Lincoln County Sewer Districts

Community septic systems a strategy for economic development

Tue, 11/20/2012 - 10:45am

    The cost and maintenance of the public's septic issues has been a setback to development among some towns, but renewed interest in village dwelling has prompted studies into alternative methods. 

    Lincoln County Planner Bob Faunce explained the benefits of community septic systems for a small audience at the Lincoln County Communications Center earlier this month. Future development utilizing such systems could not only cut costs for towns, but could also attract new business, he said.

    Public sewer systems currently in Lincoln County towns (Waldoboro, Newcastle, Damariscotta, Boothbay, Boothbay Harbor, Wiscasset and part of Edgecomb) are not extensive, Faunce said, and any extension beyond these systems to accommodate new development increases costs to rate payers. 

    Also, many coastal villages that have antiquated septic systems in place run the risk of impacting nearby wells and of failure, which affects the health of shoreline marine life.

    Towns lacking the population density to merit public sewer face the question of how to manage future development. Town officials may show interest in shared systems as more houses are built along country roads. 

    Complications with placement, soil condition and lot configuration could cause future developers and new land owners to consider shared septic systems as population increases, and as communities seek to prevent shoreline pollution. Smaller lot sizes associated with such systems could also cut back on infrastructure costs.

    There are various community septic system designs, which Faunce shared with his audience. They pipe effluence from homes to individual septic tanks that are connected to a common, off-site leach field. There are also systems that share a common septic tank and leach field. 

    In either scenario, these common systems can be placed under public parks, sports fields, fields used for agricultural purposes or general open space areas for the public. 

    Depending on size and flow, a system could be designed by a site evaluator, Faunce said. Systems that handle more than 20,000 gallons per day would need to be designed by an engineer and would likely need to have pretreatment systems in place. 

    Small village areas could accommodate clustered septic systems, since they work well with smaller lots equivalent to those in areas connected to public sewer. According to his statistics, a clustered system that accommodates 14 homes would require lot sizes to be between 0.6 and 1 acre each. A system that handles enough waste water for 37 homes (that's about 10,000 gallons per day) would require lot sizes to be between 1.2 and 2 acres each.

    Faunce gave as an example a case study done on the town of Brownville's septic system woes: the lots in their village area were too small to accommodate updated private septic systems and public sewer proved to be too expensive.

    Starting in 1989, the town acquired a loan from the state's Clean Water Act Revolving Fund to install a number of community septic systems. Easements allowed the town's water and sewer department to service the septic tanks and a common leach field was constructed. 

    According to Faunce, the town installed one community septic system that served 60 properties and 11 community septic systems that served between five and 15 properties each. Property owners each pay $31 per month to manage their systems and to pay off the debt.

    He then pointed to the town of Milbridge that was facing a serious problem with its small wastewater treatment plant discharging into Narraguagus Bay. The Environmental Protection Agency forced the town to come up with a plan, since the discharge exceeded the limits in federal water quality standards under the Clean Water Act. 

    Treatment plants measure discharge for total suspended solids and the “biological oxygen demand,” which can negatively impact coastal marine life. 

    According to the information, the system was greatly impacted by two restaurants and a nursing home, in addition to many private homes and small businesses. 

    To solve the problem, the town was able to acquire $500,000 from a Community Development Block Grant and a $125,000 loan from the state's Clean Water Act Revolving Fund. They installed pretreatment equipment at each of the restaurants and nursing home, which significantly reduced the amount of organic material entering into the system. 

    According to the case study, the prescreening of effluent had a diluting effect on the rest of the system that improved end testing results at the treatment plant.

    Larger community septic systems might need some sort of pretreatment equipment installed to offset loads on the overall system. Faunce points to garbage disposals as one significant cause for system failure. The bulk of organic material overloads the system and unfiltered wastes can seep into the ground, affecting groundwater quality. Larger community septic systems need an organization, public or private, to manage its operations.

    The systems can then, “do all of the things people should and forget to do,” Faunce said, such as monitoring and maintenance.

    In the past 10 to 15 years there has been a real interest among folks to live in small towns and villages, Faunce said. If put into place early, such systems would allow for greater returns on property values, as well as attract businesses that could see the benefit of potentially reduced costs.

    For more information about this topic, visit (GROWashington-Aroostook), a collaborative project from the Northern Maine Development Commission, the Sunrise County Economic Council and the Washington County Council of Governments.