Bath Water District criticizes restrictions in Comp Plan update
BATH — An aspect of a proposed update to the city's Comprehensive Plan concerning the extension of public water and sewer lines stirred mixed emotions during a workshop at City Hall Wednesday evening.
The update to the 1997 plan, which the City Council must ultimately approve, was discussed by the Planning Board and the council before opening the floor to the public. Much of the public discussion centered on a clause in the update that states the city will continue to not extend public water or sewer lines across Whiskeag Creek into northern Bath, and that it will not allow public water to be extended into areas where reduced pressure and volume would require a booster pump station.
The Planning Board on Aug. 4 voted to amend the update regarding public water and sewer lines; one change stated that the city's policy would be to continue to not extend "city-subsidized" public water and sewer to rural areas.
City Planner Jim Upham has been among those defending the restricted extension of public water and sewer, pointing out that the extension of those lines into rural areas stands in direct opposition to one of the state's 10 comprehensive planning goals, which is to avoid development sprawl. He has argued that the extension of public sewer or water infrastructure encourages development growth.
David Calhoun, president of the water district Board of Trustees, spoke of a couple of issues concerning the district that he considered "unnecessarily restrictive for the future of the city."
Calhoun, whose words echoed points made in a July 16 letter to the city by water district Superintendent Trevor Hunt, pointed out that land in the northern area of Bath has changed since the city reviewed it in the past and that many more houses have since been built there.
"It is possible that some of that land can be used for better purposes than just rural preservation," Calhoun said. "There's a lot of land up there that is available for preservation; a great deal of it. But there's a lot of land also that can be constructively used to increase the tax base for the city of Bath, that can increase the availability of housing, that can actually afford the town a lot of flexibility for how they zone an area."
Hunt had stated in his letter that it was in the water district's best interest to support new customers in order to create greater future rate stability for existing customers.
Ed Benedikt, who served on the Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee, expressed concern about facilitating sprawl and called the Planning Board's Aug. 4 changes to the update a mistake.
"It opens the door to expansion basically to anyone who's willing to pay for the cost," he said.
Benedikt suggested that the water district be concerned less about expansion than about maintaining existing infrastructure. He called the downtown area a viable one which is difficult to maintain and requires good sewerage and water infrastructure to sustain that viability.
"It's so much easier to go out in an undeveloped area and build housing there," he said. "It still is cheaper, but it contributes to sprawl. We should be focusing on maintaining our downtown, improving our water supply, improving our sewerage, and not expanding the resource to low density areas."
Calhoun countered that the district spent about $150,000 last year in piping alone to improve the system, not including labor costs or the machinery used for the work.
"We are improving, all the time, our existing facilities," he said.
The Comprehensive Plan update, which includes a vision of where Bath should be in 2025, calls for new future land use areas dedicated to city fixtures like the Plant Home and Maine Maritime Museum.
Upham has said he hopes this incarnation of the plan will be more geared toward action than the 1997 version.
City Council Chairman Bernie Wyman said on Wednesday that he expected the update could come before the council for a vote during its September meeting.
"It looks good," he said of the document. "People put a lot of hard work into it."
Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or email@example.com.