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Colrain board to look into sewer costs

A sewer service has been proposed for Colrain center. The Board of Selectmen has been given a list of options by an engineering firm, both of which will cost about $2.5 million, not including operation and maintenance costs.
(Recorder file/Trish Crapo)

A sewer service has been proposed for Colrain center. The Board of Selectmen has been given a list of options by an engineering firm, both of which will cost about $2.5 million, not including operation and maintenance costs. (Recorder file/Trish Crapo)

COLRAIN — In their final engineering report, Weston & Sampson engineers have narrowed a host of options for creating a sewer service for the town center.

Their first recommendation is for the town to build a gravity-fed sewer along with a pumping station to pump all sewage from Main and Jacksonville roads down to the Barnhardt Manufacturing Plant’s sewage treatment facility almost two miles away. The second option is to build a gray-water-only gravity sewer to pump the water down to the Barnhardt treatment plant. This would require installing septic tank effluent pumps or effluent gravity systems at each property for solid waste.

Selectmen accepted the final report Monday night, according to Town Coordinator Kevin Fox, and the board will begin exploring possible ways to finance a sewer system, including through grants and loans.

The first option, for a gravity-and-force main, is expected to cost about $2.56 million. The operation and maintenance for this would cost about $360,000 over 20 years, according to the report. The second option, for a gray-water sewer system and a septic tank, would cost about $2.5 million, according to the report, with maintenance and operations to cost about $340,000 over 20 years.

Once selectmen have a financial plan to recommend, they will bring it to a town meeting for a vote.

Either option would require getting permission from the state Department of Transportation to lay the sewer line along state roads, since Jacksonville and Main roads are located on state Route 112.

Colrain’s town center has no sewer system, which makes it more difficult to attract new development and businesses, such as restaurants, bed and breakfasts, or businesses with many employees. One factor why the town couldn’t sell its historic brick Civil War Veterans Memorial Hall — even for less than $10,000 — was its failed septic system. The building, unused for at least 25 years, ended up being demolished.

Homes within this village center are on small plots of land with lots of groundwater limitations for septic systems. “A high frequency of septic system variances ... may indicate that the area is not suitable for a standard septic system,” the report says. It also notes there is a high rate of septic system failures and that the frequency of septic tank pump-outs (two or more times per year), indicates likely problems in continuing to rely on septic systems. Out of the 55 properties that would be served by a sewer system, 45 properties are on lots of a half acre or less. There are two well-head protection areas in the town center and about 35 percent of the area is within a habitat for rare or endangered species.

Without a sewer, future residential or business development would only increase the density of septic systems in this problematic area, says the report.

The demise of Memorial Hall brought out concerned residents, who worried that the once-bustling town center “is disappearing before our eyes.”

“We have to make this town appealing to live in again,” said Sarah McKusick. “And the town center isn’t attracting people.”

Over the past few years, selectmen have been working on strategies for revitalizing what was Colrain’s downtown.

The $35,000 feasibility study on sewer options was paid for in part with a $30,000 federal grant. The Franklin Regional Council of Governments evaluated pedestrian, bicycle and vehicle traffic patterns. The town has been awarded a $1.5 million Transportation Improvement Program grant, to make intersection improvements at the Jacksonville-Greenfield-Main roads intersection. That work is expected to take place in 2018 or 2019; selectmen hope that, if townspeople agree to build a sewer system, the work could be done at the same time as the road project.

Other options were considered, but dropped, either because they were too costly for the small number of households to be served, or because they were not practical. At one end of the spectrum, the “free” option for the town would be to continue the current system, of letting property owners be responsible for their septic systems complying with state regulations — but this would be hard to enforce until a septic system fails; also it does not encourage future growth or development. Building sewer facilities and a wastewater treatment plant closer to the town center would cost about $4.6 million, with the 20-year cost estimate to run and maintain the plant at about $3.6 million.

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

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