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Lee rebuts accusations of holding up proposed sewer line

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PEPPERELL — Pepperell DPW Director Robert E. Lee, in remarks to the Board of Public Works last Thursday night, vigorously challenged assertions made by Suburban Village Mobile Home Park attorney Ray Lyons to the Board of Health that his department was responsible for holding up a proposed sewer line to the park.

In his memo to Lyons, Lee said, “At each of your last two meetings with the Board, you heard objections to anything but a gravity system. I will be sending a memo to the BOH detailing the history of this issue because it has not been held up at all by the DPW.”

Lee also stated in his memo, “A year and a half ago, the Board approved Suburban’s proposal to install a public gravity line, and beyond 18 months of discussions and meetings, this has not changed.” The park is owned and managed by Fairlane Mobile Homes Realty Trust.

The 60-unit mobile home park located off Maple and Chestnut Streets has been under a Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Consent Order to connect to the town’s sewer system, or face substantial fines. A $3,300 penalty was issued to the park’s owner back in February for violating a 2003 Consent Order which required that they replace the septic system according to an approved DEP schedule.

Lee and members of the board have long-sought a gravity sewer line funded by the owner of the park that would extend the nearly one mile from the park and down Heald Street to the nearest connection point on Sartel. As late as April of last year, the board approved one of the final barriers to a gravity line — the location of a pump station near Sucker Brook on a 34-foot by 25-foot parcel of land that was to be conveyed to the town by the property owner, Karen Doherty.

Although the DEP had mandated that the park be connected to the public sewer system by August 2005, cost woes and a reevaluation of developing a private pressure line by the park’s owner rather than the more costly gravity line, delayed the project. At the time of the initial proposal for a gravity line, more than 35 residents along the route of the extension expressed interest in connecting. A request to expand the park by several more units was rejected by the ZBA last year, forcing the owner to seek other means of his cost for the extension.

“I would be very hard-pressed to go (with) anything except a gravity system,” said board member Lou Shattuck.

“One of the ways to close the gap is to get a reduction in fees,” said Lee.

“Can we negotiate the benefit fees?” asked Board Chairman George Clark.

“Yes,” responded Lee.

“Have we done that before?” asked Clark.

“No,” said Lee.

Of concern to many of the board members is the danger of setting a precedent of reducing or eliminating fees by negotiation. The Sewer Department has already raised fees substantially over the past several years to address debt and the cost of developing the new Wastewater Treatment Plant.

“Let’s get some formal numbers so we know what we’re working with,” said Lou Shattuck.

The park has already paid the town $117,770 in benefit fees under the 2005 rate structure in an effort to keep costs down and limit the impact of 2006 rate hikes. The board appeared willing to continue working with the owner of the park towards the goal of a public gravity line.

Lee reported good news on the status of the covered bridge construction project with the 100 percent design plan now complete. Advertising for construction bids will happen in March for the expected 18-month project.

The board also heard plans from Lee and Assistant DPW Director Mark Richardson for the replacement of water pipes in town as they reach their anticipated 100-year life span.

“Many water lines installed around 1908 were made of cast iron with a 100-year useful life,” explained Lee.

The cost for an ongoing program of replacement is anticipated to be $500,000 per year.

“We have to figure out what its going to do to the water rates,” added Lee.

The town is also expected to address problems with water quality and discoloration in the Brookline, Bemis, and Boynton streets areas. Built-up residue in the water lines has been attributed to lack of maintenance over the years and their proximity to one of the town wells.

Although some of the town’s infrastructure dates back to the 19th century, Lee is working towards a 21st century infrastructure for his department through the installation of a sophisticated wireless broadband network. The effort, led by town ISTC Systems Administrator Den Connors, has already seen the successful installation of working wireless links at the Public Safety Complex and the Townsend Street water tank. Other installations are nearly complete at the Bemis municipal well and the Water Department offices at Canal Street.

The private wireless network, when complete, will link 30 locations and allow for monitoring and control of DPW facilities throughout the town from multiple sites, as well as improved communications and reliability.

In other business, the board approved more than $6,600 in sewer and water abatements to 13 addressees in town due primarily to billing problems. DPW Secretary Cathy Knox explained, “We had a lot of different things go wrong at once.”

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