Falmouth Middle Road project likely to go forward without water

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FALMOUTH — Town councilors are expected to approve a resolution next week that would move the second, northern phase of the Middle Road reconstruction project forward without the additional expense of laying a public water line.

That’s the case even though several residents urged the council Feb. 15 to approve installing public water along a 2,000-foot portion of Middle Road to the Cumberland town line.

However, during their meeting last week the four councilors in attendance agreed that even the revised cost estimates for the water project were too high compared with the small number of homes served.

Town Manager Nathan Poore said he would prepare a resolution for a “finalized answer” on the water question when the council next meets at 7 p.m. Feb. 27.

With the town of Cumberland also rebuilding its portion of Middle Road, which includes the addition of public water, Falmouth leaders were able to get a better idea of the likely costs.

According to the town’s engineering consultant, Wright Pierce, based on the cost per foot Cumberland is paying, a new water line in Falmouth would be about $500,000. However, that does not include the anticipated $10,000-$20,000 it would cost each homeowner to connect.

In addition to determining the costs for public water, the council had also requested water quality tests be conducted on well water on outer Middle Street.

Poore said testing done on 11 of the 18 wells showed elevations in both sodium and radon, but the levels of both particulates did not represent a health hazard.

When it was time for public comment last week, Middle Road resident Axel Berg said while he’s sympathetic to his neighbors who want public water, he had concerns about both the additional cost and also the delay adding a water line would have on Middle Road construction, set to take place later this year.

At the council’s Jan. 23 meeting, Poore estimated that laying pipe during the road project could push work back by at least three years – but last week said it might be more like five or six instead. That estimate was based on other road projects both the town and the Maine Department of Transportation have planned.

Wayne Newland, another Middle Road resident, argued that it’s an “opportune time” to add public water since the road will already be open for the reconstruction project.

“Cumberland is bringing water to within 50 feet of the Falmouth town line,” he said. “If they can do it, we can do it. This is important, and I hope you’ll give it serious consideration.”

Tom Doherty, who also lives on Middle Road, said, “It’s got to be a slam dunk to add water.” He argued it would not only be beneficial to residents, but would also be helpful for firefighting purposes.

But Karen Farber, the council chairwoman, said without “a water emergency or a substantial health risk, I can’t justify the expense.” She added, “The only way I could see us doing this is if a private developer were interested in sharing the costs.”

Councilor Claudia King agreed.

“It’s not an insubstantial cost,” she said. “If we are going to open the road again in another 15 to 18 years (for repairs), we might have enough houses then to make the costs worth it.”

Councilor Caleb Hemphill said while he’s sympathetic, “I don’t see an overwhelmingly compelling reason to do this at this time. (The water line) would be a substantial cost to town residents and the number of people being served does not justify going with water.”

Ned Kitchel, the only other councilor present at the Feb. 15 meeting, didn’t disagree, which left the impression that a majority of the council is not in favor of putting a water line down Middle Road.

But both King and Farber also said they were willing to be convinced.

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