WINTER HARBOR — At a special town meeting Monday night, Winter Harbor took another step forward in its dogged pursuit of clean water. About a dozen voters turned out to approve unanimously the water district’s proposal to apply for a $400,000 Community Development Block Grant to build a standpipe and transmission mains for the town’s new water system.
Selectman Gerald Conners said he was disappointed with the low turnout, despite the frigid weather. “When things are going smoothly, people don’t get too involved,” he said.
Several residents, who did not stay for the voting, peppered water district trustee Shirley Chase with questions about the potential cost of the system to the town, many of whose residents have their own private wells.
“What are you going to use for revenue if they close up those three housing projects?” asked Selectman Wesley Hills, referring to the possibility that the nearby Navy base will close, and the 83 Navy homes (one-third of the households on town water) will empty out.
“That comes up all the time,” Chase said after the meeting. “But you’ve got to do something. You can’t just sit there and say, what if the sky’s going to fall.”
That grant, for which the water district already has received preliminary approval, is just a small part of the $2.4 million cost of the new system, to be funded through an assortment of grants and loans. While $2.4 million may be a daunting figure for the 240 households served by the town water supply, Chase said it’s cheaper than building and maintaining a water treatment plant.
Since the 1980s, federal and state public health laws have required towns to treat all surface water used in the public drinking supply. The trustees had to confront the idea of building a treatment plant until they found ground water this fall.
For more than 40 years, Winter Harbor’s water system was owned privately by Richard Berry of Portland, who town officials say saddled the system with debts and allowed it to deteriorate.
In 1990, the town formed a water district to buy its water supply back, but voters rejected the idea at a town meeting. In 1995, three new trustees reorganized the dormant district, and after another year of futile negotiations, handed Berry a $228,000 check and took over the water company.
Berry has filed a lawsuit in Hancock County Superior Court, claiming that he was paid far less than the system was worth. Town officials doubt that. A study by Dirigo Engineering, the Waterville company designing the new system, showed that the 100-year-old mains are so riddled with leaks that even at 3 in the morning, more than 30 gallons of water per minute are pumped out — leakage that adds up to 40,000 to 50,000 gallons a day.
This new system will supply homes with ground water from two wells off Route 186, instead of the murky water from Birch Harbor Pond that now comes out of town taps. The new 70-foot-high standpipe, which will hold 200,000 gallons of water, will be constructed near a new pump station adjacent to the wells.
Engineers from Dirigo Engineering say clean water could be spurting out of town faucets as early as this fall. Tim Sawtelle, one of the two engineers at Monday’s meeting, said paying off the various loans funding the project will cost users an average of $4 extra per month.