Election 2015: Sewer district debt the only decision in Brunswick

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BRUNSWICK — Voters will have just one choice on the local ballot this year: whether the sewer district’s debt limit should be increased by $5 million.

Changes on the Town Council and School Board are uncontested.

Alison Harris, of Cumberland Street, is running unopposed for the at-large council seat being vacated by Councilor John Richardson. Richardson said in September that he is stepping down from the council to consider running for the state Senate.

On the School Board, MacMillan Drive resident Teresa Kelly-Gillis is the only candidate for the District 3 seat left open by Chris McCarthy’s resignation.

Incumbent Councilors Suzan Wilson, of District 3, and John Perreault, of District 4, are running unopposed. So are School Board incumbents Corinne Perreault, of District 4, and at-large board member Joy Prescott.

That leaves the question of the Brunswick Sewer District’s debt limit.

The district wants to fund a $22 million renovation to its sewer plant, which was built in 1966. It has had one major upgrade, in 1989-1990.

In an interview Tuesday, district General Manager Leonard Blanchette said the renovation will be “a little bit of everything, to be honest.”

He cited the need for a new automated grit system to catch sand, an upgraded heating system, and an update to the technology that “de-waters” solids.

The current belt filter system, which takes water out of solid waste coming into the facility, is 25 years old, and the process “smells,” Blanchette said.

To deal with the odor, “we have to evacuate the air in that entire building six times an hour,” he said.

That means that heating is inefficient. To remedy the issue, Blanchette says the district is looking to purchase a mechanism called a screw press.

That piece of machinery, which is about 3 feet wide by 8 feet long, “is just like a giant screw,” he said. “It pushes material into a smaller and smaller comb, and the odor stays in that little container … instead of (going into) the entire building.”

“That’s going to save us a lot of money,” Blanchette said.

But the problem is, BSD cannot obtain the $22 million loan it needs from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s Clean Water revolving loan fund. By charter, the district cannot hold more than $20 million in debt.

Both the Town Council and state Legislature have approved language to amend the amount of debt the district can hold to $25 million, and the amendment technically became law May 3. But under Maine statute, the language must also pass a voter referendum.

In May, Blanchette said BSD ratepayers may see their rates go up by as much as 40 percent over the next four years to pay off the first years of the loan.

Blanchette says he is “guardedly optimistic” about the referendum passing.

“It’s a good cause, we hope that the voters see it as that,” he said.

He added that the district has been reaching out to the public by posting notices to its website, running advertisements on Brunswick TV3, and holding a public hearing last week – although no one showed up.

“I don’t know if that’s a good sign or bad,” he said.

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or wwuthmann@theforecaster.net. Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann.

Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.