2013-05-24 / Community News

Committee to address area’s aging water system

Advisory group includes representatives from four towns
By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

Five months after Biddeford and Saco Water Company merged with Maine Water Company, an advisory committee of municipal leaders from the Biddeford-Saco- Old Orchard Beach-Scarborough area has been set up to discuss and help plan infrastructure improvements to the aging water system.

Judy Wallingford, president of Maine Water Company said after Connecticut Water Systems — Maine Water Company’s parent company — purchased Biddeford and Saco Water Company in December 2012, one of Maine Water Company’s goals was to create an advisory committee made up of two representatives from each of the four communities.

“The advisory council is an innovation that we’ve introduced very successfully in the other water systems we operate in Maine, an invaluable tool for getting feedback from the community,” Wallingford said in a release announcing the formation of the committee. “We can’t do everything at once, and ours isn’t the only perspective that matters.

“When we deploy pipe replacement resources, it’s vital to have this kind of participation from the municipalities.”

The group held its first meeting Tuesday, May 21 at Scarborough Town Hall. Much of the discussion at the first meeting centered on the role the committee will play moving forward.

Scarborough Fire Chief Mike Thurlow said the committee could help with some of the town and mutual aid response to emergencies by helping with GPS mapping, improved maintenance and color-coding of fire hydrants.

Scarborough Town Engineer Jim Wendel said he would like to see the committee ensure water system infrastructure upgrades align with municipal visions.

“Working in a town that is growing, I think it is paramount all infrastructure system work be well integrated into municipal growth management strategies,” Wendel said.

Chaos, Wendel continued, occurs when growth happens on an infrastructure system that is not ready for it.

“Infrastructure is important. We need to keep a keen eye on up-keeping infrastructure and making the improvements needed to deliver the service we need to,” said Bob Peabody, the interim town manager in Old Orchard Beach.

To help with infrastructure upgrade planning, Maine Water has hired Woodard and Curran, an engineering firm with locations in Portland and Bangor, and Tata and Howard, a water and wastewater consultant with an office in Portland.

The firms will assist the committee in preparing a comprehensive engineering report of the water system and how it could be improved.

Steve Cox, an engineer with Maine Water, said a draft report should be released to Maine Water next month.

Upgrades to the company’s 250 miles of piping as well as improvements at the treatment plant on South Street in Biddeford, are some of the expected projects that will need to occur.

“The last thing done to the treatment plant from a process perspective was done in the 1930s. For the last 80 years the plant has essentially run the way it was designed to run,” said Rick Knowlton, vice president of operations for Maine Water.

The advisory committee will tour the treatment plant and get copies of the engineering study at its next meeting on Tuesday, July 9.

With the merger of the Biddeford and Saco Water Company, Maine Water now provides water for 31,500 customers stretching from the Biddeford/Kennebunk line to the Pine Point section of Scarborough.

The Portland Water District services the bulk of water customers in Scarborough.

The acquisition did not impact the service or rates of current customers of Biddeford and Saco Water Company. However rate increases could be coming soon. Biddeford and Saco Water Company had planned a rate increase in 2012, but that was delayed to 2013 due to the company being acquired.

Saco Mayor Mark Johnston said “the city of Saco would be strong advocates of reasonable rate increases.”

Knowlton said an increase would still keep rates favorable for customers.

“Even if the Biddeford and Saco system were to double the rates, it would still be the lowest in the neighborhood from Kittery to Yarmouth,” he said.

The close to 32,000 customers will still be serviced by a 7.5 million gallon reservoir in west Biddeford and water tanks located on Forest Street and Bradbury Street in Biddeford and Pine Point Road in Scarborough.

Knowlton said the tanks are used to help with fire suppression, in emergencies such as severe weather or to provide additional water during the peak times of 6 to 9 a.m. and 5 to 8 p.m. The tanks, he added, provide up to two days of fresh, ready-to-drink water for customers.

Knowlton said it may soon be time to replace the tanks, which have a 100-year life span. He said the Pine Point one dates back to the early 1900s and the other two back to the 1940s.

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