An artistic rendering of the proposed new Maine Water treatment facility in Biddeford. Dina Mendros

BIDDEFORD — When Maine Water purchased the Biddeford and Saco Water Company in 2012, it promised to make significant improvements to the local water system. Already, the company has begun upgrading water lines, and as of last week, it is one step closer in its plan to build a new water treatment facility in Biddeford.

On Nov. 20, the Biddeford Planning Board approved the final site plan for the proposed 36,000-square-foot facility. When construction is completed, which is projected to take place in the summer of 2022, the new plant will replace the existing facility that dates back to 1884, with the last major upgrade in 1936.

The new structure will be built on South Street, across the roadway from the existing facility.

Water will be drawn, as it currently is, from the Saco River Water to a pump station which then pumps the water up to the new facility.

“There really hasn’t been a major improvement in the facility in over 80 years,” Maine Water President Rick Knowlton said in an interview earlier this year.

An outside engineering study determined it would be cheaper to build a new facility than renovate the existing building and bring it up to current code standards.

In addition, the current building is located along the Saco River in a flood plain.

For these reasons and others, Maine Water officials have decided that the smarter investment would be to build a new facility across the street and uphill from the current one, and out of the floodplain, Knowlton said.

In October, Connecticut Water Service, the parent company of Maine Water, completed a merger with SWJ Group, based in California. The SWJ Group has committed to continued capital investments of more than $200 million in the water systems across the combined operations, with some of this funding specifically earmarked for the Biddeford project, said Knowlton.

Ratepayers will also have to foot some of the bill.

Although no rate increases will take place over the next year, Knowlton said, rate increases will be coming to pay for the new investment in the system. The Maine Public Utilities Commission reviews rate increase requests and it is up to that agency to approve, or deny, such requests.

While Biddeford has signed off on the project, as has the Saco River Corridor Commission, the company is still waiting for permission from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention — that agency has purview over public drinking water systems.

“We have a verbal agreement with the Army Corp on wetlands mitigation,” Knowlton said, but the company is still awaiting the permit. He anticipates hearing back from the DEP regarding permits under the Natural Resources Protection Act and the Site Location of Development Act in December.

If these permits are issued soon, Knowlton said, he anticipates breaking ground in December and beginning construction in the spring.

The Biddeford facility provides water service to 16,000 customers in Biddeford, Saco, Old Orchard Beach and the Pine Point area of Scarborough.

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