GROTON -- Looking to expand the role of the Lost Lake Sewer Advisory Committee, members regrouped, brainstorming ideas with the aim of approaching the Board of Selectmen for a change in their mandate.
Originally established to study septic conditions at Lost Lake, the committee's recommendation to build a $12.9 million sewer system that would have connected the neighborhood with a treatment plant in Ayer was rejected by a 2012 Town Meeting.
One of the reasons for the rejection was due to uncertainty that the source of the contamination of the lakes was coming from neighborhood septic systems. Instead, residents insisted that a more thorough study of the area around the lakes be undertaken to make sure.
As a result, a reconstituted Lost Lake Sewer Committee was appointed and consultants hired to proceed with testing, which proved inconclusive.
Findings however, did indicate the existence of unexpected "emergent contaminants" at different points, including those near the Water Department's Whitney Well site.
Emergent contaminants is a new category of potential pollutants of ground water that is little understood in how it travels in the groundwater or how much of a threat to people its presence might be.
Comprised mostly of prescription medicines, testing at two sites on the lakes indicated the presence of five kinds of drugs, including tranquilizers, nicotine, insect repellent, pain relievers and medicines needed to control seizures.
Among the more traditional pollutants in the lakes such as nitrates and phosphates, initial results of the testing indicated relatively low concentrations of each.
The results of the testing left the Advisory Committee with little support for the installation of an expensive sewer system, particularly if that system could potentially address only part of the contamination problem.
"The testing raised more questions than it answered," said committee Chairman Jack Petropoulos at the committee's Jan. 23 meeting.
With the public's questions about the need for a sewer system unanswered, Petropoulos admitted that the committee lacked direction and asked members for ideas.
Fellow committee member Susan Horowitz suggested some, including asking selectmen to expand the group's mandate from simply researching the need for a sewer system to protecting the Lost Lake watershed in general; reviewing the town's bylaws with an eye to beefing them up to better protect the watershed; exploring ways to find financing to help Lost Lake residents improve failing septic systems; and identifying specific areas where contaminants are concentrated and try to find ways to correct the problem.
Committee member Jay Prager agreed that the focus of the committee should be on the watershed and not just the lake itself.
In addition, continued Prager, the committee should not limit itself to contamination originating with local homes, but should look at area runoff as well.
Prager also cautioned members that of all the solutions, construction of a sewer system to solve the problem would be the most expensive project that the town had ever undertaken.
As things stood, said Prager, the town has so far spent "chicken feathers" in terms of testing for contaminants in the Lost Lake neighborhood. Not enough to justify recommendation of a $12.9 million sewer system.
If the town was serious about such an expensive project, it should be willing to spend what it took to do a thorough and comprehensive analysis of the watershed.
Another concern raised by Horowitz was what interest if any the state had in seeing a sewer system constructed in the area. Could it force the town to install one?
In the end, committee members decided to draw up a report of their discussion listing reasons why it should remain active and for an expansion of its mission to include general protection of the Lost Lake watershed area.
When completed, the report would be submitted to the Board of Selectmen for review.