Adding public water could delay Middle Road reconstruction in Falmouth

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FALMOUTH — Sensing interest from residents in extending public water access down Middle Road, the Town Council is considering adding the estimated $750,000 cost to plans to rebuild a section of Middle Road.

The town already planned to reconstruct Middle Road between Johnson Road and the Cumberland town line, as outlined during a public hearing held Jan. 17. Council Chairwoman Karen Farber said road excavation provides the right opportunity to extend public water lines.

According to a memo sent to the council prior to Monday’s meeting, councilors last summer held a forum on a public water system study prepared partly in response to questions about the scope of the Middle Road reconstruction being planned for fiscal year 2017-2018.

At that time the council decided not to add the cost of extending water down Middle Road, which is pegged at about $800,000 and includes widening the road to provide bike lanes on both sides.

But Farber said  residents at last week’s meeting outlining the Middle Road project continued to “express interest in access to public water, with several residents saying they rely on bottled water for drinking.”

“There was a lot of interest in the water (issue), and I felt enough questions were raised and enough interest was expressed to bring this back to the council,” she said. “I wanted the council to receive this information and to ask ourselves: ‘Does this change anything?’”

Town Manager Nathan Poore warned councilors that if they want to add water lines to the Middle Road reconstruction project, it would likely mean the work would have to be put off for another three years.

But Councilor Aaron Svedlow said he didn’t see any reason why the council couldn’t “have the policy discussion quickly and make our decision quickly,” even though Poore said a lot of background work would be needed first.

That work, he said, should include water quality testing, a legal opinion about whether the town could extend the water line and rebuild the road without triggering the need to go to referendum. A review of where the area will likely be built out should also be conducted to ensure extending water lines would be a public benefit, Poore said.

For Farber, “The interest by residents and the water quality issue are both driving factors in perhaps changing direction, especially if the water quality is not up to standard,” she said.

Most of the other councilors agreed, with Svedlow saying even though it seems expensive, “I think we should talk about it.” Councilor Claudia King said, “We’re likely to have lots more houses out there in the future, so it’s reasonable to keep looking at this situation.”

Councilor Caleb Hemphill was also on board. “This is a good, important effort,’ he said. “I would like to us continue exploring this.”

Several councilors also pointed out that the part of town being considered is listed as a growth growth area. In a memo to the council, Poore also noted the town’s comprehensive plan calls for “proactively plan(ning) for sewer, water and other utility extensions in the designated growth area(s)” of Falmouth.

No public comment was taken during the council discussion Monday, but several residents were in attendance to show their support for extending the water line.

It was unclear when town staff would be able to collect all the information Poore said would be needed, but Farber said, “We need to get this information as soon as possible, by the next couple of meetings (because) I’m sensitive to the potential delay.”

Ultimately, she said, what the council wants to know is whether “there’s a way to stay on schedule and keep our options open.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

Falmouth councilors are re-considering whether to extend public water down Middle Road as part of a planned roadway reconstruction project.

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