NEW GLOUCESTER – After residents rejected a $2.4 million proposal to provide drinking water to contaminated properties in the Upper Village of New Gloucester, the town has worked quickly to recast the proposal for a second public vote, to be held this weekend.

The vote, which was to be held Feb. 11 but was canceled, takes place at a special town meeting on Saturday, Feb. 16, at Memorial School on Intervale Road at 9 a.m.

Groundwater in the Upper Village, which is located along Route 100 and considered the main commercial zone in the mostly rural town, became contaminated with salt and benzene in the 1980s due to faulty gasoline tanks and an uncovered sand-salt pile operated by the Maine Department of Transportation.

The town has been providing purification filters for affected residents but has long-sought a permanent solution to the problem. In November, the town secured a combination of $1.4 million in grants and loans from U.S. Rural Development and Cumberland County community development to pay for a water distribution system that would build a well and pump station on Bald Hill Road to provide drinking water for 20 contaminated properties. The remaining cost would be funded locally.

Since the system needs more than 20 users, both for system efficiency and to help pay for the system, 28 other properties in the Upper Village were added, as well. While the 20 contaminated properties would have their connection paid for either by the town or the state, the proposal became contentious since the town would be forcing the remaining 28 to hook up at their own cost. Voters rejected the proposal at a town meeting in mid-January 116-101.

The original proposal also went down to defeat since it would have forced residents with potable water to cap their wells and not use the water for such uses as gardening or filling a pool.

The town’s water district, Board of Selectmen and town staff met with affected Upper Village residents Jan. 26 and hammered out a compromise that will be put to voters on Saturday.

Under the new proposal, the town will pay for all 48 properties to hook into the new system. Those with uncontaminated wells can use their well water as a supplemental water source.

The town has also removed a provision that would have required nearby residents to hook in if the system ever expanded in the future.

Board of Selectmen Chairman Steve Libby believes, with the stumbling blocks out of the way, the new proposal should be more palatable to voters. The vote has been put on the fast-track, he said, since funding sources may dry up if New Gloucester delays further. Libby said Rural Development and Cumberland County, the two funding sources, have deadlines regarding their funding, and that New Gloucester has to approve the project before funding can be granted.

“We’re pushing the envelope [regarding funding],” Libby said. “Rural Development is being patient. Community Development in early March has to award the balance of the money that wasn’t used. … And they have to make decisions in February for their March deadline, so we’re pushing Community Development right to the limit of losing that money. Rural Development hasn’t given us a date, but they’ve told us they want a decision.”

Also pushing the quick vote is the construction timeline if voters do approve the project.

“Yes, we don’t want to lose the funding, because it’s $1.4 million of a $2.4 million project, so that’s substantial grant money. But we’re also losing valuable engineering time because the longer we spend through this voting process, the less time we have for engineering because we want to bid as early in the spring as possible so we can have our underground construction work substantially complete before winter,” Libby said. “I don’t want Bald Hill open next winter and having plow guys plowing around trenches. So it’s all angled to get this thing done for money and pricing and schedule.”

If approved, Libby said construction would start and hopefully end this year on the pump station and distribution system. Connections to homes would likely start this fall with the balance completed in spring 2014.

New Gloucester resident Patrick Gwinn, who has been vocal on the project saying it would unfairly force residents with potable water to join the system, is satisfied with the new proposal, which would have the town pick up the additional $22,000 cost of hooking up the 28 residences.

“Folks I know in the [Upper Village] district who were not inclined to hook up before are inclined to hook up now, and so that’s really all I was after,” Gwinn said. “As long as no one is being forced to hook up, I think it’s reasonable that the town offers to hook everybody up.”

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