Oxford debates sewer ordinance amendment

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Selectwoman Samantha Hewey asks fellow board members at the October 18 meeting to consider an appeals process for residents forced to hook up to the public sewer system at more than 300 feet back from the street and face certain hardships.

OXFORD — Voters will decide if the sewer ordinance should be amended to mandate that all structures with a failing septic system located on the public gravity sewer system hook into it.

The Ordinance currently requires only those within 150 feet of the system to do so if their system has failed.

The proposed amendment to the 2014 Ordinance must first go through a public hearing process.

“If it goes by your house and your sewer has failed, you need to hook up,” Town Manager Butch Asselin explained to the board at its October 18 meeting.

Selectmen agreed that the ultimate goal is to get more users hooked into the system.

In September of 2014 residents approved a sewer ordinance regulating the waste water treatment facility that, in part required residents with a failed septic tank or other waste water system and whose properties are within 150 feet of the sewer pipes to connect.

The ordinance created a fee structure for users, including a one-time base connection fee, plus a usage rate based on water consumption. The fees were intended to help pay the town’s debt service on the loans, and for future projects, operations and maintenance on the sewer.

But the expected number of customers didn’t materialized.

Last year, officials said only 22 customers supported the $28.5 million waste water treatment plant and local officials say they need more customers.

The lack of users and existing TIF money was not enough to pay back the bond, nor was it enough to keep the gravity-fed system operating properly, officials said at that time. Effluent had to be shipped in from out of town for a while to support the plant operation. An incentive program was offered to help customers defray the cost of the tie-in. but it still was not enough to entice a significant number of tie-ins.

Although the town and the U.S. Department of Agriculture agreed to a 47-page document, which spelled out when and under what conditions residents must connect to public sewer system, Asselin said the proposed amendment would not violate that.

“We signed an agreement. I’m not sure we met that,” said Selectmen Scott Hunter, who has asked that copious notes be taken if the proposed amendment is approved and appeals start coming in.

Other towns have processes that allow appeals to mandated public sewer system tie-ins – some examples being 30 feet, 50 feet as as high as 1,500 feet – but Asselin said that is no concern to Oxford’s plan or the plant’s funding source. Rural Housing (which set up the loan for the treatment plant construction) simply wants to get its money back, he said.

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