Lost Lake Sewer Plan Soundly Rejected
The Middle School Performing Art Center was packed with 591 voters to hear the justification for a proposed $12.9M Lost Lake Sewer System that would have most residents paying an additional $50 per year in real estate taxes but for Lost Lake homeowners, costs would be much higher and in the end the majority of voters were simply unwilling to support it.
The first of three sewer-related articles on the Town Meeting warrant asked voters to approve creation of a Lost Lake Sewer District. This article (#5) went down to clear and resounding defeat by voice vote. Voters then agreed to Selectman Peter Cunningham's motion to postpone indefinitely both the second article (#6), to authorize the $12.9M for engineering and construction and the third article (#7) to enter into an intermunicipal agreement with Ayer to accept wastewater from the Lost Lake Sewer.
Selectman Anna Eliot introduced the first article relating to the Lost Lake Sewer project, and outlined the history of the numerous activities over a 30-year period that, ultimately, led to the proposal for the formation of a sewer district and construction of a sewer system that would address the phosphorous and nitrogen loading that is believed to be affecting water quality not only at Lost Lake but also potentially the adjacent Whitney Pond well and its public drinking water supply.
Moderator Jason Kauppi told voters that they could discuss and ask questions about all three ar-ticles as they are related, but that they would be voted upon separately.
Lost Lake Sewer Committee Chairman Carol Quinn followed Eliot and presented an overview of the project and the reasons for the sewer system project. In turn, she was followed by Rosemary Baliquere a consultant with Woodward & Curran who explained the timelines for the projects, the committee's work with the various state regulatory agencies and stressed the eligibility of the town for special low to possibly no interest loans for the project. Lastly, Committee member Angela Garg¬er talked about costs, both for the general residents of the town and specifically for those who would be included in the sewer district.
The majority of Selectmen indicated support for the three articles as did the Planning Board, Board of Health, majority of Water Commissioners, Sewer Committee, Conservation Commission, Sustainability Commission, Economic Development Committee, and Groton Greenway Committee.
Finance Committee Chairman Jay Prager told voters that the majority of the FinCom did not support the proposal, stressing that itheir thinking was not about whether or not a sewer system was needed, but rather the overall process used to make the determination. Prager said the FinCom was opposed to the 25 percent taxpayer subsidy of the $12.9M cost. He pointed out that the town did pay 50 percent of the sewer system for Main Street but only after the project went into default, and the "town had to jump in and pay... The original vote was for the town not to pay any of the costs."
"We are unsure of the need and we looked at the data and had many questions...This data goes back 30 to 40 years, and recent data shows that this is not catastrophic. This is not to say that the Whitney well is threatened or not, but we are being told by experts with a vested interest in this project. He stressed, "No one on a private septic system gets help. The same should apply to Lost Lake. The average resident has little access to the lake with its small boat launch and town beach. The benefits are mostly to Lost Lake, not the average residents. Some 50 to 75 percent of the residents in town pay for their own septic system fix."
Regarding how costs for the project would be paid for by taxpayers, Prager objected to using funds that are spent on onetime expenses, stressing that these should not be considered monies that can be used forever. "Taxes should be based on need, not historical use," he cautioned.
Selectman Jack Petropoulos said he was the sole selectman not to vote in favor of support for the Lost Lake Sewer Project and explained, among other items, that the data was based on 23- year-old water quality that was measured two decades before regulations for Title V. He said he believes that there were errors in the calculations and said that Selectmen passed the request from the Lost Lake Sewer Committee for the town to pay 25 percent of the costs that was not an item on the board's agenda, and did so in less than 23 minutes. He suggested that the town take a step back on this important issue, validate the data and plan accordingly.
Questions and Answers
Resident Roger Cruz said he had lots of questions that weren't answered, such as how many septic systems failed, was E. Coli measured, what about other solutions such as tight tank. "If a roof fails, it costs $20K and you put money aside to repair it. I don't buy the commercial (development) benefit and I have not seen any figures to prove it." He cautioned that we have to use the little money we have very carefully.
Rule Lovering suggested that this type of spending should be voted on the ballot.
Selectman Josh Degen asked consultant Bob Rafferty of Woodward & Curran if homes on Lost Lake Drive towards Rte. 40 were tested, in regard to any nitrates or phosphorous coming from Martin's Pond Brook. Rafferty replied that no testing was done in this area and acknowledged that the upstream was contributing to the water problems.
Richard Wolf, representing Grotonwood, assured voters that the sewer capacity set aside for the well-known camp would be used only to replace some of their buildings that have been on hold because of the septic systems.
Bob Pine echoed the concerns of many, that "no comprehensive environmental analysis has been done, no recent tests. Solving the nutrients coming from septics is not going to fix Lost Lake. It is a flooded meadow."
Resident Devon Haigh, a Lost Lake area resident, said he would love to have a sewer system but it is a financial issue. He asked why a
a gravity system was not considered as the proposed low pressure system needs electricity. "Without power, the system doesn't work," he said. Haigh said that he felt that the data used preceded the Title V systems, and suggested that Title V regulations may have fixed part of the issue.
Rafferty explained, "A Title V does not address nutrients and this is still a problem," noting that to put in a grav-ity system for the lake would double the cost.
Charlie Backus, also a Lost Lake resident stressed that he paid his fair share for schools even though he did not have children in the system and suggested that all parts of the town should share the cost burden.
Resident Steve Stark pointed out, "There are more foreclosures at Lost Lake tan any other part of Groton. The median income is less that the state average and you are asking the poorest to pay. People like me will end up paying $31K."
Joan Thompson asked about betterment costs, noting that 15 homes at the lake were for sale at an average of $239K. "This will not make it easier to sell. There are three foreclosures and one pre-foreclosure."
Alan Hoch said he agreed with Bob Pine and the FinCom. He cautioned against undervaluing the community as this is what makes this town so special. "If you ask this body to cough up $13M, you need the information to back it up." To lighten the long meeting, Hoch wrote a quick little ditty, comparing the town meeting exercise to buying a car. It drew a lot of laughs and chuckles. The complete ditty is on Page 2.
Following further discussion, the three-hour meeting was adjourned and continued to Monday, Oct. 29, at 7 p.m.