NEW GLOUCESTER — Approval appears closer for a limited public water system in the Upper Village after about 60 residents attended a public forum Saturday morning. The meeting at Memorial School reviewed proposed revisions to a plan that narrowly failed to win voter acceptance almost two weeks ago.
Following nearly four hours of detailed explanation, several local people said they would now vote in favor of the project that they voted against on Jan. 14.
Town officials and Water District trustees outlined numerous revisions. The most significant change was assurance that mandatory hook-ups would be limited to the Rural Development-funded project area. Current language requires mandatory hook-up district-wide, which raised opposition among residents outside the project area with regard to future expansion.
The new water supply is needed because 20 wells have been contaminated or are at risk in the Upper Village, generally where Lewiston Road (Routes 4, 100 and 202) passes the intersection of Intervale (Route 231) and Bald Hill roads. High levels of salt and benzene are the problem, and filtration is not seen as an effective long-term solution.
Decommissioning of the bad wells is part of the plan, although some uses such as watering lawns and gardens or filling swimming pools might be allowed.
The proposed new ordinance provides a full agricultural exemption.
Ann McCormack, a resident outside the transmission-line limits, told selectmen and trustees at the forum that she had changed her opinion after learning more about the plan and the consequences of failing to deal with identified groundwater pollution.
She said she asked a respected well-driller about the town’s situation, and she was told, “This problem is never, ever going to go away.”
McCormack said, “I am convinced that this is the right thing to do. It would be terribly shortsighted not to vote this in.” She told selectmen and water district trustees, “It is laudable that you listened to the people.”
Jim Fitch, a resident of Interval Road, said he was “among the majority that was uninformed” at the Jan. 14 special town meeting. He said he now supported the plan and recognized benefits to the town and to himself.
Alvin Winslow of Lewiston Road said he had voted no at the first meeting, but that he now believes “those people are going to be better off.”
A couple of residents spent considerable time questioning officials about whether fluoride would be added. They were told that fluoride is not in foreseeable plans, and that the addition of chlorine would be at a very low level.
Paul First, New Gloucester town planner, explained that the small water supply system would include a well supply, pump station and storage facilities near the racetrack on Bald Hill Road. The transmission lines would serve the 20 homes with contaminated wells and the 28 homes with at-risk wells. He said those 48 hook-ups would make the project financially viable.
Each home on the new system is expected to have an annual water bill of between $350 and $400.
The system’s total cost is about $2.4 million, and the town has committed grant funding of nearly $1.4 million. About $1 million remains to be raised through taxation. All of New Gloucester’s taxable units would see an annual tax increase of about $18 for the water project and another $3 for fire protection. That is based on a home valued at $200,000.
At the end of the water system workshop, Steven Libby, chairman of the New Gloucester Board of Selectmen, said a special town meeting would be called as soon as possible for another vote on the project.