Residents OK sewer ordinance, selectmen contract for foundation

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By Ann Wood

OXFORD—The town will have its wasterwater treatment facility, following a unanimous vote by the Oxford Board of Selectmen on Tuesday to contract with Sargent Corp., of Stillwater, to install the foundation and outfall pipe for around $2.87 million—about $429,000 less than K&K Excavation’s bid and a whopping $830,000 less than Cianbro Corp’s proposal. Construction on the foundation is expected to begin within the next 30 days. The building itself will go out to bid separately.

After questioning standby fees and how much they might cost property owners, voters ultimately approved Oxford's sewer ordinance.
After questioning standby fees and how much they might cost property owners, voters ultimately approved Oxford’s sewer ordinance.

Things didn’t go as smoothly at last week’s Special Town Meeting. Though 41 residents ultimately passed the Oxford’s Sewer Use Ordinance without a single dissenting vote at Special Town Meeting on Thursday, Sept. 4, it happened not without controversy and after nearly an hour of discussion.

The ordinance will regulate the town’s expanded sewer system, which will run through the Tax Increment Financing Zone onto King Street, as well as the new wastewater treatment facility, which will be built at the intersection of routes 26 and 121 at the Welchville Dam. The voters approved the project in December 2012.

After Ron Kugell got the nod to serve as town moderator, residents were aghast when he called for a vote on the sole warrant article without any words about the proposed ordinance. Some residents called for the 44-page ordinance to be read, which visibly upset Town Manager Michael Chammings.

“It’s been made available for weeks,” he said, added that the document was posted with the warrant.

Chammings then collected copies from the selectmen—and any other copies he could find in the room—and passed them to the people who wanted them. He briefly told voters that there are eight objectives of the ordinance for the roughly $24 million sewer system, 44-percent of which was paid for through a $10.3 million federal Rural Development grant. They include preventing pollutants, protecting personnel, promoting reuse of sludge, enabling the town to comply with state permit conditions, promoting connections and providing fees for the cost of operation—which is what worried some residents.

The selectmen need to establish, the document reads, and “alter from time to time” a standby fee for persons owning land adjacent to, but not connected to, the sewer system “for making the service available and for capacity development at the POTW such that the system ‘is ready to serve’ said property.”

That bothered resident Roberta Polland.

“There’s no limit to what it could be,” she said. “We don’t have any idea what it could be.”

Chammings said that the acceptance of the federal grant created the need for the Standby Fee but that voters needn’t worry.

“[The selectmen] can set it to be 25-cents if that’s what they want to set for a standby fee,” he said. “I don’t anticipate it to be any amount of money that’s going to bother anybody.”

Those who have a failed septic system and live within 150 feet of the sewer line will have to hook up immediately. Those who do not will be allowed to wait to hook in until their system is about to fail, Chammings said.

Project engineer Brent Bridges, vice president of Woodward and Curran, said the town has projected that enough properties will hook in to make the standby fee a moot point.

“The project was put together without accessing a standby fee,” he said, adding that 900 users are predicted to hook up to the system within five years. The fee to hook in to the system is predicted to be $425.

The standby fee is necessary so that is a safeguard to ensure the town can pay the debt incurred on the loan, Chamming said.

“If you don’t pass the ordinance what you have is no control over a system [that we’ve already put millions of dollars into],” he added.

The user and standby fees will be determined by the selectmen when they know exactly how many users are hooking into the municipal sewer system.

Chammings said that the ordinance, which was written in three weeks, isn’t perfect but can be easily amended with a trip to Special Town Meeting.

“We want people to feel comfortable with this and we always did since day one,” he said.

Following a call for a vote, the article unanimously passed. The treatment plan should be up and running with in the spring, Bridges said.

awood@advertiserdemocrat.com