The 45-year-old wastewater treatment plant on River Road in Mexico needs major improvements, Rumford-Mexico Sewerage District Superintendent Roland Arsenault told Rumford selectmen last week. Submitted photo

RUMFORD — The Rumford-Mexico Sewerage District is seeking to upgrade its 45-year-old wastewater treatment plant because the main building doesn’t meet regulations, original equipment is failing and its discharge permit is threatened, officials said.

The estimated price tag? $25.8 million.

Rumford-Mexico Sewerage District Superintendent Roland Arsenault. Bruce Farrin/Rumford Falls Times

The plant on River Road is licensed to treat 2.65 million gallons of sewage per day from Rumford, Mexico and Dixfield.

District Superintendent Roland Arsenault and Chris Dwinal of Wright-Pierce Engineering in Topsham went over a preliminary engineering review and long-term plans with selectmen March 5.

Arsenault, who became superintendent in August 2018, said, “When I took over, the reserve funds were pretty depleted, and we were experiencing a lot of system failures, and we were in the process of potentially going insolvent. So a rate increase was needed just to cover our operating costs, to some degree.”

Last year, the district hired Wright-Pierce to do a preliminary review and help identify key items in dire need of maintenance or replacement. Among the findings were:

  • Much of the equipment is original and beyond its useful life.
  • Old equipment is failing or requires significant maintenance by staff.
  • The main building does not comply with current codes.
  • Major and comprehensive improvements are needed.
  • The plant’s reliability and ability to meet its discharge permit are concerns.

The cost of the fixes is estimated at $25.8 million.

“It was actually higher than this initially, but we worked with Roland to reduce the cost and to reuse as much of the infrastructure as we possibly can at the existing location,” Dwinal said.

He said there is no plan to move the treatment plant.

“We’re even going to refurbish the existing building,” Dwinal said. “There’ll be no expansion of the facility; it will be doing the same sort of work.”

He said a project this size would be nearly impossible for the communities to absorb and is not what the district is looking to do. There’s a variety of sources for federal and state grants, as well as low-interest loans.

The district is not eligible for grants because its sewer rates are too low, he said.

“We looked at what the impact would be,” Dwinal said, “assuming that the rate assessment by Rumford, Mexico and Dixfield to their users are $250 per year.”

They would be looking at a 60 percent rate increase, or $400 per year, he said.

According to Maine Rural Water’s biennial survey in 2019, out of 70 communities with sewer systems or treatment plants, only one besides Rumford-Mexico had rates less than $250 last year. Only 10 communities had rates less than $425 per year, Dwinal said.

The average rate of the 70 communities was $600 per year, he said.

Arsenault said there was no rate increase in Rumford from 1981 to 2017. Selectmen recently approved raising the rate from $244 to $275 per unit for the 3,094 units in town.

The major work at the treatment plant is not all that’s needed, Dwinal said. The 45-year-old pumping stations also require work. Estimated costs are:

  • Dix Avenue, Mexico, limited pump station upgrade, $1.4 million.
  • Falls Hill, Rumford, replace with submersible pump station, $672,000.
  • South Rumford, replace with submersible pump station, $575,000.
  • Rumford Point wastewater treatment facility, replace with a septic system, $667,000.

Work on the collection system will also be needed.

“When you add it all up, it’s $29 million to $30 million, Dwinal said. “The district didn’t feel comfortable doing all the projects, but we looked at the part that needs the most — the main treatment plant. It’s going to take five years, just for the treatment plant.”

When applying for rural development funding, officials look for not only the project for which funding is requested but related projects, he said.

“Those pump stations and the treatment plant are the stretch projects, meaning if there’s more grant funding available, or hoping bids come in lower than we expect, if there’s grant money left over in the end, that could be applied to those assets.”

Tax Collector Tom Bourret said the July sewer bill will include a confidential income survey as part of an application for grants. No names are required.

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