Old Orchard Beach voters are considering a $23.5 million bond that would fund critical upgrades to the town’s 42-year-old wastewater treatment facility.

Town leaders say the upgrades are needed after the town was cited by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection for facility deficiencies that compromised water quality at Goosefare Brook and the beach. This is the first time town leaders have put a sizable bond to voters in recent memory.

Town Manager Larry Mead said the upgrades are needed to avoid illegal discharges, more citations from the DEP and to protect the town beach.

“We’re historically and currently a resort community. We never want to have an illegal discharge happen,” he said. “We want to take care of our beach because it’s the resource that defines the town.”

The treatment plant was built in the 1960s and expanded in the 1980s. Roughly 70 percent of the system has exceeded its useful life, resulting in disruptive breakdowns and occasional failure. The four pump stations are near capacity and new users cannot be readily added, the 35-year-old electrical system is outdated and cannot handle the existing load, and proper alarm and communication systems need to be installed, according to town officials.

Mead said that the need for a significant upgrade at the plant has been discussed for the past decade. In 2008, the town commissioned an engineering study of the system that recommended the upgrades the town is now looking to do at the plant. After that engineering study, the recession hit and the town reduced positions and cut its budget.

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The town updated that study and master plan two years ago, shortly before Mead received a letter from the DEP about the need to address deficiencies.

“They were going to impose a consent decree on the town where you have so much time to get this done or penalties will start being assessed,” Mead said.

The DEP agreed to give the town more time to get the work done, but it has to be done this year, Mead said. The town has received a several citations in the last few years for unwanted discharges due to equipment issues that resulted in overflow.

“They weren’t hugely impactful in terms of volume and environmental damage, but they were indicative of the problems that could happen with a major discharge,” Mead said. “If we do have a discharge, it’s into the Goosefare Brook watershed. It’s a sensitive watershed in the Ocean Park area that drains from Saco out to Old Orchard Beach, where there is a lot of recreational activity.”

Helene Whittaker is among the Ocean Park residents who support the plan to upgrade the plant. In recent years, there was a stench so strong from the plant that “it would almost make you vomit,” she said.

“It’s time they take care of the equipment that is there,” she said. “My biggest concern is there are more and more people living here year-round. It can’t handle what we have now. If it should break down one day, we are in deep, deep trouble.”

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The bond question was unanimously supported by the town council. The Old Orchard Beach Chamber of Commerce has also endorsed the bond question.

“This is something that is going to affect not only the residents of Old Orchard Beach, but the businesses as well,” said Kim Howard, the chamber’s executive director. “This will ensure we have clean water and a clean beach.”

Mead said historically low interest rates will allow the town to borrow the money with an interest rate of 1.5 percent. The cost to residents would be $14 per month on a home valued at $300,000.

Also on the Old Orchard Beach ballot is a referendum about allowing recreational marijuana sales in town. The town council is seeking guidance from voters on the issue. If voters give the OK to marijuana sales, the town would draft an ordinance to regulate the location and number of businesses allowed to sell marijuana.


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