NORRIDGEWOCK — In advance of Earth Day this coming weekend, a $5 million investment in the town’s aging wastewater treatment center was announced Tuesday.

At an event held Tuesday morning at the Mill Stream Elementary School, Town Manager Richard LaBelle and Tommy Higgins, acting state director of U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, announced the funding, which they said will benefit the Kennebec River greatly.

LaBelle said the funding — a $2.8 million loan and a $2.2 million grant — will “help us all to be better stewards of the environment.”

After the announcement, Higgins said the town received the funding through an application process. The improvements to the facility, which LaBelle said primarily focused on upgrading its infrastructure, will affect 314 households, 24 businesses and 6 public facilities in Norridgewock.

“The river is a vital part of your community and your state,” Higgins said during the announcement.

Higgins said the funding is critical to the lives of thousands of people in the area. The wastewater treatment center is about 25 years old, LaBelle said, and upgrades the money will pay for should extend its lifespan another 25 years.

“It’s exciting. It’s something we have to do,” LaBelle said following the announcement.

Representatives from U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, as well as a representative from U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, read statements from the elected officials on the importance of the funding for the Kennebec River.

Patricia Aho, a representative for Collins, said the four-term senator offered her congratulations to the town and USDA and said the announcement “underscored critical lessons” that environmental stewardship and economic improvement are allies.

“Our state and nation are blessed with natural resources,” Aho read from the statement.

Bill Olver, president of Olver Associates, the engineering firm that worked with Norridgewock on improvement designs, said in studying the plant they found it could be saved with minor upgrades to the infrastructure. From there, they tried to develop a funding package to address those needs, which ultimately led to the application. He said wastewater treatment facilities work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and that “Norridgewock is no exception.”

“It’s tired, It’s been working hard,” Olver said.

A wastewater treatment facility converts water that is no longer suitable for use into water that can be reused. He said that with those improvements, the Norridgewock Wastewater Treatment Facility has a “bright future to serve this town for decades to come.”

“Clean water is one of the great things about living in this state,” Olver said.

LaBelle said the hope is for these improvements to begin in spring 2018.

The Norridgewock Wastewater Treatment Facility has been a source of contention in the past. In January 2016, the Norridgewock Sewer Department was found to be in violation of state Department of Environmental Protection regulations.

Around the time the violation was cited, the sewer commissioners voted to raise sewer rates by 10 percent to address the department’s ongoing debt to the town, as well as to request bids from engineering firms. The DEP violation was determined after biochemical oxygen demand numbers, which measure water clarity, were found not to be up to standards. The problem was corrected later.

The rate was increased from a $30 basic charge and 5 cents per cubic foot of water to a $35 basic charge and 5.5 cents per cubic foot. In addition, flat rates, which are for sewer users who are not connected to town water, increased from $74.60 to $100. The last sewer rate increase occurred in 2012, the previous one in 1994.

The wastewater plant and the Sewer Department have a somewhat rocky recent history in Norridgewock. Before the DEP violation, former Town Manager Michelle Flewelling had advised the selectmen that the aging pump station had the potential to be in violation of state law, and she advised them they might require legal counsel.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

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Twitter: @colinoellis