OXFORD — Between $400,000 and $500,000 in unused grant money may be used to extend the town’s sewer pipes to some 150 mobile homes in the Oxford Pines Regency Park on Skeetfield Road.
Brent Bridges, senior vice president of Woodard & Curran, told selectmen at the board’s Nov. 16 meeting that the remaining grant money from the $28.5 million wastewater treatment plant project must be returned unless it is used to extend the project that is now winding down after nearly five years.
“You don’t want to hold it and use it just because you have it,” said Bridges.
Bridges said the plan to tie in as many as 150 lots at the Oxford Pines Regency park from the pumping station on Route 26, would allow the residents to tie into a pump station that would be built near the mobile home park. That pumping station would be tied into Route 26. Both would be constructed at the town’s expense. Homeowners would then pay the cost of individually hooking into the system.
The key, he said, would be to get the owner of the Oxford Pines Regency to agree to the project.
Unlike the loan, which financed nearly half of the original project and is being paid back, the grant money needs to be used or returned, said Bridges.
Some of the extra money has been used to extend the sewer lines up Pleasant Street to Lakes Lane, and will allow the Oxford Elementary School and the Town Office to tie in, come spring 2018. But other plans to use the money to extend sewer up Route 26 from the Skeetfield Road intersection to Walmart failed to happen when Walmart it did not want to financially contribute to the project.
The money can not be used to tie in private property, Bridges noted.
After the Walmart plan failed, the next step was to find an area in town which had enough residences or businesses to make the sewer line extension worth while, said Bridges. That meant bringing in at least 25 additional users in close proximity and because Oxford is primarily a rural area , there was not one area that seemed to fit the bill except for the 150-lot Oxford Pines Regency park, said Bridges.
The Oxford Pines Regency project cost is estimated to be about $1 million and because the town would need to provide funding for the pump station, board members said they could look at grants such as Community Development Block grant and even a Department of Environmental Protection grant.
The wastewater treatment system was built over a three-year period to meet the needs of the growing community and provide a centralized wastewater collection, treatment, and disposal facility to accommodate the recent rise in commercial activities.
It was billed as a necessity to bring in more big business to the Route 26 area.
When the plant was dedicated in October 2016, with a high-profile ceremony that included Gov. Paul LePage, U.S. Congressman Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel and others, several large users were already online, including the Oxford Casino. Dunkin’ Donuts was the first business to come online in July 2016. The Hampton Inn began using the system in late 2016.
Local officials had predicted that by the end of its first full year in operation, the project would be providing 297 residents and 383 total users with “a safe, efficient and environmentally responsible way” to manage waste.
That did not happen. Many homeowners questioned the need to go to the expense of hooking into the public system – at a cost estimate between $500 and $5,000 depending on a variety of factors ranging from topography to electrical service and distance from street – if their own system worked properly.
Although others have hooked into the system, including most recently the Oxford Casino Hotel, that opened this month, officials have expressed concern that the flow from those large users was not being supplemented by enough other users.
As an incentive, the town proposed, and voters at the October 2016 special town meeting approved, transferring $250,000 from town funds to provide $500 subsidies for hookups through a revolving loan fund managed by selectmen.
Approval of that and several other articles also allowed a portion of the loans from a revolving loan fund program to be forgiven as an incentive to hook into the system and to facilitate repayment of the $250,000 to the Reserve Fund over 10 years.
The Sewer Connection Incentive program was designed to help eliminate water quality and service problems from failing septic systems but many homeowners still balked at the opportunity, saying there was no need to tie into the public system as long as their system was working.
Despite a good turnout for the informational meeting, that program failed to produce the number of tie-in expected, officials said at the time.
To continue with the current proposed plan at the Oxford Pines Regency, Bridges said the park owner must first agree to his share of the costs. If he agrees, something officials say he has been reluctant to in the past, selectmen will then continue with its discussion.