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Mitigating Manganese Will Cost Over $7 Million, Take 4-5 Years; How Will Cost Burden Be Shared?

Manugian Says Select Board & Town Need More Information
by Connie Sartini
Water Superintendent Tom Orcutt, representing the Water Commissioners, told the Select Board and Finance Committee that the Commissioners have placed an article on the Fall Town Meeting Warrant requesting approval for a transfer of funds within the Water Enterprise fund for use to address the manganese issues in Whitney Wells.
     Updating the Board, Orcutt said that there is a meeting scheduled on September 26 with the DEP and that he, Town Manager Mark Haddad and Water Commissioner Jim McCaffrey will be attending.
     The Commissioners have submitted a plan to address the manganese found in two of the municipal water wells at Whitney Pond. The plan must be approved by the DEP in order to move forward. The DEP will negotiate a schedule with the town, and once there is agreement, a Consent Order will be signed.
     Orcutt said that the proposed plan to mitigate the manganese is a four to five-year project costing more than $7M and will have a huge impact on ratepayers. “We want to try to phase in rate increases and minimize the impacts by starting the work early.” He added that anything put on the website needs the approval of the DEP.
     Selectman Josh Degen urged the Water Department to “get information out as soon as possible so that rate payers can prepare.”
     When asked about the town’s overall ability to share some of the expense with the ratepayers, Haddad pointed out with the Florence Roche School work coming up, “I don’t see any capacity for the town to take any of this debt on. I don’t see the town sharing in the cost with the other expenses that are coming.”
     Select Board member John Giger noted, “If non-ratepayers have to pay, we need to know this. We need to keep everyone informed and we need to get into the financial issues. We need to know where the money is coming from.” He added, “Once we have an agreement with the DEP, it needs to be visible to everyone,” noting that, “If the enterprise fund fails, it falls on the Town.”
     Selectman josh Degen suggested that the Water Commissioners talk with the Town of Dunstable regarding a possible cost sharing effort as he believes that Dunstable apparently has a lot of water available.
     Colleague Becky Pine said that she was concerned about costs that will be placed on ratepayers. “The town may not absorb more debt but some ratepayers will have to.”
     Degen asked, “Why the huge spike in manganese,” and Orcutt replied that it can be traced back to the drought, where more minerals made their way into the well site.
     Select Board Chairman Alison Manugian commented that she was “uncomfortable with what the Board and the public has for information.”
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