MEREDITH — Town Manager Phil Warren told the Board of Selectmen this week that he remains concerned about the aged condition and unclear ownership of sewer lines that run beneath the Route 3/Route 25 corridor, which he believes belong to the Winnipesaukee River Basin Program (WRBP) and not the town of Meredith.
The WRBP is the state-owned sewer system serving 10 municipalities in the Lakes Region — Belmont, Center Harbor, Franklin, Gilford, Laconia, Meredith, Moultonborough, Northfield, Sanbornton and Tilton. Begun in the 1970s and completed in 1993, when Gunstock Mountain Resort was connected to the system, it consists of 14 wastewater pumping stations, and over 60 miles of sewer lines. The total cost was over $75 million, with about 75 percent provided by federal grants, 20 percent by state grants and 5 percent by local funds. Operating costs and debt service are now shared by the 10 member municipalities.
Ownership of the infrastructure is a significant issue, Warren explained, because the cost of maintaining and improving what belongs to the WRBP is shared among the 10 member municipalities while each municipality is responsible for its own collection system that flows into the WRBP.
Warren explained that one sewer main begins in Moultonborough, follows Rte. 25 through Center Harbor to its intersection with Rte. 3 in the center of Meredith, where he said there is a "cluster of valves" underneath the traffic island. A second line runs from the town pump station beyond the Aubuchon Hardware store to the 3/25 intersection. Two other lines track Rte. 3 southward to Bay Shore Drive, where they connect to an interceptor that carries sewage to Laconia and from there to the treatment plant operated by the WRBP in Franklin.
Warren said that these sewer lines were all constructed as part of the WRBP in the 1970s, but their ownership has never been clearly delineated. He believes that the lines and valves are the property of the WRBP.
Warren said that there has been "zero maintenance" on the infrastructure. "The only maintenance has been done when it fails," he said, recalling a half-dozen repairs to the line along Rte. 25, In particular, he claimed that the valves beneath the 3/25 intersection "were never maintained or exercised and are now all stuck and can't move." When the sewer line failed near the town docks on Meredith Bay several years ago, Warren said that the town managed the repairs. Although the town was ultimately reimbursed, he said that "it was not a clear-cut deal."
Warren said that because the infrastructure lies below the most heavily traveled corridor in the Lakes Region, the prospect of a failure is daunting and the cost of a repair significant. He said that that the mains should be inspected, cleaned and lined in order to forestall a failure than would require excavating the roadway.
In 2012, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES), of which the WRBP is a part, entered a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the member municipalities that addressed a wide range of issues bearing on the governance and operation of the WRBP. DES undertook to complete an "ownership inventory study" to determine which "properties, facilities or components" are owned by the state and which have "indeterminate ownership".
The MOU stipulated that DES was to complete the ownership inventory by December, 2012. An update issued in October, 2014 reported that infrastructure of indeterminate ownership in each of the member municipalities had been identified, but indicated that ownership issues would be resolved n light of the Maintenance, Operations and Management Study with assistance from the Attorney General.