BERLIN — The fate of a long-discussed water system that would serve the Berlin Four Corners area will be decided during a special election in mid-February.
The Feb. 13 bond vote represents the latest make-or-break moment for a $5.5 million project that has been the subject of on-again off-again discussions for the past 20 years.
Those discussions have been on again since 2007 as town officials have pressed ahead with a plan they say could create a reliable, cost-effective, municipally owned water supply in a strategically located area of their community.
In order to pursue favorable federal financing for the project that they say will be paid for exclusively by those who voluntarily agree to hook on to the proposed system, town officials first need a head nod from local voters. Approval of the proposed bond issue would satisfy that need and free the town to explore financing options with an eye toward constructing a water system that would be fed by three wells that they have already drilled, tested and acquired on Scott Hill Road.
Polls for the town-wide vote will be open on Wednesday, Feb. 13, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the municipal office building on Shed Road. The project will be the subject of a public informational meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 6 at Berlin Elementary School.
The school, the town offices, and the local volunteer fire station are all in the area that would be served by the proposed water system that would serve portions of Airport, Crosstown, Comstock, Fisher, Granger, Scott Hill, and Shed roads, as well as the full length of Industrial Lane and a short section of Paine Turnpike in the vicinity of the Route 62 intersection.
Among other things, the system would involve the installation of an estimated 31,500 linear feet of water line, and a 400,000-gallon water storage tank and pump station that would be located near the three town-owned wells on Scott Hill Road.
In the run-up to next month’s bond vote town officials are assuring voters that while their approval is a necessary step in what has been a protracted process, it does not necessarily mean the water system will ever be built. First, they say, they have to secure financing that would make the system affordable to prospective users, and then they would have to obtain commitments from those users before proceeding with construction.
Officials have described the bond vote as something of a formality — repeatedly stressing that all costs will eventually be born by users of the proposed system — including those that have already been incurred. However, the looming decision isn’t completely without risk, especially if the town invests in the final design of the proposed system, but is then unable to lock down financing or enough users to pursue the project. If that were to happen, taxpayers would be required to cover the pre-construction costs.
Officials believe that limited risk is outweighed by the water system’s potential to unleash commercial and industrial development in an area where groundwater contamination has been a longstanding problem.
The Select Board chose not to wait until Town Meeting Day to seek voter approval of the bond issue. Instead, they opted for a special election they agreed would give voters the opportunity to focus on the single issue.
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