GROTON -- Undaunted by the forced withdrawal of a measure at the previous week's special Town Meeting that would have established a Lost Lake Sewer District, members of the Lost Lake Sewer Commission returned to basics at a meeting held Jan. 31.
The withdrawal of the citizens' petition article at special Town Meeting was the latest setback for long-running efforts to bring wastewater service to the lakes neighborhoods, where sensitive environmental conditions are threatened by aging septic systems.
It all began in 2003, when the Lost Lake Sewer Committee was established by the Board of Selectmen in response to a study conducted by the engineering firm of Woodard & Curran.
The study concluded that environmentally sensitive areas in town should be included in any plan to expand sewer services, particularly those in West Groton and the Lost Lake neighborhoods, which were found to have high concentrations of homes located on small lots.
Each part of town had its own peculiarities with the predominance of ledge in West Groton and a high water table and phosphate deposits at Lost Lake. Combined with the problem of small lots, those issues made it impossible or expensive for homeowners to upgrade failing septic systems in compliance with the requirements of the state's Title 5 regulations.
Fast forward to October of 2012, when months of work by the Lost Lake Sewer Commission culminated in a warrant article that if passed would have established a Lost Lake Sewer District and appropriated funds to pay for a $12.9 million sewer system connected with Ayer.
But concerned residents, wary of the cost and pointing out uncertainties in exactly what was causing pollution in the lake, voted down the measure and threw the whole issue back into the hands of town officials.
Regrouping following Town Meeting, the Board of Selectmen agreed that the issue was too important to give up on and determined to appoint a new commission to revisit the project and address concerns raised by residents that alternatives to the causes of lake pollution had not been fully explored.
Consequently, the newly formed commission met on the evening of Jan. 31 to restart the sewer project beginning with such basics as identifying the reasons why a wastewater system was needed, setting objectives and coming up with recommendations.
Among members who met Jan. 31 were Susan Horowitz of the Board of Health, Jay Prager of the Finance Committee, Selectman Jack Petropoulos, and Water Superintendent Thomas Orcutt.
Opening the meeting with a post mortem on the events at special Town Meeting, Petropoulos explained the difficulties faced by supporters of the petition, of which he was one.
"We would have had to go through these hoops," said Petropoulos of the reason why the measure was eventually withdrawn from consideration. "It would have been an incredibly complicated thing."
According to Petropoulos, even if the article had been passed, there would not have been enough time for it go through the approval process at the state level. On top of that, other circumstances had changed, including an income survey that would have had to be done over and the town's population that had exceeded the minimum needed to qualify for state and federal grant money which was the whole point of the article seeking to establish a sewer district.
Petropoulos also blamed consultants at Woodard & Curran somewhat for advising supporters to proceed with the petition article only to be told later that there would not be time to acquire state approval.
Thus, with the petition issue behind them, commissioners returned to square one, beginning with identifying the problems that needed to be addressed at Lost Lake, including the risk to private well water as well as drinking water for the town through pollution, issues dealing with Title 5 septic compliance for private septic systems, the quality of the lake water itself, state and federal environmental regulations that are forcing the town to do something about the lakes neighborhoods and the cost of building a new sewer system.
"Getting the data is important one way or the other," noted Prager of the need to determine what was causing rates of pollution in the lake and the conditions that caused them to fluctuate.
Prager warned, however, that due to the life cycle of plants and invasive weed species that infest the lake, it might be impossible to pin down the direct cause of the pollution.
With a start on identifying the problems needing to be addressed, members planned to square them at their next meeting with the charge given them by selectmen while also pursuing the possibility of acquiring an expert on aquatic biology to advise them on lake conditions.