In recent months, the Edgecomb Board of Selectmen has renewed discussions on a proposed engineering study that would look at various issues related to the town's sewer system but, according to Planning Board Chair Jack French, it is not clear whether the main sewer pipe is Edgecomb's in the first place.
Voters turned down a similar engineering study on the sewer system last fall; a study which, among other things, would have evaluated the cost and benefits of the town taking over and repairing the system's privately-owned pumping station, or building a new one.
Talks on such as study started up again recently after the planning board received an application in April for a 48 unit hotel on a lot on Eddy Road, across from the Sheepscot Harbor Village and Resort on Davis Island.
The planning board ruled the application was incomplete and responded with a list of required items, including approval from the selectmen for the hotel to hook into the sewer system.
On the advice of their lawyer, William Dale, the selectmen have not yet made a decision on whether to approve the tie-in, and renewed their efforts to have a study done to answer questions about the system so they could develop a policy for how they will allocate the remaining capacity of the sewer system.
The selectmen have sought to gather input from the public on what the scope of such a study should entail, so the board could seek a new estimate from engineering firm Woodard & Curran on the study's cost. Voters would still need to approve the expenditure at a special town meeting.
The board held a public hearing on July 29 to finalize their questions for the firm, but Jack French said new information made available to the planning board calls into question whether the town of Edgecomb owns the large sewer pipe which runs across the river to Wiscasset.
Before the town's sewer ordinance was approved in November 2004, the ordinance was amended by the selectmen to convey the cross-river sewer pipe to the town of Wiscasset instead of the town of Edgecomb, French said. Since the voters did not approve the conveyance of the pipe to Edgecomb when they approved the ordinance, the town could not legally accept ownership of it, he said.
"There was never a vote to convey the sewer line to Edgecomb," French said.
Rather than spend the money on the engineering study, the selectmen should have their lawyer work through the "entanglement" of the legal issues so everyone is clear on what party is responsible for what, he said.
"I'm not even sure what the town is responsible for, and I don't think you guys know," French said.
Selectman Stuart Smith said Wiscasset is under the impression that Edgecomb owns the sewer line.
There is also a bill of sale of the pipe from the developer to the town of Edgecomb, William Dale said.
Selectman Chair Jack Sarmanian agreed with French that the town needs legal clarification on the sewer. "I think that's a very important process," Sarmanian said.
Sarmanian suggested a moratorium on sewer hook-ups may be a good goal to allow the town to address its legal issues before moving forward.
French said a moratorium could be an issue since the selectmen only have one application before them, but Dale countered that the town has been discussing how to allocate its capacity for a year or more.
"Absent a town meeting to come up with a policy on allocation, you may be stuck with first-come first-served," Dale said.
Another wrinkle in the sewer and hotel discussions is a clause in an easement for Community Housing of Maine's sewer line across the property the hotel is proposed on, French said. The easement document includes language in which Edgecomb Development, the former owners of the property, reserve the right to tie into the sewer line, he said.
Speaking broadly, Barry Hathorne said the question should be how to get the town out of the sewer business entirely. Hathorne is the chairman of the Edgecomb Ordinance Review Committee and a member of the planning board.
"It's been a bad idea all along and it's a bad idea today," Hathorne said.
Smith agreed with Hathorne. "I'd like to see the town out of the sewer business," he said.
Moving forward, the board will have Dale look into the legal issues and then decide what, if anything, will be done on the issue of the engineering study, Smith said.
Dale said he will try to bring his findings back to the selectmen at their meeting on Sept. 23.
"It's important for us to have a total legal perspective on this," Sarmanian said. The town needs to know just what it has, he said.
"We've been talking about this for literally years," Sarmanian said.
The next meeting of the Edgecomb Board of Selectmen is scheduled for Monday, August 12 at 6 p.m. at the Edgecomb Town Hall.