Maine Water Company’s 135-year-old drinking water treatment facility in Biddeford on South Street could be replaced if the Maine Public Utilities Commission approves a $5 million bond to construct a new 35,000 square-foot facility on South Street in Biddeford. FILE PHOTO

BIDDEFORD — Maine Water Company has asked the Maine Public Utilities Commission for approval to create a $5 million bond to assist in financing a new 35,000-square-foot Saco River Water Treatment Facility.

The application seeks approval to use bond money to for pay for design work, acquiring land for the new plant, and site construction and was filed July 16. This follows an application filed with the Maine Public Utilities Commission in May that sought the commission’s approval of a proposed merger of its parent company, Connecticut Water Service, with SJW Group.

The May application contained commitments to provide customer bill credits and continued investment in infrastructure, including building a new drinking water treatment facility in Biddeford that would replace the current facility, which is 135 years old and located in the Saco River’s flood zone. The estimated cost of the new water treatment plant is $50 million.

Maine Water Company CEO Rick Knowlton said in June that a reliable water utility infrastructure is important for the company’s obligation to continue to deliver high quality drinking water and public fire service protection and to support the growth of local communities.

“The families, businesses and communities we serve depend on us to deliver water every day, and we take that commitment very seriously,” he said. “There really hasn’t been a major improvement in the facility in over 80 years.”

Knowlton said that the company’s employees are passionate about delivering water service to their fellow Mainers, while protecting local water resources and the environment.

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Maine Water Company provides water to about 32,000 customers in 21 Maine communities. It’s biggest division by far is the Saco-Biddeford division, serving 16,000 customers in Saco, Biddeford, Old Orchard Beach and part of Scarborough from its 466 South St. Biddeford facility. Founded in 1880, Maine Water Company operates 11 water treatment facilities in Maine; has 14 wells; with 544 miles of water mains and 70 employees.

In June, Knowlton said that Maine Water Company also will soon be asking for the Maine Public Utility Commission’s approval for a rate change to help fund the project.

If approved, Knowlton said that customers would see a “measurable increase” in rates a year or so from now, when construction is planned to start.

The current minimum bill for customers of the Biddeford facility is $36.89 every three months, which includes 25 gallons of water use per day. The average residential use is a little more than 100 gallons, which would incur a $59.58 bill every three months.

Connecticut Water Service acquired Maine Water Company in 2012. It announced a merger with SJW Group, a Delaware corporation in April.

SJW Group, was originally formed in 1985 as a California corporation with the name “SJW Corp.” and changed its name to “SJW Group” in 2016. It operates as a holding company with the following subsidiaries: San Jose Water Company, a water utility with both regulated and non-regulated businesses; and SJW Land Company, which owns commercial buildings and undeveloped land, SJWTX Inc., a water utility. San Jose Water Company, is a subsidiary of SJW Group, and was originally incorporated in California in 1866. It is a public utility in the business of providing water service to a population of about 1 million people in an area comprising about 138 square miles in the metropolitan San Jose area.

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“As a leading water utility, the combined company will have the financial strength, scale, resources and sharing of best practices to ensure families and communities will continue to receive safe and reliable water service across all of our operations and that we deliver the significant benefits of the transaction to our constituents in our local service areas in Maine, California, Connecticut and Texas,” said Eric Thornburg, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of SJW Group. “All of us understand and are guided by the understanding that drinking water is local and people feel connected to the water resources and water suppliers that serve their communities. Maine Water has a long tradition of service and investments in the 21 communities it serves, and the combination with SJW Group will only strengthen and deepen this local connection.”

Should regulators approve the bond for building the new water treatment plant, funding would be derived from a unique partnership between state and federal lenders. The Maine Municipal Bond Bank would loan the company money from the federal Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund Program. A new bond bank, which would be the first of its type anywhere in the United States would set bond terms and establish bond rates significantly lower than a state-generated bond, reducing overall interest rates for the project.

Maine Water Company filed applicable environmental permits for the new project in June and is expected to seek permits from the Saco River Corridor Commission and from the city of Biddeford by summer’s end. Project construction could take up to two years to complete.

— Executive Editor Ed Pierce can be reached at 282-1535 or by email at [email protected]

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