GROTON — Selectmen Monday night decided against placing an article on the warrant for an upcoming special Town Meeting that would have asked residents to give the town’s administration authorization to pursue a federal grant to be used for any new plans for a Lost Lake sewer system.
The request to place such an article on the warrant came from Town Manager Mark Haddad, who said if the grant application had been accepted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it would have meant $1 million to help the town cover the cost of design work for a new sewer system.
But selectmen were wary of reviving the issue so soon after residents there turned the plan down.
Even a grant of $1 million, said board Chairman Stuart Schulman, was not enough to risk the other major article already approved for the warrant: a $5.9 million spending measure to build a new Center Fire Station off Farmers Row.
Schulman said the $13 million for a Lost Lake sewer system “just wouldn’t fly” with residents at that price.
The board chairman insisted that other sources of revenue to cover the bulk of the cost would need to be identified first before a new attempt was made to persuade residents to approve construction of such an expensive project.
There was no need to risk approval of the fire-station article, said Schulman, over the remote chance of getting an accompanying sewer measure passed.
Haddad said he did not relish the idea of returning to Town Meeting without a firm plan on how to pay for a new system that residents would accept.
Not everyone on the board was as reluctant as Schulman.
“It’s important that we take advantage of every opportunity we can,” said member Jack Petropoulos.
Acknowledging that bringing a sewer article to Town Meeting so soon after defeat risked antagonizing a public that is leery of more spending, Petropoulos urged the board to pursue the grant money.
“It’s our responsibility to bring it forward,” he said.
Member Joshua Degen said he could not support the grant article because it would risk the trust of residents toward selectmen, especially following their advocacy of the Sacred Heart Church property as the location for a new fire station.
“I don’t think it makes sense,” said Degen.
“I tend to agree,” said member Anna Eliot. “I just don’t want to bring it up at this Town Meeting.”
“The focus of this Town Meeting is getting the final pieces in place for the fire station,” said Schulman. “There shouldn’t be anything to distract from getting the fire station.
The issue of a Lost Lake sewer system was considered a sensitive one as the plan was only recently rejected by residents at Town Meeting in October.
The defeated measure had sought the appropriation of $12.9 million to pay for design and construction of the new sewer system, but residents believed that there had been too many unanswered questions to approve it.
Selectmen asked Haddad to reform the Lost Lake Sewer Commission and prepare a new charge for the group.
Haddad returned to the board Monday night with a suggested charge. Selectmen asked Haddad to add a requirement that the group work with the Board of Health while questioning the need for the committee to submit its recommendations by April 1, which some found too restrictive.
Again expressing doubts about the willingness of residents to approve the project due to its cost, Schulman said he was “uncomfortable” asking a reformed committee to spend time on the issue if it had no hope of passage at Town Meeting.
Petropoulos said he believed the reason the article failed was due to the process as much as the cost.
Haddad was asked to return with a new draft at the selectmen’s meeting Dec. 17.