In 2006, the town of Oakland, in southern Maine, was nearing a crisis in one of its lakes. The Oakland Wastewater Treatment Facility had been directing its effluent discharge into Hutchins Lake for years, but environmental concerns and relicensing issues were combining to create a serious dilemma. Facing the risk of losing the ability to discharge wastewater to Hutchins Lake, and unable to fund a new treatment plant, Oakland needed a creative alternative. Fortunately, Oakland was able to establish a partnership with a neighboring town in the form of an interlocal agreement that would be advantageous to both communities.
Hutchins Lake, an approximately 87-acre segment of the Messalonskee Stream, is impounded by the Rice Rips Dam in Oakland. According to state law, any inland, artificially created body of water more than 30 acres in size qualifies as a Great Pond, and is consequently subject to particular rules and regulations set by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). For a number of re-licensing cycles, the lake’s water quality had been a growing issue, so the town and DEP began to monitor environmental conditions closely. What they found was that the implications of the worsening water quality could be major.
Effluent discharges to Great Ponds are illegal, which was one of the most important issues facing the town. This alone was reason to consider alternatives, but was especially important at this particular juncture, with a relicense date for Oakland’s effluent discharge permit fast approaching. Additionally, the data collected on water quality showed that the lake was approaching non-attainment. Concerned about the problematic situation, the town of Oakland hired Woodard & Curran to evaluate alternatives for the WWTF’s effluent discharge.
Is a new treatment system the only choice?
The obvious option to build a new wastewater treatment facility, which would cost the town and its taxpayers millions of dollars it could not really afford. Luckily, there was another choice. After developing designs, collecting data, and estimating costs, the best option appeared to be regionalization—connecting to a neighboring town’s sewer system.
The town of Oakland’s goal was to find a long-term answer to the community’s needs that was both supported by the DEP and realistically affordable. Waterville, home to Colby College, is just 5 miles northeast of Oakland and seemed to be a promising partner in resolving the issues at Hutchins Lake. Connecting Oakland’s WWTF to the Waterville Sewage District and creating an interlocal agreement between the two towns would benefit both communities. Updates would be made to the Waterville sewer system, and Oakland would have the immediate benefit of a place to direct its effluent discharge and the future opportunity for increased District service to Hutchins Lake.
Collaborative contracts like this one are ordinarily used to allow towns or communities to purchase goods or resources in bulk at a discount or, as in the case of Oakland and Waterville, to share services. Interlocal agreements typically work best when the municipalities are close enough to maintain frequent contact and communicate with ease. With cooperation, successful partnerships can save taxpayers from both communities money, provide efficient and cost-effective public services, and allow for upgrades or maintenance that neither town could have afforded independently.
Working together to secure funding, solve multiple problems
Implementing this connection required a solid plan and a lot of cooperation from both parties. With the negotiation of the agreement itself, project meetings with regulatory and funding agencies, and applications for funding, carrying out the terms of the interlocal agreement was far from simple. However, the partnership and regional focus made this project a prime candidate for stimulus resources. Since the design for connecting Oakland’s facility to Waterville’s sewer system was less complex than designs for many of the alternatives, the town was able to meet urgent deadlines in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding application process. This successful application was crucial in the state’s decision to rank the project first on the DEP’s Intended Use Plan.
With the help of ARRA funding, both communities were able to afford the infrastructure changes necessary for the connection to work. A true win-win, Waterville received a new source of revenue and upgrades to its sewer system at a reduced cost, and Oakland was able to redirect wastewater discharge and protect its lake. The towns’ cooperation throughout the process was key to its success, and their partnership is a good case in point of what can be achieved when municipalities work together.