Fern Avenue is one of the streets in Old Orchard Beach where infrastructure improvements are being planned Dina Mendros photo

OLD ORCHARD BEACH — Voters in Old Orchard Beach will decide whether to use $1 million in local funds to pay for infrastructure improvements in the Washington Street area. The local money will leverage an additional $1 million in a federal Community Development Block Grant.

On June 16, the Town Council held a public hearing on the referendum, which had already been approved to be placed on the July 14 ballot. If approved, funds would be used to replace water, sewer and storm water infrastructure on Fern and West Old Orchard avenues. Infrastructure there is more than 100 years old and there have been problems there and in other areas of town, Town Manager Larry Mead said at a prior meeting on the subject on Jan. 19.

If funding is approved and the project is completed, the Town Council will vote on whether to make Fern Avenue and West Old Orchard Avenue one-way, which is part of the overall plan.
If voters decide against the using $1 million in local funds, Mead said, the council can spend up to $500,000 (money which has already been appropriated for the work from the capital improvement fund) without residents’ approval and a scaled down of the project would likely take place. The council has also budgeted for an additional $500,000 to come from the fund balance in the Fiscal Year 2021 expenditure budget, which begins July 1.
Maine Water also plans to spend $300,000 to $400,000 to replace 100-year-old water main pipelines and hydrants from the right-of-way to the point of residents’ connections, Mead said.
“What this work involves is a complete overhaul of public infrastructure in the effected area,” Mead said, “and it’s badly needed. Some of the oldest sewer pipes we have in the town of Old Orchard Beach are in this neighborhood.”
In addition to updating the current sewerlines with PVC piping, “we would also be installing storm drains and catch basins in the affected area. We’d be putting curbing in along the roadway to assist with the funneling of storm water. Currently, there is little to no storm drain infrastructure in this area,” Mead said.
Sidewalks would also be replaced on one side of the each street, he said, noting “in some cases there’s trees in them or utility poles.”
As proposed, Mead said the roads would be made one-way and the lanes would be widened.
When the project was discussed in January, several residents said they favor the project but had concerns.

Robin Dayton who lives on Fern Avenue said she objected to making the road one way.

“I’m right at the top of Fern,” she said. “I feel I’m one of the ones most impacted by the one way. When I come off of Washington my house is right there at the corner and if you make this a one-way going up the hill I literally have to go all the way around the block to get to my house. … I’m not going to do that.”

“I have been one of the people most impacted by the sewer problem so I do understand how important this project is and I certainly support it; I just don’t support the one way on the street,” Dayton said.

In January, Charles Cardoza, who lives on West Old Orchard, requested that the council “take a good look at the parking situation before you make a decision.” He said the proposed changes would decrease on-street parking because people would only be able to park on one side of his road rather than on both sides as they currently do.

On June 16, Mead said about the project, “all in all it will be a significant improvement.”
“The good news,”Mead said, “is we’re able to match 50 percent (of the project) with federal money so we’re only spending half the money with local funds.”
“I hope voters give it a good consideration and vote to approve this funding,” Mead said.
On July 14, residents will also vote on whether to approve the proposed RSU 23 education expenditure budget for the 2020-2021 school year of about $14.9 million, which calls for raising locally about $12.9 million. The three highest costs in the budget are $6.7 million for regular education, $3.3 million for special education and $1.4 million for facilities maintenance — the combined system and school administration costs would be about $1.3 million.

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