Friday January 18, 2013

WINCHESTER, N.H. -- The town will use a warrant article in March to ask voters to approve money for the third and final phase of upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant.

Passage of Warrant Article 2 would raise up to $1.48 million to prepare plans and specifications for sewer collection system inspections and to carry out improvements to the facility on Duso Road. The article was unanimously recommended by the town's Board of Selectmen but a recommendation was struck down, 6-2, by the budget committee.

Town Administrator Joan C. Morel on Thursday said 50 percent of the money voters will be asked to appropriate will be forgiven, meaning they will not have to be covered by the town. She also said the project's third phase will include upgrades that weren't part of the previous two phases because there wasn't enough money budgeted. Phase 3 will also include inspecting the system that runs through the town, she said.

Morel said the article requires a 60 percent majority to pass.

She told the Reformer the first phase consists of basically building a new plant (with a brand-new centrifuge) on the site of the old facility. Morel said there was $3.4 million -- appropriated by voters at 2009's Town Meeting -- available for the work but residents approved an additional $500,000 when Winchester learned the former amount was not enough.

Morel said the first phase of the project is almost completed and the second phase is expected to start in late summer. Half the funding for the project's second phase is coming from a state grant while the other half would come from the state revolving loan fund. Passage of the article would grant the selectmen the authority to apply for, accept and expend grants, donations and gifts for the project.

All the upgrades -- which include installing a station to receive sludge delivered to the plant -- will ensure the town qualifies for federal and state funds for half the third phase's cost.

Morel said this whole process started in 2008 and construction began in 2010.

The budget committee has the final say on the budget plan that goes to voters. A waiver is included because it didn't recommend the article.

Voters cannot add more than 10 percent to the budget committee's recommendation. The recommendation was zero dollars, so the waiver -- which is permitted under state law -- is needed for voters to exceed the 10 percent if the article is approved. A three-fifths majority vote would override the 10 percent limitation.

The original facility on Duso Street was built to last only 20 years, the town administrator said.

Morel said the plant is essential to the health and safety of the town.

"You need up-to-date processing for a sewage treatment plant," she said.

It is not yet know when the project's third phase would begin if residents vote to approve the warrant article.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.