WINTHROP - The Stockholm and Brasher town boards tentatively agreed this week to spend up to $5,000 each in an effort aimed at bringing municipal water service to the hamlets of Winthrop and Brasher Falls.
Both boards met in a joint session late last month and discussed the proposed municipal water system with 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 last month he felt like it was time to draw from DANC’s expertise in moving the project forward.
Stockholm Town Councilman Robert J. McCuin had urged his board to support spending the money to hire DANC, noting billing would be for services used with a maximum expense for the municipality of $5,000.
“It was a strong recommendation from our engineer to hire DANC. They do many of these water districts. It looks like it is a good option for us to consider,” he told his fellow board members.
“I would like to see us hire DANC,” he said, noting one of Ms. Tuttle’s first tasks when she starts work on the project will be reviewing data to see if points can be added to the communities’ score to improve its likelihood of receiving funding necessary to make the project a reality.
Supervisor Clark S. Decker concurred with Mr. McCuin’s assessment.
“If we are going to continue to go ahead with this, I think their assistance would be very worthwhile. They have been involved with many other communities trying to get municipal water,” he said.
The town’s financial advisor, Arthur L. Sweeney, cautioned the town board they should consult the town attorney before authorizing spending from the general fund for the water district work and consider establishing a separate line item for municipal water.
“You want to tread lightly here. That could be considered a gift by the comptroller’s office because the water district doesn’t include the whole town,” he said.
Mr. McCuin said town officials needed to spend money to determine if the project was feasible and financing was available.
“How else do you get a project like this off the ground? If it is a successful vote to establish a water district, the monies spent from the general fund would be absorbed into the water district’s budget,” he said.
The Stockholm Town Board voted unanimously to sign the contract with DANC after Mr. Decker had talked to the town’s attorney, Roger B. Linden, to verify that it would be a legal expenditure of town monies.
Brasher officials also agreed to move forward Wednesday night, once Mr. Linden has declared the legality of spending the money for the project.
“I make a motion we work with Stockholm and DANC coordinating the water district,” said Councilman John M. Keenan, the town’s representative for the project.
The vote was unanimous, but contingent on Mr. Linden’s interpretation of the expenditure’s legality.
“Clark (Decker) wants to check with Mr. Linden on some legality. We can do the same thing,” Brasher Supervisor M. James Dawson said.
Mr. Dawson had expressed concern last month that local officials should gauge public sentiment about the project before allocating additional dollars to the municipal water 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 weren’t sure.
“We had two or three surveys out and they all came back with the majority negative,” he said at the May meeting. “Before we spend a lot more money, is there some way to gauge community support? They’re not informed enough. There are a lot of questions they don’t have the answers to. I don’t want to spend a lot of money and have them turn it down. I would be very uncomfortable with a 51 to 49 vote. I’m 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 had 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 everybody’s mind - what would it cost each household.
One of the questions brought up during the May meeting was who would be accountable if contamination was found in the soil during the project. Mr. Sheppard from the Health Department said in a recent email to Brasher town officials and others involved in the project that current owners where contaminated land is identified may not be responsible for the clean-up costs.
“According to Gary (McCullouch, regional spill engineer for the Department of Environmental Conservation), if contaminated soil is encountered in areas associated with known spills, the landowner would not be held responsible for the bill,” Mr. Sheppard said.
“In most of these cases, a responsible party has already been identified and DEC has either made arrangements for reimbursement or given up trying if the party is no longer viable (i.e., a corporation that no longer exists),” he said in the email.
However, Mr. Sheppard said, if contamination soil is found in areas outside of known spill locations, “it depends on the situation what the landowner would be responsible for. To use Gary’s words, this would most likely involve a recent spill or a spill that the landowner already knew about. In either of those situations it seems likely that the landowner could be held responsible. This is particularly true if the sill involves a high level of contamination.”
Any contaminated soil would need to be removed, stockpiled and protected, and then transported off-site for disposal at an approved facility, according to Mr. Sheppard.
At this point, the project hinges partially on funding, and town officials don’t 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 in the state this year.
But, Ms. Tuttle warned town officials last month, even a higher score was no guarantee the project would be funded.
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.