WINTHROP - The Brasher and Stockholm town boards are moving ahead with a proposed joint water district, but they must now decide if theyll seek out the help of the Development Authority of the North Country.
Both boards met in a joint session this week and joining them for the discussion were DANC Director of Engineering Carrie M. Tuttle, engineer Timothy A. Burley from C2AE, Canton, and Public Health Engineer Ronald E. Sheppard from the state Department of Health
Mr. Burley, who has been working with the towns on the proposal that would set up a water district in the hamlets of Brasher Falls and Winthrop, said he felt like it was time to draw from DANCs expertise in moving the project forward.
Theyre a Swiss neutral party. They also bring leadership. Theyve been very successful in bringing extra money to in infrastructure or projects, Mr. Burley said.
Carrie is an advocate for the two communities. I come and go. The Development Authority is here the long run, he said. I would rather you spend your money and bring DANC on in. Theyll make a better project.
He said the towns would be better served if DANC was leading the effort rather than an engineer because of a public perception that the local engineering firm would be too closely tied to the project.
When they ask questions to the engineer, they say, Hes just giving me the answer because hes doing the project, Mr. Burley said.
Ms. Tuttle said DANC has been involved in several infrastructure projects in the north country.
Everybodys unique, she said, but there are a lot of similarities.
Ms. Tuttle said DANC is willing to assist communities with their infrastructure projects if theyre asked to take part.
We will help them lay out the strategy working with regulatory agencies, the board and engineer, she said.
DANC will also assist in educating the impacted residents through public information meetings and public hearings, as well as through the possible use of newsletters and flyers, she said.
Shes better able to answer their questions and tell them what its going to cost, Brasher Councilman Wilfred Recore said.
Ms. Tuttle brought a draft copy of their agreement for the board to review, and she noted their budget was $10,000. But what the towns would pay would be dependent on the amount of services they used through DANC, she said.
Its very generic. You pay for what services you use. If you dont use it, you dont pay for it. Were doing what you ask us to do, she said.
Brasher Supervisor M. James Dawson said his concern was, before they spend any more money, they gauge public sentiment about the project. A survey conducted in the summer of 2011 saw mixed reaction from local residents about the proposed water system. Forty-five percent of 189 residents who responded to the survey said they would not support the formation of a public water district. Another 38 percent said they would support it, while 17 percent said they werent sure.
We had two or three surveys out and they all came back with the majority negative, he said. Before we spend a lot more money, is there some way to gauge community support? Theyre not informed enough. There are a lot of questions they dont have the answers to. I dont want to spend a lot of money and have them turn it down. I would be very uncomfortable with a 51 to 49 vote. Im still concerned about how we change that negative so far into a positive. I want to know ASAP what the people want.
But Ms. Tuttle recommended against going out to the public until they were sure they had financing for the project. That, she said, would allow them to answer the question that she said was on everybodys mind - what would it cost each household.
Its a double-edged sword. If you dont have answers, they get frustrated and turn off. If you dont have a funding offer, you cant give them a cost, she said.
Up to now theres been no point in holding a public meeting, Mr. Sheppard said.
At this point, town officials dont know if their project will be funded through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. Projects submitted for that funding are scored and then funded based on the highest need, and the Brasher and Stockholm project scored 80 points last year. Mr. Burley said $90 million will be available for projects.
The project didnt score that well compared to others. Theres a finite amount of money, Mr. Sheppard said.
Because of recent water issues at the St. Lawrence Central School District, their score might jump to 130 when the grants are announced in August, according to Mr. Sheppard. Funding last year was given only to projects scoring 145 or higher.
Since last year a number of things have gone on around town, including the well water situation at the school district, he said.
I think you have the opportunity to be very close to 130, Mr. Burley said.
But, Ms. Tuttle said, even a higher score was no guarantee the project would be funded.
Were doing work with dozens of communities. What that means is funding is very competitive. More communities are asking for money than money is available, she said. Its not a done deal with the funding line. You might miss the funding line by 10 or 15 points.
She suggested that officials from both towns needed to make a decision about the project soon because, if funding becomes available for them, they would need to take advantage of it.
Its a one-shot deal. The offer may not be there (later). All of this stuff has an expiration date, she said. This water project is never gong to get any less expensive. I think you as a group need to decide where you want to go with project development.
Brasher Councilman John M. Keenan, the towns project liaison, agreed that they needed to move forward now.
If we wait longer, its going to be five years. We have to get off our butts. We are the custodians. To me, if we hire DANC this takes the politics out of it, he said.
Ms. Tuttle said she is tied up with grants for other projects, but will be available after June 6. Both boards plan to decide at their next session if theyll engage the services of DANC.