April 15, 2022

Windham establishes sewer vote as ballot item

By Ed Pierce

During a lengthy Windham Town Council meeting on Tuesday night, councilors approved putting a measure for voters to approve a proposed North Windham Sewer project on the ballot in June.

Rather than have the proposal determined by residents at the annual Windham Town Meeting on June 18, councilors decided to have it come before voters by paper ballot on Maine Primary Day on June 14.

Windham Town Manager Barry Tibbetts briefed councilors about the proposed project during the meeting saying that the community explored the possibility of installing sewers in the area for the last 15 years.

Tibbetts told councilors that a previous $40 million bond was rejected by voters some 10 years ago and the cost of doing that same project has now risen to more than $100 million, making it too costly for the town.

He said the intent of this new proposal, which is a joint project with the Portland Water District, is to safeguard public health by protecting the environment and that in doing so, a residual effect would create an estimated $60 to $80 million in new investment in the North Windham area along the Route 302 corridor.

According to Tibbets, because of a lack of an effective sewer system over the years contaminants are polluting the aquifer, affecting surrounding ponds and lakes with increasing nitrate and phosphorous levels threatening local water resources including Sebago Lake.

“If we do nothing more contaminates will flow into the aquifer,” he said. “This is an opportunity to clean up a significant part of the environment.”

The plan also calls for the construction of a public wastewater system and result in the creation of a collection and pumping system over three miles in length to connect businesses and residents to the system and treat wastewater through an advanced micro-filtration system.

The proposed system would also create a new pumping station near Windham High School and RSU 14 that would service from the high school campus to a new treatment facility in North Windham. It also would establish a wastewater treatment facility on the grounds of Manchester School and a new pumping station at Windham Middle School.

Tibbetts said the project would not disrupt traffic in North Windham and also said the project is good for all Windham residents as 17 percent of the tax base in Windham comes from the North Windham area.

The overall estimated cost of the sewer project is $46 million and Tibbetts told the council that the proposal has the blessing of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, which has authorized giving Windham a loan of up to $40 million at 1.5 percent interest and no payments have to be made on the loan until the system would be operational.

Through North Windham TIF funding, grants from the federal government, the Economic Development Association of New England, Cumberland County, Tibbetts said he expects Windham would fall about $500,000 short to fund the project which could then go out for a bond.

Preliminary engineering reports have been completed, and a project budget was established April 1 with the town applying last Friday for preapproval of a groundwater discharge permit on April 15.

Councilors Nicholas Kalogerakis and David Nadeau said that they disagree with social media postings they’ve recently seen about the town “trying to sneak things through” at the town meeting, including this proposal.  They both said the project has been written about in The Windham Eagle newspaper and posted on the town’s website and over the past two years the mil rate for Windham taxpayers has remained flat after the town’s annual budget amounting to millions of dollars has been voted upon by less than 40 voters at the Annual Town Meeting.

Town Council Chair Jarrod Maxfield said that he agrees that the Annual Town Meeting is sparsely attended yet remains a meeting open to public participation, but he preferred to have as many residents involved in the approval process for the sewer proposal as possible.

“I personally think it’s only fair to give the public full opportunity to push this forward,” he said.

The council voted to send the proposal for voter approval at the ballot box on June 14. <

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