Fern Avenue is one of the streets in Old Orchard Beach where infrastructure improvements will take place. Dina Mendros photo

OLD ORCHARD BEACH — On Nov. 3, Old Orchard Beach voters overwhelmingly approved a multi-million dollar bond to upgrade it’s wastewater treatment plant, 4,805 in favor to 1,008 opposed. Design and engineering work on the project will begin next year.

On Nov. 17, Town Manager Larry Mead outlined the schedule for the project after thanking voters for approving the $23.5 million wastewater bond.

“This really is going to ensure that we’re able to improve the efficiency and capacity of our wastewater system and we’re going to bring it up to current standards and we’re going to safeguard the future of our beach and the water quality of Goosefare Brook by this investment,” Mead said.

Design and engineering work on the improvements will begin and be completed next year, he said. “Then we’ll bid the project we hope,  late next year and carry out construction in 2021 and 2022.”

The town will bond the $23.5 million project over 30 years, at a projected interest rate of 1.5 percent. Town officials have calculated that the cost to residents will be less than 50 cents a day, or $14 per month, on a home valued at $300,000.

Mead said the upgrades are needed to avoid illegal discharges and citations from the Department of Environmental Protection — it has already received citations for facility deficiencies that compromised water quality at Goosefare Brook and the beach — 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 town’s wastewater treatment plant was built in the 1960s and expanded in the 1980s. It is estimated that 70 percent of the system has exceeded its useful life, and Mead said that has resulted in breakdowns and occasional failures. The pump stations are near capacity and new users cannot be readily added; the 35-year-old electrical system is outdated and cannot handle the existing load; and proper alarm and communication systems must be installed, he added.

Mead said that the need for a significant upgrade at the plant has been discussed for the past decade, according to the Portland Press Herald. 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.

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 soon, Mead said. The town received 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.”

On Nov. 17, the Town Council also approved a bid and authorized the town manager to negotiate contract agreements for infrastructure improvements on Fern Avenue, West Old Orchard Beach Avenue and a portion of Washington Street.

Voters approved a $1 million bond to pay for infrastructure improvements in the Washington Street area in July. The local money — $500,000 from the capital improvement fund and $500,000 from the fund balance — is being used to leverage an additional $1 million in a federal Community Development Block Grant. Maine Water will pay $600,000.

Funds will 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, Mead said at a Jan. 19 meeting.

The work is scheduled to begin in March, weather permitting, and be completed in October, he said.

The Town Council voted to approve a bid from Chase Excavating, Inc for $2,629,648.85 for the infrastructure improvements on Fern Avenue, West Old Orchard Avenue, and a portion of Washington Avenue.

The council also approved authorizing the town manager to negotiate and execute contracts with Atlantic Resources Consultants for construction inspection services associated with the Washington Avenue infrastructure project in the amount of $93,414.50; with Wright Pierce Engineering in the estimated amount of $61,800 for contract administration services for the infrastructure improvement, and with Maine Water to reimburse the town for water line related construction costs associated with the Washington Avenue infrastructure project, estimated to be $655,000.

Maine Water will 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 sewer lines 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 each street, he said, noting “in some cases there’s trees in them or utility poles.”

As part of the project, the Town Council approved making Fern Avenue and West Old Orchard Avenue one-way, which will take place once the majority of the work is completed, and the lanes would be widened.

“All in all it will be a significant improvement,” Mead said about the project.

Staff Writer Tammy Wells and Portland Press Herald Staff Writer Gillian Graham contributed to this story.

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