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GROTON –The town is pursuing a grant program that could potentially cover 45 percent of sewer-installation costs for Lost Lake area, but that window is in danger of closing by mid-March, due to a lack of response from those neighborhoods.

At issue is a federal income survey, which is required to determine if Lost Lake would be eligible for the grant program through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Before any application can be filed, USDA requires that 57 percent of households in the potential sewer district complete the survey.

The problem, according to Selectman Josh Degen, is that only 39 percent of residents had responded as of the Feb. 22 selectmen meeting.

“If we don’t get 50 more of these, we’re throwing the grant opportunity out the window, and if and when this (project) goes forward, everyone will be paying 100 percent of what it costs,” he said.

The five-question survey was mailed to all 258 Lost Lake households in December, and Degen said the Lost Lake Sewer Committee has already tried to boost the response rate by going door-to-door. He said the original survey deadline in mid-February has already been extended, giving mid-March as a realistic “drop dead” cutoff point, because the 45 percent reimbursement rate is tied to federal stimulus funds that are expected to be a one-time opportunity. The standard rate is 25 percent, he added.

Having recently been appointed to the committee by the selectmen, Degen said the residents are reluctant to share their financial information. However, he said the results are being handled by a third-party organization under the USDA.

“The survey will not be handled by anyone in town; it’s not being handled by any employee of the town,” said Degen. “The five questions will be shredded after being tabulated.”

The densely settled Lost Lake area is plagued by a combination of small lot sizes, high groundwater, and poor soil, which make it difficult for many homes in that area to meet modern sanitary codes. Because of that, the town appropriated $300,000 last spring to design and permit a comprehensive wastewater management plan for that area.

Asked to give a cost estimate on that project, Town Manager Mark Haddad said it’s too early to say because the town’s consultants are still compiling a study of the area. Regardless, he said it makes sense to pursue the grants.

“Forty-five percent is a big number, regardless of the cost of the project,” he said.

During the discussion, Degen repeatedly urged residents from the Lost Lake area to get involved, either by calling members of the committee or reaching out their neighbors.

“Rather than having a lost opportunity, I’d urge everybody who is in the district: If you haven’t returned the survey, please do so,” he said.

If you have returned the survey and you know a neighbor who is hesitant about it — knock on their door, talk with them about it. I would just hate to see this be a lost opportunity for those who could really benefit.”