Wastewater system upgrade critical to Bridgton’s future

“The projects I get most excited about are ones with a strong public component. It could be developing a new water or wastewater system that helps a community maintain or grow its economic strength, or it could be reinvigorating a community asset like developing a formerly blighted part of the downtown. It is the work to build a community vision and implement the right solution that energizes me.” — Brent Bridges, PE, comment on the Woodard & Curran website.

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

In about 10 minutes, Brent Bridges was able to fully explain why Bridgton is in dire need of a major wastewater system expansion.

The professional engineer, who is the senior client manager (governmental and institutional projects) at Woodard & Curran of Portland, recently gave Bridgton selectmen an overview of the $22,880,000 project that will go to taxpayers this November.

Start the clock…

The obvious question is, why does Bridgton need a new wastewater system?

Answer: The existing system is 30 years old; operates at near capacity; cannot be expanded; and will continue to require significant investment just to meet the needs of the existing users.

If one looks at the bigger picture, the new wastewater system will enable Bridgton to grow economically, while also protecting water quality, which is currently being threatened by faulty private septic systems and leach fields.

Currently, new businesses are unable to expand into Bridgton’s downtown due to the lack of sewage access. An upgraded system (the proposed system triples current capacity — which Bridges termed as “the right size” and “best bang for the buck” for Bridgton) opens the heart of town to new development.

“The entire town benefits with increased potential for economic development and, in turn, a larger tax base,” Bridges noted. “Commercial users will be able to expand their businesses and new development can occur due to the new wastewater system to accompany the public water system that already exists.”

Resident Mike Davis wondered about those people who might not want to see Bridgton grow in a business sense, wanting to keep the “town as it is,” and thus rejecting support of the project.

Bridges and Bridgton Town Manager Robert Peabody pointed to the environmental implications if the town stands pat.

The proposed system would give property owners the opportunity to address faulty systems, which testing has shown are impacting water quality.

“The current wastewater is not directly impacting the environment,” Bridges pointed out. “However, sampling and testing of Stevens Brook and the point where Willett Brook connects to Stevens Brook was conducted in 2017 and it revealed that private septic systems and leach fields are impacting water quality. The existing system does not connect up all the users in this area of town, so failed or failing systems are reaching Stevens and Willett Brooks.”

Bridges said the new system will allow property owners in the proposed wastewater system area to hook up and thus remove sources of “illicit discharge” to improve water quality.

“An improved wastewater system will protect that water (our beautiful lakes and streams) and ensure Bridgton’s natural beauty for years to come,” Bridges said.

Peabody added that since Bridgton officials now know water quality is being compromised by faulty systems, if the town was to stay status quo, it would likely eventually find the Maine Department of Environmental Protection breathing down its neck to address the matter.

“The sewer system reflects a commitment to the environment and to water quality for future generations,” Bridges added, “as well as an investment in the town’s ability to retain and grow both businesses and private homeownership.”

The proposed system will encompass the downtown area along Main Street and the connected side streets from approximately Junior Harmon Field to the Civil War monument on Main Hill. It will also extend along South High Street to Bridgton Hospital, and along Route 302 to Meadow Road/Route 117.

Bridges explained that the new collection system will consist of gravity and pressure sewers, pumping stations and access manholes that will run primarily along public roads/right of ways. The two existing treatment plants — Junior Harmon Field and Wayside Avenue — would connect to a pumping station and wastewater would be directed to the main facility.

The treatment system will consist of a compact wastewater treatment package plant, located in a single location (town-owned property off of Portland Street), with a high-pressure dispersal system that will release treated wastewater into the ground.

When asked how long it will take for the project to be completed, Bridges pulled no punches, saying Bridgton will be “under siege” for about two years.

If taxpayers approve the project in November, the preliminary work (including design) will be done this fall/winter ,with construction starting in spring 2019.

How will the system be funded?

How does Bridgton pay for the $22-plus million infrastructure upgrade?

While the town still has no definitive number in regards to grants (money that does not have to be paid back) and loans (money to be paid back), so far, Bridgton has had some favorable results.

An income survey helped change Bridgton’s median income figure (as listed in a previous census) to a lower amount, which will put the town in position to be eligible for a low interest rate.

Recently, the town received word that Bridgton was one of five communities to be chosen for Maine Department of Environmental Protection Clean Water State Revolving Fund help. The three highest rated municipalities — Bridgton, Bangor and Madawaska — stand to land $1 million.

It is proposed that the users of the system pay for the system through user and connection fees. During the first 10 years of operation, while users are in the process of hooking up, the town may fund a portion of the debt. Once all users are on board, user fees should cover debt and operational costs.

Bridges admitted that the “realistic” target is 90% of possible wastewater system users eventually hooking into the system. He pointed that property owners that recently installed a new septic system won’t likely join the town system until a later date.

“The highest-taxed properties are within the area served by the proposed system so, in effect, a portion of their taxes are used to help fund the early years of the system when not everyone is hooked up,” Bridges said. “The design will accommodate all users, but it generally takes 10 years to get everyone hooked up and realize full revenue.”

The town is also considering using some of the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) that has been set up for infrastructure work to help fund the project.

“The hope is that new user fees will be close to what existing users are paying, which is $590 per year per residential user,” Bridges said. “Commercial, industrial and governmental users will pay user fees in proportion to their potential use per the town’s Sewer User Ordinance.”

Tying in with other projects

If Bridgton is to be “under siege” from a construction standpoint, then why not address other needs all at once.

Bridgton Water District officials noted that if the town has roadways open, they would look to replace old piping within the project area. While Main Street was addressed during a revitalization effort in the 1980s, there is work to be done on side roads and Lower Main Street.

Another project is streetscape. HEB Engineers of Bridgton and Milone & McBroom are closing in on final designs for Main and Lower Main Street areas. Designs will be soon headed for selectmen discussion and public comment. The Maine Department of Transportation has awarded Bridgton a $500,000 grant toward this project.

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