Meredith still sees itself as odd town out as regional sewer system improvements delayed

MEREDITH — "Where's the good news?" asked Selectman Peter Brothers after Dan Leonard, superintendent of the Water and Sewer Department who represents the town on the Advisory Board of the Winnipesaukee River Basin (sewer) Program (WRBP) reported that the new ultra-violet disinfection system was behind schedule and the flow metering program was over budget.
The WRBP, which is part of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES), is a state-owned sewer system serving Laconia, Belmont, Center Harbor, Franklin, Gilford, Meredith, Moultonborough, Northfield, Sanbornton, and Tilton. Its nearly 60 miles of sewer mains, 12 major pump stations and wastewater treatment plant at Franklin handle 6.2-million gallons of sewage per day. Each of the member municipalities is represented on an Advisory Board that reviews the agency's proposed budget, but has no authority to amend it. State statute prescribes that DES proposes and the Legislature approves the WRBP's operating and capital budgets, which are funded by the local sewer rates of the 10 municipalities.
Since 2010, Leonard, with support from Town Manager Phil Warren has questioned the priorities of the WRBP's capital improvement program, particularly the decision to invest in the ultra-violet disinfection system.
Yesterday Leonard told the board that $6.5-million project, which was scheduled to be substantially complete in January and finally complete in May, has missed both dates. He said that the contractor has left the site and the New Hampshire Attorney General is seeking to mediate the dispute between the contractor and DES. Moreover, Leonard reported that on at least one and perhaps two occasions when treated wastewater was tested, the system failed to perform to required standards.
The flow metering program, Leonard said, is also behind schedule and over budget. Leonard and Warren pressed for the program, which will measure the flow of each of the member municipalities to provide a sound basis for allocating the operating and capital costs among them. They have insisted that before investing in the treatment plant, the collection system, consisting of the municipal sewers, should be assessed and improved, chiefly by minimizing "inflow and infiltration" (I & I) from groundwater and stormwater reaching the sanitary sewer network through aged pipes. The flow metering program would indicate where improvements are needed.
Leonard said that costs of constructing the system, primarily installing meters in manholes, is estimated at $495,000 but the cost of engineering the system is estimated at $559,000. He said that typically engineering costs are a fraction of construction costs. He said that the design was altered to incorporate sophisticated technology that will produce real-time data. "We need historical data," Leonard said.
"This sounds like a project going nowhere," said selectman Herb Vadney, "because someone is afraid of the answers."
"What can we do as a board to convey our concerns?" asked Brothers.
"It falls on deaf ears," said Warren. "Rarely are the other members of the Advisory Board in agreement with our position." He said that a "Maintenance, Operations, Management Study," conducted by a third party, was also underway and could have an impact.
Selectman Lou Kahn suggested that if the town could not get the ear of Commissioner Tom Burack of DES, "someone should try speaking to the governor."