WINDHAM — The town is working with the Portland Water District to bring a sewer and wastewater treatment system to North Windham using advanced technology that would cut earlier cost estimates and address environmental concerns.

The town has been working on the North Windham sewer issue for decades, said Town Council Chairman Jarrod Maxfield, but “now we’ve got an opportunity.”

Maxfield said this is just the beginning of what could be a five-year project, and Town Manager Barry Tibbetts said it would likely be that long before someone could “flush a toilet into the system.”

Development in the North Windham commercial area has been severely limited because the area is comprised of individual septic systems, Maxfield said. With a septic system, each business or house needs to have an adjoining septic drain field or leach field. The large parking lots at Walmart and Hannaford could be used for mixed-use developments, Maxfield said, but instead, the parking lots cover leach fields.

Tibbetts said that through their studies with engineers and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, the town found that one of their biggest and costly challenges to a sewer system was where to dispose of wastewater since the area is surrounded by several protected bodies of water.

Previous efforts to create a wastewater district failed, the last vote being in 2012 for a $38 million sewer system that would pipe wastewater into Westbrook. The cost of that project did not include collection, which would add upwards of $20 million to it.

Now, though, Tibbetts said the town has the opportunity to use more advanced technology, specifically the use of “wicks” to dispose of wastewater locally, rather than piping it elsewhere.

The wicks could be a solution to this problem. About two feet long, the wicks would be drilled into the ground and filled with rocks. The treated wastewater is poured into the wick, which then filtrates the water into the soil.

Tibbetts said the wicks have a small footprint and North Windham has the right conditions, such as soil with high permeability, for their use.

While the Maine DEP has never used wicks before, “they have no objections,” Tibbets said. He said that Massachusetts has been using wicks for several years. Maxfield added that they are used in environmentally sensitive areas, such as Cape Cod.

Maxfield said that once the Town Council and the PWD sign a non-binding agreement about the project, they can move into the planning stage, where they would be able to determine costs. He added he expects both parties to sign the agreement in the next week.

With the use of this new technology, Maxfield expects the cost of the project to be a “fraction of the costs of the $50 million (from 2012) and a much newer state-of-the-art technology.”

“This is the beginning of that process, but we’ve got momentum,” Maxfield said. “North Windham is so far behind that we now have an opportunity to get ahead.”

Comments are not available on this story.