SABATTUS — If Sabattus Sanitary/Water District officials have their way, sewage may soon be bound for Lewiston.

Officials are considering the idea, after learning they would need to spend $12 million to upgrade the sewage treatment system. The cost would mean significant rate hikes for the 600 residents on the water and sewer systems.

Early estimates are sewage could be shipped to Lewiston for treatment at roughly half the cost of upgrading the plant.

Sanitary/Water District officials, already in talks with water and sewer representatives from Lewiston about the plan, intend to meet with selectmen soon to go over the options.

According to district trustee Jeff Baril, the treatment plant was constructed in 1980 and upgrades have been made since, but it can no longer manage sewage treatment to the specifications required by the Department of Environmental Protection.

Baril said the DEP requires that treated wastewater discharged into the Sabattus River contain a minimum level of phosphorus — 1.04 pounds per day. The river runs out of Sabattus Lake.

Baril said after officials experimented with getting the phosphorus numbers down, they discovered the level of phosphorus in Sabattus Lake is already greater than the level required by the DEP.

“All we can do is to make sure we’re getting our discharge water below their limit,” Baril said, “but the water that we’re pouring into is already way beyond that limit.”

It’s a conundrum with no easy solution.

In 2020, the district hired the Winterport engineering and consulting firm Olver Associates to study the issue and prepare estimates on upgrading the plant. The study concluded it would take $12 million.

“We said, wow. That’s a lot of money for 600 customers,” district Superintendent Paul Morin said.

District officials aren’t concerned only with the price tag: there is also the possibility that even with an upgrade, the DEP could make their requirements even more restrictive, rendering all those costly improvements moot.

For six months, district officials have been discussing the plan to pump waste to Lewiston with the Lewiston-Auburn Waste Pollution Control Authority. Further meetings are expected.

“There are a lot of T’s to cross and I’s to dot,” Morin said. “But once we get some more answers from Lewiston, we can kind of get a sense of what it’s going to cost and see what the best long-term solution is going to be.”

Morin said the DEP is on board with the plan to tie in to the Lewiston system, where treated wastewater is discharged into the Androscoggin River, which has a flow heavy enough that phosphorous levels aren’t as big a concern as in Sabattus.

Since the district is separate from the town, officials also need to figure out how to pay for the upgrades, regardless of which plan they go with. If they ship waste into Lewiston, the district will likely be charged by the gallon.

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