Windham officials shelved the idea of building a sewer system for the commercial and surrounding residential areas of North Windham in 2003 because the $30 million price was deemed too high.

Since then, contamination in groundwater has risen significantly. The trend has prompted the Town Council to schedule a vote for tonight on hiring an engineering firm to create new plans for a wastewater collection and treatment system.

Town councilors will decide whether to spend nearly $26,000 to hire Woodard & Curran of Portland, which studied potential development of a system in North Windham in 2001 and 2003.

Town Manager Tony Plante said the council will authorize the firm to update the studies. The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.

“This will get the council and the community to a point of understanding what our options are and what the most likely alternative is,” Plante said.

The town’s only public sewerage is in a small section of Little Falls in South Windham. A new sewer system in North Windham could bolster economic growth in the commercial district, said Thomas Bartell, the town’s economic development director.

The system would provide the infrastructure needed for hotels, restaurants and light manufacturing industries to operate.

“It’s a deterrent for people to locate their businesses in the area” when it lacks sewerage, Bartell said. “This could have the potential to change the look and feel in the commercial district.”

The town has been looking at development’s effects on groundwater since the 1990s. The U.S. Geological Survey did annual testing of water samples from a network of wells in North Windham from 1995 to 2007.

Robert G. Gerber, vice president of environmental engineering for Sebago Technics, analyzed the data and presented a report to the Town Council in June. The report says groundwater quality has been getting worse since 1995, primarily because of septic systems and salt on roads and parking lots.

It also says groundwater quality near North Windham’s “big box” stores is the worst, followed by the area along Route 302 between Chaffin Pond and Gray Road.

Gerber said some areas have significantly elevated levels of nitrate. Other areas have elevated levels of sodium and chloride in groundwater.

He said the salt that’s used on roads and parking lots contributed to the increased levels of contamination. Fortunately, he said, those areas are served by the Portland Water District rather than wells.

“It’s not that they are in a drastic situation that needs immediate fixing,” Gerber said. “I don’t know that anyone is drinking anything at this moment that will hurt them that is generated by the general development along Route 302.”

Councilors decided not to act in 2003, when the first phase of the system, serving North Windham’s commercial and nearby residential areas, was projected to cost $30 million. The total cost for sewerage for all of North Windham was estimated at $77 million.

If the council approves the study tonight, town officials will meet with state regulatory agencies, the Portland Water District and residents before deciding whether to do preliminary engineering, Plante said.

 

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:

[email protected]