Saco voters Nov. 2 will decide on a $50 million bond to upgrade – essentially rebuild – the city’s 50 year old Water Resource Recovery Facility on Front Street. Andrew Dickinson/City of Saco Photo

SACO — The city of Saco’s Water Resource Recovery Facility on Front Street was built more than 50 years ago, in 1970. Portions of it, like upgrades to secondary treatment and biosolids handling, were conducted, piecemeal, in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s.

Now, city officials say, it is time for an upgrade for several reasons including the plant’s susceptibility to hydraulic back-ups, decreasing ability to support current community needs, its poor ability to meet anticipated regulatory requirements, and susceptibility to sea level rise because of the current elevation.

On Nov, 2, Saco voters will decide if they wish to bond up to $50 million over 30 years to pay for a major upgrade — essentially a complete rebuild — of the facility. The Saco City Council voted unanimously to put the question to voters at their Aug. 30 meeting.

“Saco’s Water Resource Recovery Facility is integral to our public health, economic vitality, and community livability,” said Mayor William Doyle in a statement. “Saco will now have the opportunity to vote on this bond question at the November referendum.”

Interest rates are anticipated to be around 1 percent, a historic low, and the city will pursue Clean Water State Revolving Funds for the project, said Communications Director Emily Roy. She said the city is also actively pursuing state and federal funding opportunities through grants, principal loan forgiveness, and congressionally-directed spending requests.

If approved, the city would be authorized to issue up to $50 million in bonds and accept available state and federal grants and funds to construct a complete upgrade, including site work to elevate the Front Street facility; construction and installation of new wastewater treatment processes; expansion of the overall wastewater treatment capacity; reclamation of green space for community use; and other site improvements.

“The Saco Water Resource Recovery Facility is permitted to treat an average monthly flow of 4.2 million gallons per day,” said the facility’s director, Howard Carter in an email. “The facility still has two combined sewer overflow outfalls, which we are looking to reduce with this upgrade. During wet weather events, the facility can experience peak hourly flows of up to 13.4 million gallons per day. With high tide conditions, this causes the facility to hydraulically back up, not allowing treated effluent to outlet properly. ”

He said much of Saco’s residential, business, and commercial entities rely on sewer services. The facility serves more than 12,000 residents and more than 375  business, industrial, school, and utility users.

Carter said most of the proposed upgrade will be new, but if structures can be repurposed on site, they will be.

Saco Water Resource Recovery Department worked with the city’s Coastal Resiliency Ad-hoc Committee to look at improvements.

A summary of a report by the department issued in May notes that although Saco’s existing facility can seasonally remove nitrogen, the site does not have the space nor the updated treatment processes to meet more stringent discharge requirements.

“Additionally, Saco’s development and population growth over the past three years has been reliant on sewer services — with about 70 percent of new development served by sewer and an anticipated 50 percent growth in sewer user accounts over the life cycle of the planned WRRF upgrade,” the report states.

“This WRRF is at significant risk to ongoing effects of flooding from weather events and sea level rise because of the site’s direct proximity to the tidally influenced Saco River and the site’s elevation,” the report further states. “The facility is already experiencing hydraulic impacts due to increases in wet weather sewerage flows and higher-than-normal tide elevations.”

The report noted that during high tide and wet weather events, access to the WRRF is close to being cut off due to inundation of Front Street.

According to a sample ballot for the project, the city’s current outstanding debt and interest totals $25 million.

Interest and fees on the proposed 30-year, $50 million bond are estimated at $8.6 million.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: