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Sewer-to-the-Lake dominates Bristol Summer Town Meeting


July 28, 2010
BRISTOL— The critical importance and urgency of moving forward on the Bristol sewer line expansion project dominated the discussion at the town's Summer Town meeting this past Saturday at Old Town Hall.

"It has just got to happen. There's no doubt about it," said Bristol's veteran state representative and long-time water and sewer champion, Burt Williams. "Superintendant Jeff Chartier, the sewer project committee members, and many others are working diligently to secure the funding we need to get it done."

There was a good turnout for the annual Summer Town Meeting, called each year to address the concerns of the seasonal residents and taxpayers who contribute so much to the tax base that supports services in Bristol but, as summer residents, do not vote in town elections.

Attendees also heard updates from each department head, including newly-appointed Interim Police Chief Michael Lewis and newly-hired Town Administrator Michael Capone.

The majority of summer and full-time residents that attended the informative session, ably facilitated by select board Chairperson Rick Alpers, wanted to know most what direction the town was heading with the sewer project and associated zoning changes.

Williams updated community members on the status of the high priority project designed to upgrade and extend the town sewer line down Lake and Summer streets to connect the southern shore of Newfound Lake and along the eastern and western shore.

Williams painted a dire picture of the potential for contamination of Newfound Lake from many aging and malfunctioning septic systems on a proliferation of tiny "non-conforming" cottage lots dotting the southern shoreline.

"We are one contamination away from economic and environmental catastrophe," said Williams. "If you don't believe me, I will be happy to take you for a tour of the shoreline, where you can stick a crowbar in and see that the soil is saturated. It just can't take much more."

Williams re-iterated that the $28 million project would not be built unless, and until, at least 75 percent of the necessary funding, or approximately $21 million, had been secured from federal sources.

While Bristol is eligible for up to 75 percent funding, thus far, U.S. Rural Development has granted only $12.7 million in funding for the project. Bristol is working to find funds from other federal agencies, including the Army Corps of Engineers, to make the project feasible.

The remaining 25 percent of the project will most likely be financed with a 30-year bond collected from the anticipated 1,000 new users of the system.

Nevertheless, some residents still expressed concern that the project would somehow raise taxes. Some appeared worried that the sewer project would encourage future commercial or residential development along the shore.

Others indicated that they felt the project was essential to protect drinking water supplies and the pristine quality of Newfound Lake, as well as their property values.

Resident Kathleen Girona-Firth said that she felt the threat of stormwater runoff was potentially a more significant source of pollution to the lake.

In response to her questions about what the town is doing to address this issue, Joe Denning explained that the town, in cooperation with the Newfound Lake Region Association, is currently working on a number of initiatives to address the stormwater runoff issue, including a stormwater filtration demonstration project underway at Cummings Beach. He said, however, that the septic contamination threat was a separate issue that needs to be addressed at the same time.

Planning board Chairman Dan Paradis addressed concerns that the sewer line would encourage future "over-development" at the lake. He explained that the town had proactively enacted "rather Draconian" zoning ordinance changes designed to prevent future overdevelopment at the shore, but that the board was in the process or further reviewing and amending those ordinances to better protect the lake and the interests of property owners on Newfound.

He said the board was actively seeking input from residents and property owners on ways to improve existing ordinances, and would be working on revisions to submit to the 2011 March Town Meeting for approval.

Alpers said that in the year ahead, the town expects to benefit from the services of a professional community planner provided by the Newfound Lake Region Association at no charge to the town. The shared town planner will help craft effective zoning ordinances to help protect the water quality and the environment around Newfound Lake.

Expressing his frustration with apparently slow and inadequate federal government responses to the critical need for protecting Newfound Lake, Murray Campbell suggested that the town investigate alternatives to the sewer line extension project to serve as a "back-up," or interim, plan in case federal funding does not materialize. He said he felt that property owners might have their septic fields regularly pumped out and discharged into the existing treatment plant as a means of solving the septic control problem.

Voters of Bristol are expected to take up the issue again in the upcoming weeks and months. Alpers said that the town will schedule a special Town Meeting later this summer to tackle the issue.

At that meeting, voters will be asked to approve the project in principle, with the understanding that work will not proceed until 75 percent federal funding has been lined up for the work.

A bond hearing will be held in the next few weeks prior to the special town meeting that Bristol officials feel is essential for helping to convince federal agencies to assist with the project.

Voters should stay tuned for more information.

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