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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Merrimack waste water plant set for upgrades after vote

MERRIMACK – After 40 years of running and a year of waiting, the pumps at Merrimack’s Waste Water Treatment Plant will soon be able to rest.

One year after the proposal failed at the polls, Merrimack voters agreed Tuesday to fund more than $7 million in improvements to the town’s aging treatment facility.

Last year, residents shot down a $4.1 million proposal to upgrade the plant’s pumping and electrical systems, which have been in operation since the plant opened in 1970. Voters switched direction this year, as the necessary two-thirds majority supported funding the project, along with an additional $2.9 million to upgrade the plant’s compost facility.

The projects won’t get off the ground for at least another year but they will help the town maintain treatment service and avoid state fines, said Jim Taylor, the town’s assistant public works director and waste water superintendent.

“There will definitely be immediate benefits, but in the long-run, it’s the right thing to do,” he said Wednesday.

With the voters’ approval, town officials will move forward to secure a low-interest loan through the state’s revolving fund. Once the loan is in place, officials will look for an engineering firm to design the projects, and both jobs will likely go out to bid early next year, Taylor said.

Construction on the projects would then start during the summer of 2013, with an expected completion date sometime in 2015.

“It’s a long process,” Taylor said. “But (the pipes) have been running for 40 years. What’s another two?”

Once the project is complete, the treatment plant will have a new set of pumps and controls, which will improve its efficiency and save energy costs, officials say. And the compost facility will have new ventilation and aeration blowers, among other additions.

Composting, run out of the plant since 1982, helps the town dispose of the sludge remaining after the treatment process and brings in as much as $250,000 a year in additional revenues.

“That’s always been a good resource for the town,” said Finlay Rothhaus, chairman of the Town Council. “It’s good to know we’ll be able to continue with it.”

Funding for both projects will come through sewer user fees rather than tax dollars.

The sewer treatment plant serves about 20 percent of the town’s 28,000 homes and businesses, and its annual $187 charge ranks among the state’s lowest, according to state records.

The expense won’t be reflected in the coming year’s sewer fees, but the rates will likely rise somewhat in the years to come. Still, due in part to the plant’s compost service, they will likely remain lower than most in the state.

“It’s still going to be a good deal for residents,” Taylor said.

As for the town’s tax rate, that will stay stable next year, as well, according to town officials.

The $30.1 million operating budget, approved Tuesday by voters, will maintain the town’s current tax rate of $5.24 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Voters approved the budget proposal 1,531 ot 829. In total, 2,510 voters turned out for the election – about 15 percent of the total 16,613 registered voters.

“We worked hard to keep spending (low),” Rothhaus said Tuesday.

“We kept it to mostly essential services.”

The budget will go into effect July 1.