A $4.5 million sewer line proposed to replace an aging treatment plant would likely make Little Falls the population hub of Gorham.

The sewer also would help pave the way for a development at a former mill site in South Windham, across the Presumpscot River from Little Falls.

“It’s a major, major change for Gorham. It will change Gorham’s fabric for the duration of our lifetime and for generations to come,” said Burleigh Loveitt, chairman of the Gorham Town Council.

Earlier this month, the Gorham Town Council approved sharing a $300,000 engineering design cost with Windham for a Portland Water District sewer line. It would run from Little Falls, along Route 237, to a certain point on Route 25 before cutting cross-country and linking up with an existing sewer line to Westbrook from Gorham Village.

The Windham Town Council hasn’t voted yet on sharing the design costs. But it is expected to review the project in an upcoming workshop. If Windham agrees to split the engineering costs with Gorham, construction would still require final approval of both towns. Loveitt said the sewer line could be functioning in 2006.

The proposal has the potential to open up vast acreage to housing in Gorham. Outside of the village, Little Falls now has a lot of undeveloped land.

Loveitt said heavy soils in the Little Falls area are not suitable for subsurface waste disposal, but he predicted that a sewer line would make Little Falls and the Route 237 area the population center of Gorham.

“We can readily expect tremendous housing pressure,” Loveitt said.

The sewer line could determine the fate of the White Rock Elementary School. The state recently listed the school, which has several classrooms in portable buildings, No. 10 in the state based on a need for help. But, there hasn’t been any decision yet on plans for the school.

Little Falls would likely become a better location for a school if it were served by sewer and had more residential housing around it. The School Committee and Town Council are expected to discuss the White Rock School, among other things, at a joint meeting on Tuesday, April 5.

The sewer line would replace a sewerage treatment plant in Little Falls that was built in the 1980s. Gorham Town Manager David Cole said a sewer line would be more cost effective.

“The project would close an inefficient and costly Little Falls treatment plant,” Cole said.

Jay Hewett, an engineer with the Portland Water District, said the purpose of the sewer line was to replace the treatment plant with a system that would flow into a Westbrook treatment plant. He said the existing plant serving Little Falls and South Windham is a “very limited” system.

Hewett said biosolids – also known as “sludge” – are now trucked from Little Falls to the Westbrook treatment plant. The project would not require an upgrade at the Westbrook treatment plant, Hewett said.

Dave Tobin, vice chairman of the Windham Town Council, said the sewer line would increase sewerage disposal capacity for South Windham above its present capacity with the treatment plant. Tobin said a housing project proposed at the former Keddy Mill on Main Street in South Windham “couldn’t go ahead” without the sewer line or an expansion of capacity at the Little Falls treatment plant. But he doubted an upgrade at the treatment plant would happen.

Tobin said a sewer line could eliminate two wastewater discharges into the Presumpscot River by closing the Little Falls treatment plant and another at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham.

Denise Lord, a spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Corrections, said the Maine Department of Environmental Protection would prefer that the prison tie into the new sewer line, eliminating its treatment plant. She said the prison now has a population of over 600 and any increase would require an upgrade of its treatment plant, which requires constant maintenance.

If the sewer line served the prison, Lord said it would be a good environmental step and would help the local communities with government regionalization. “We would pay for a pumping station, a connection and an annual user fee,” she said about the prison.

The Portland Water District would borrow to meet the design costs of the sewer line, and those costs would be rolled over into the overall project costs if the sewer line were built within five years. User fees would pay for the sewer line. If the project didn’t move forward in five years, the towns of Gorham and Windham would reimburse the Portland Water District for the design costs under the proposal.

Gorham’s Town Council on March 1 voted to authorize Portland Water District to “proceed with the engineering design and solicitation of bids to construct the Little Falls wastewater conveyance system.”

With an eye on the likely changes in the town, Gorham Town Councilor Jane Willett asked for a workshop on land use in the Little Falls area. And Town Councilor Michael Phinney said most of the land is zoned suburban residential or rural in the Little Falls area and some should be rezoned to industrial.

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