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Colrain waits to see if sewer grant is in pipeline

COLRAIN — Whether it’s called “Main Road” on the southern end or “Jacksonville Road” to the north, Route 112 through Colrain Center is a major scenic highway heavily traveled by tourists between Franklin County and Vermont.

“There’s a lot of tourist activity coming in on the road,” remarked Patricia A. Smith, land-use planner for the Franklin Region Council of Governments.

“The question is: What do they have to stop for?”

The town officials and six residents at a recent Center Village Master Plan Committee meeting want to see a revitalization of the town’s historic center.

But the big question is: What does the rest of the town want?

By Aug. 14, town officials will know whether Colrain is in line for $2.5 million in state funding to help cover the costs of a gravity-fed sewer system and pumping station along Jacksonville/Main road. If supported by a town meeting vote, this new infrastructure would make it possible for the town to pump wastewater from its town center to the treatment plant operated by the Barnhardt Manufacturing Co.

It would also open up opportunities in the moribund Center Village District for new restaurants, retail shops, day care centers, senior apartment housing and other businesses.

A “Visioning Session” is planned for Sept. 28 at the Colrain Central School, in hopes that more residents will turn out on a Sunday evening to talk about what they want and whether they would support a sewer system for the center village area.

According to state Sen. Stan Rosenberg’s office, the $2.5 million for Colrain’s sewer system is included in a $62 million Environmental Bond Bill, which is now awaiting Gov. Deval Patrick’s signature. Patrick has until Aug. 14 to approve the bill or to veto parts of it. According to Town Coordinator Kevin Fox, state Rep. Paul Mark and Rosenberg have scheduled a meeting with selectmen on Aug. 19 to give them an update. That meeting will be held in the town office.

In her summary of the draft Village Center Master Plan, Smith said a sewer project has to be part of the master plan if Colrain’s village center is to attract future business, commerce and economic growth.

“There are potential costs to taxpayers and rate payers over time,” said Smith. “But there are also costs in doing nothing. If you do nothing, you don’t have the capacity for economic development in the town.”

Smith said there may be residents who would prefer a more bucolic town, while others want to see more development. “These issues need to be discussed,” she said.

The master plan points out that at least 83 percent of Colrain’s land is forested and about 9 percent of the town’s land is in agricultural use.

“If you want the farmland, remarked Assistant Assessor Alice Wozniak, “you have to have the business.” She said that towns are required by law not to spend more than they take in for revenue. As it is, even with a declining population base and a declining school enrollment, about 60 percent of the town’s annual budget is spent for education.

Of the 128 acres that lie within the Village Center district, 60 acres are undevelopable because they lie within wetlands or the 100-year floodplain; because they are protected under the National Heritage and Endangered Species program or are prime farmland with restricted development rights.

With the closing of the Green Emporium restaurant and Chandler’s feed store in recent years, there are no businesses in what was once a bustling town center.

Of the 46 residential properties in the district, 45 are located on 38 acres. Many properties on the smaller lots have a high frequency of septic system failures and septic tank pump-outs, according to the master plan.

According to Fox, the septic system at the Colrain Central School has to be pumped out every other year, which shows clearly that the system is inadequate.

Sewer costs

When asked how much a village center sewer system will cost, Fox said more precise estimates would be worked out after town officials know if the town has the state funding. He said discussions with Barnhardt Manufacturing have been very preliminary. “We’re at the first step out of 1,000 steps with Barnhardt,”he said. “The plan hasn’t been fleshed out.”

“The more important question, at this stage, is whether the town is behind solving the sewer problem or not,” Fox added.

Initially, about 55 properties would be eligible to be hooked up to the new sewer lines, but there would be more capacity if the village center grows. Weston & Sampson estimates, in a preliminary engineering report posted on the town’s website, put the cost at about $3 million.

While the sewer system proposal is a key part of redeveloping the village center, other issues were raised. Residents who are interested in creating business office spaces in the Brick Meeting House requested that the village center be a priority to be linked to the town’s new “middle-mile” broadband. Also discussed were plans to reconfigure the Jacksonville-Greenfield-Main road intersection to make the village center more pedestrian-friendly.

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at: dbroncaccio@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

(EDITOR'S NOTE: SOME INFORMAION IN THIS STORY HAS CHANGED FROM AN EARLIER VERSION)

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