NORRIDGEWOCK — The Norridgewock Sewer Commission voted to approve spending on replacing a long-broken backup pump Tuesday afternoon after reversing a decision prohibiting the town manager from speaking at the meeting.

The pump is just one example of an aging wastewater treatment system that Town Manager Michelle Flewelling warned the board could lead to violations of state law if a plan is not implemented to make repairs and properly fund the sewer department.

Flewelling had concerns about the system’s problems, but the commission prohibited her from speaking at a meeting Monday.

“I was trying to provide them with information regarding the potential penalties we could face if we did not appropriate the right amount of funds to do the appropriate preventative maintenance on our facility, which we haven’t done in years,” Flewelling said Tuesday. “They didn’t like the information I was giving them, so they shut me out.”

Minutes from the meeting show that Commissioner Ronald Currier made a motion that the town manager not be allowed to speak while the commission discussed revenue shortfalls at the sewer department. It passed 3-1. The minutes didn’t reflect who voted for the the motion and who voted against. Members of the commission are Currier, Bruce Obert, Charlotte Curtis and Kristina Gossman. The board normally has five members, but there is one vacancy. Members of the commission would not comment on the decision after Tuesday’s meeting, where the move was reversed.

As of Jan.1, the department owed the town $99,808. Before the most recent sewer rate increase in 2012, the last time there was an increase was in 1994, and there have been revenue shortfalls every year since 1996, according to town records.

The discussion on the shortfall was tabled until a meeting Tuesday afternoon, at which Gossman made a motion to reverse the Monday decision on Flewelling being allowed to speak. The board voted 4-0 to approve the motion.

“I think we should hear from her,” Gossman said.

The board meets quarterly, but an emergency meeting was called Monday to discuss the broken backup pump, which Waste Treatment Superintendent Heinz Gossman said has been in disrepair at least since last winter.

“If we have a failure of any type, we don’t have a backup,” he said. “We haven’t had a backup in a while.”

The problem highlights an overall lack of maintenance of the town sewer system, which dates to 1994, and financial problems in the sewer department, Flewelling said.

The money for the broken backup pump — which will cost $13,708 — will come from the department’s reserve account, which now has a balance of about $288,000.

But with an aging sewer system, it’s likely that more repairs will be needed in the near future, Flewelling said.

“Any facility that of course runs 24/7 you would expect to have some wear and tear,” she said. “There’s nothing being done proactively.”

On Wednesday, the Board of Selectmen will discuss money for the sewer department, including the possibility of a rate increase. The commission would have to approve any increases.

The current rate includes a $30 stub fee and a charge of 5 cents per cubic foot of water per quarter.

In addition to the $13,708 approved for the new pump on Tuesday, the board also approved spending up to $10,000 to have sewage treated in Madison, since the town septic tank is full.

According to Maine law, municipalities can face penalties from the state if a lack of preventive maintenance at wastewater treatment plants leads to discharge in excess of license limitations.

Fines can range from $2,500 to $25,000 for each day of the violation.

“We need a plan to start replacing equipment,” Flewelling said. “In addition to the fines to the town, members of the commission can be personally liable if a good-faith effort is not made to correct (potential violations).”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm


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