committee, made up of local individuals, who showed interest and were appointed by the Bridgton Board of Selectmen. (As such, all of our names, contact information, and meeting information is on the town’s website.) We are charged to learn about the complexities and implications of the present situation and make informed recommendations to the selectmen regarding all aspects of the wastewater system and future wastewater disposal. That’s it. We have no power of any kind to decide or change anything. While we wish we had the participation of somebody on the wastewater system, none of the committee members are.

Secondly and more importantly, much of what this petition group says is right. The committee is also right. We should be working together to solve these problems. We all work hard, we all mean well, and we all want the same thing. The committee, being a town committee, is working within the town governmental system to figure this out. We have appealed to folks for years — in this newspaper, at public meetings, on LRTV, and personally, to engage, to come to meetings, to share their views and concerns, and to help us find a solution. We sincerely thank the people, who have done that, but they are few — seriously, you can count them on one hand. This petition group has chosen to work outside the system, has not joined the conversation or informed themselves about the situation the town is in. Unfortunately, even as they’ve spent a good deal of money and crafted a well-designed campaign, they come off as not totally informed and concerned only with their own needs. Dividing the community over this instead of working together shows a lack of confidence in your town’s officials and is not the way to get the new wastewater system we need.

The Municipal Wastewater Disposal System is not sustainable in the way it’s presently managed, even for the current users it serves. It certainly cannot support Bridgton’s prosperity. To prosper and be environmentally and financially sustainable, Bridgton needs a new wastewater disposal system with a broader reach than just the downtown.

There are presently 73 homes and businesses on the system, mostly businesses. And to be clear, Bridgton’s wastewater removal system collects wastewater post-septic tank, which each user has on their property, and delivers it mostly by gravity-flow, to leach fields at each end of town. This system was installed a very long time ago, was failing and had to be rehabbed 10 years ago to the tune of $850,000, using taxpayer block grant money, and has never served more than 76 users. Users were assigned, and then paid for, a certain number of gallons per day, called an allocation, that they could put into this limited system. Many users on the system hold a considerable portion of their total allocation that they are not flowing. If all these users were to flow their total allocated amount, the system would be maxed out with the total gallons well over the safety buffer required by the Department of Environmental Protection. So, the system is shut down by the numbers even though considerable capacity is not being used. Even though Bridgton’s wastewater system is set up as an “Enterprise Fund” and as such is supposed to be self-sufficient, the CDBG money that was used is taxpayer money, which could have been used for any number of other things of more benefit to more taxpayers. That expense, and the fact that the mismanagement of the system over many years has put a stranglehold on the downtown make this a very important issue for every citizen to engage with.

The ways that engineers assign Design Flow Value (that number of gallons required by a certain property for a particular use) has changed since allocations were made for existing users. By changing the schedule by which use is assigned, and basing design flows on newer engineering guidelines, much capacity will be gained for the existing system, opening up potential for new users and for expanded users, which will in turn lower the rate per gallon for everyone.

The Wastewater Committee is simply encouraging the use of these new numbers. This will not take away from anything any current users are doing at present, and, in fact, will allow some businesses already on the system to move forward with plans they have already invested in. Changing the way the current system is administered is not a long-term solution (there is not one for this existing system that is either efficient or sustainable), but will eek a little more from what we have, and keep us alive while a new system is built.

At this time, downtown Bridgton is shut down to any growth, with only 661 gallons left in the part of the system for the upper end of Main Street, and none at all in the part of the system that serves the lower end of town from Methodist Hill, south: dead and empty buildings stay dead and empty, no new shops or restaurants, no new opportunities for entrepreneurs or for jobs. This situation has been accumulating for a while now, and can take the heart out of a town. Once the new system is operating, none of the current users of the existing system will have any problem flowing whatever they need to, to achieve their hopes and dreams for their properties.

Bridgton’s Wastewater Committee wants Bridgton to prosper. We believe in managed growth, we believe in the goals of the new 2014 Comprehensive Plan, and we believe in the Future Land Use Plan and the Zoning Plan yet to be written, which will help to deliver these goals.

To prosper, we need a new wastewater system. This is apparent throughout the Comprehensive Plan and the Future Land Use Plan within. A process has been engaged and steps are being taken to plan for this new system.

In our years of work toward a wastewater disposal system to serve more than just a few downtown users, we strive to address two equally important goals.

The first is to encourage economic development — thoughtful, well-designed development, bringing good jobs, helping to create balance in our tax base, thereby lessening the burden on residential taxpayers, and providing more locally available services and goods for our citizens.

The second is to protect the town’s groundwater and water bodies from contamination from sewage. Much of the land in the growth areas in town is not suitable for traditional leach beds. Tight spaces and waterways throughout the downtown and wet soils along the corridors lead to expensive beds that fail frequently, contaminating our ground water. This has been the norm and must change to allow Bridgton’s waters to be clean, and the town to thrive.

We cannot sustain ourselves, let alone prosper, without these two goals being met.

From the time a new system is voted on, (yes, the citizens of Bridgton will be voting in the near future on this very important step for our town’s sustainability!) it can be constructed inside of two years.

Referendum Article #3 calls for no changes to the present allocations for the 73 users on the system. If this referendum passes, Bridgton’s downtown will be closed for the foreseeable future. It will also show a lack of community commitment in the eyes of any interested funding partners for a new wastewater system. If you are not moved to action by this paragraph, please go back and read this article again carefully. This is important!

The Wastewater Committee opposes Referendum Article #3, and urges citizens to vote it down, become informed on these issues, and stand with us to keep Bridgton open for business while plans come together for a new system.

Please be in touch with Bridgton Town Manager Bob Peabody, or a Wastewater Committee member for more information. Contact information is on the town website.

Bridgton Wastewater Committee includes: Bear Zaidman, chairman; Ray Turner; Jim Kidder, Bridgton Public Works director; Lucia Terry, Dave Crowell, Mike Truscott, and Bernie King, board of selectmen liaison.

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