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GROTON — An income survey is currently underway to determine if a possible sewer district in the Lost Lake area would be eligible for federal grants, but that process is being slowed by a lack of response from the residents, which could result in the Lost Lake Sewer Advisory Committee going door-to-door early in 2010.

That possibility was discussed at the committee meeting on Dec., 17, after consultant Rosemary Blacquier said the mass mailing of 258 surveys two weeks ago had only yielded a 19 percent response.

That’s less than half the number needed to seek grants that could fund 45 percent of establishing a Lost Lake sewer district, and given that the response deadline was Dec. 21, Blacquier predicted that the nonprofit conducting the survey — RCAP Solutions of Gardner–would soon ask the committee to take a more active role in the process.

“If the 57 percent doesn’t come in, RCAP is going to come back to the sewer committee and ask them to make calls and knock on doors,” said Blacquier.

The possible grant application is part of a larger effort by the town of Groton to provide a comprehensive wastewater management plan for a series of densely neighborhoods near Lost Lake that are having trouble meeting modern health codes, due to tiny lots and lack of town water in many areas. There’s also concern that nutrients from failing septic systems have boosted plant growth in the lake and threaten to turn it into a swamp, or that it could impact the relatively close public wells at Whitney Pond.

Because of those concerns, $300,000 was appropriated by Town Meeting last spring to develop a wastewater management plan for the area and get that proposal through permitting.

Speaking to the committee on Dec. 17, Blacquier said they’re still looking at funding options and a possible disposal site.

A central focus of her update was the income survey, which is being done to determine if Lost Lake fits income-eligibility requirements for a grant through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The town of Groton as a whole isn’t eligible, but valuations at the Lost Lake area are lower, and USDA gave the town a grant to have a third party conduct a confidential survey to see if the area is eligible, she said.

There was also some brief discussion about why the survey returns were so low, with the suggestion it could be the holidays or people just taking their time. Selectman Stuart Schulman had a different theory, however, saying it’s reasonable to expect most responses would come back within two weeks, and that this could be more than residents simply being hesitant to share their financial information.

“I think people may not be encouraging this project because they’re concerned it could cost them big bucks down the road,” he said.

Indeed, Schulman spoke as one of three residents who attended the committee’s informative session, which was held primarily to answer questions the public may have about the survey.

The majority of questions were asked by resident Alex Woodle, who served on another sewer committee 30 years ago and agreed something needs to be done. Even so, he cautioned that the difficult topography around Lost Lake would likely require numerous pumps that retailed at $1 million apiece back in the 1980s.

Blacquier responded that there weren’t any cost estimates yet, saying the focus on is currently on fleshing out a disposal area and funding options. The final decision on all of this would still rest with Town Meeting, she added.

On the disposal site, consultant Bob Rafferty said conditions are being tested at a large lakeside parcel that’s used as a summer camp by the Baptist Church of New England. Early results have shown suitable soils there, he said, adding that more tests are being done to determine if the site would be suitable for a package treatment plant. While that location would be relatively near the lake, Rafferty said there would be additional wastewater treatment to prevent any nutrients from getting into the watershed.

Pending the outcome of the grant application, Blacquier also said the town may need to seek zero-interest financing for a sewer district through the Department of Environmental Protection’s clean water revolving fund, adding that’s the expected source of any additional federal stimulus funds for sewer projects, should they become available.

In the short term, the focus remained on the survey, and after the meeting committee Chairman Carol Quinn said she expects to go door to door before it’s all over.

“That’s OK,” she said. “It’s always nice to see our neighbors.”