WILTON – The public comments were few but enough for Selectmen to unanimously vote Tuesday to go ahead and apply for a Rural Development grant/loan to help with the costs of upgrading the town’s Waste Water Treatment plant.
The grant would cover 45 percent of the $9.5 million project leaving 55 percent for the town to take on as loan, said William Olver of Olver Associates from Winterport, the firm that has studied and developed options for the town to pursue.
After looking at the options for the plant and the town’s 31 pump stations, the Environmental Engineers are recommending an upgrade to the existing plant.
Olver presented the need, reasons and options available to the town during the first of two public hearings held Tuesday. A second hearing will take place May 4 at 6:30 p.m. at the town office for those residents who didn’t make Tuesday’s meeting.
With 995 customers the project means an increase in rates for sewer users. The projected $550 fee, up from the present $265 a year, is a lot compared to now but it’s not a higher rate compared to most towns, he told the dozen plus residents who attended. The RD grant/loans now available require sewer rates to be above $400 for the grant.
Because of the innovative nature of the plant built in the late 1970’s, federal and state funding meant no debt for the town and kept rates low. Customers have not seen a rate increase during this time but “no one in Maine has been able to maintain $265 fees,” he said.
Costs aside, the need for an upgrade to the aging plant that has extended it’s 20-year life expectancy has reached the point of necessity.
The Department of Environmental Protection has been saying “you need to do something,” said Russ Mathers, Wastewater Treatment Plant superintendent. DEP was pleased to hear we’re looking in to it, he added.
The struggle to find parts to keep the aging plant and pump stations going was discussed as one resident asked about the projected life expectancy of the upgrade.
She questioned the town taking on a 30-year debt for a 20-year expected update but Olver suggested with good maintenance the upgrade could extend from 30 to 40 years.
While Selectman Russell Black said he didn’t relish borrowing money, the plant has exceeded it’s life expectancy and DEP is starting to put on pressure. A catastrophe could happen at any time, he said. A major failure could result in fines for violation of water quality.
To act now before an event occurs, “we’re dealing in a position of strength,” he added.
Another issue raised revolved around the fact that funding could be jeopardized by holding off on an upgrade to either the plant or pumps. Stimulus funds are behind the funds available now.
The board agreed voting to more forward and apply for the grant/loan but acceptance of it requires a town vote.
Town manager Rhonda Irish asked those present to get the word out to others to attend the second public hearing for the engineer’s presentation on May 4.