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- The Forecaster
FALMOUTH — Residents of one of Falmouth’s most exclusive enclaves say they’re prepared to “vigorously protect” their property rights against a town proposal to run a sewer line through their neighborhood.
At a contentious meeting held at Town Hall Monday between town officials and the Woodlands homeowners, several members of the homeowner association urged the town to follow a Central Maine Power Co. easement that more directly connects the points to be served by the sewer expansion.
That’s because, they said, it’s a more cost-effective and less-disruptive option.
But Chris Dwinal from Wright-Pierce, the engineering firm hired by the town to design the extension, said geographical constraints, which add to the cost of the project, prevent him from recommending the alternate route preferred by the homeowners.
The Woodlands association website describes the neighborhood of about 150 homes and condominiums as “Maine’s premier upscale community.” It’s a private community surrounding the Woodlands Club and associated golf course. As of last fall, according to Realtor.com, the median price of a Woodlands home was $518,500.
In response to residents advocating for the CMP easement, Dwinal said “significant wetlands and ledge outcroppings,” along with “very difficult access” for both building and maintaining the sewer line, convinced Wright-Pierce to cross it off the list of potential routes.
He said the anticipated cost of using the CMP easement, around $3.5 million, is also “significantly greater” than the route the town is proposing via Pinehurst Lane and Woodlands Drive to Woods Road, which has a price tag of about $2.5 million.
Town Manager Nathan Poore said Falmouth has a responsibility to sewer ratepayers not to spend more than is strictly necessary on capital improvement projects.
Once built, the new line would be able to handle the sewage needs of an additional 600-900 homes, Dwinal said.
Poore also said the town would not be pursuing the route through the Woodlands if officials weren’t “pretty confident” they had the legal right to do so.
But Jonathan Brogan, an attorney from Norman, Hansen & DeTroy hired by the neighborhood association, said while his clients hope “an amicable solution can be reached,” they’re prepared to challenge the town in court if necessary.
He also warned Poore that the town shouldn’t take the attitude that “it can’t lose,” particularly since the new sewer line would have to go through private property and there is a legitimate dispute about whether there is a true public need for the service.
Poore said he wouldn’t “litigate” in a public meeting, but did say the town “wants to work with the neighborhood, and the last thing we want is these conflicts.” He also said the town’s decision is not final.
Overall, Dwinal said, the route through the Woodlands was chosen because “we’re trying to do the project for the least cost and difficulty” in terms of construction conditions.
But that’s where Wright-Pierce and the town have it wrong, several Woodlands residents said Monday.
Jim Solley, treasurer of the homeowner association, said the town is underestimating both the additional labor required to navigate the complex network of underground utilities in the Woodlands and the added cost of potential damage to private property – driveways, masonry, stormwater systems and the private roads owned by the association.
Solley also said since the new sewer line would not service the Woodlands, there’s a strong reason for the town to use a publicly owned route instead of cutting through private property.
“We’re all upset and concerned because it just feels like you’re taking our private property and turning it into a public use,” Woodlands resident Elise Kiely said. She also argued that the reasoning behind going through the Woodlands is “very tortured (and) outside of the (town’s) legal authority.”
Another resident, Mark Lannon, said “this group is challenging the assumptions on the option you picked. We believe if you factor in the other issues, the costs go up. We’re trying to bring these issues to your attention so you can (decide) if this is truly the right option.”
Several residents also challenged the town on why it hadn’t priced out other routes for the sewer line, particularly after both Dwinal and Poore said all of the routes considered were technically feasible.
But Dwinal and Poore also said many of the issues being raised by the residents, including disruptions to their daily schedules and limited access to certain parts of the neighborhood during construction, were all pretty common.
“These are all good points,” Dwinal said, “but they’re not unusual. These are the concerns raised with any public improvement project.”
In the end, Poore said “all of your comments are very important” and he promised to “put serious effort” into reviewing all of the information provided by the homeowner association while “responding to everything you’ve asked.”
Town Council Chairman Caleb Hemphill, who called Monday’s meeting, said Tuesday that while there’s no specific time-frame for getting back to the residents, “we will uphold our promise to address each concern.”
Jim Solley, treasurer of the Woodlands Homeowners Assocation, said Jan. 7 that Falmouth is underestimating the difficulty of putting a new sewer line through his private neighborhood.