GROTON -- After an "overwhelming" defeat at last week's Town Meeting, officials gathered at the Board of Selectmen's meeting of Oct. 22 to strategize on ways to regroup and represent the issue of bringing wastewater services to the Lost Lake neighborhoods.
"Just because this project was voted down doesn't mean it won't come back," noted board member Peter Cunningham. "It's critical. We have to do this."
Cunningham referred to an effort to construct a sewer system in the Lost Lake area that would have connected homes there with a line running down to the Four Corners and on into Ayer, where wastewater treatment could be had.
The project was deemed necessary when consultants hired by the town some years ago found that soil conditions and the large number of undersized lots around Lost Lake and Knops Pond threatened the lakes with pollution.
As a result, a Lost Lake Sewer Committee was established to do the groundwork in evaluating and designing a proposed system that the town eventually paid almost $1 million for over the years.
With all their I's dotted and T's crossed, the committee brought the question of appropriating the funds to build the new sewer system before Town Meeting last week where a strong showing by residents voted it down.
Shell-shocked, Lost Lake Sewer Committee chairman Carol Quinn resigned from her position as town officials met Oct. 22 to discuss what to do next.
"Where do we go from here?" asked BOS Chairman Stuart Schulman, who suggested that if the project were to be revisited, finding an additional source of revenue might help.
Money to pay for the $12.9 million project was seen as key in getting it eventually approved. Between betterment fees and hook-up fees, voters felt the system would simply cost them too much. That and doubts raised that the threat of pollution in the lakes was not the result of neighborhood septic systems but another source in streams that emptied into the lakes.
According to Town Manager Mark Haddad, all applications for funding and agreements with Ayer will remain in place for some time.
"I think we're in good shape there," said Haddad.
In the short run, Haddad wanted to know what the Board of Health intended to do about failing septic systems around Lost Lake as the weeks go on.
BOH representative Susan Horowitz told selectmen there were up to 13 properties in the area that are currently in failure and that had only been waivered pending an affirmative vote to bring wastewater services to the neighborhood. But with that possibility gone, they likely will have to be litigated.
In the meantime, said Horowitz, the board handles at least one or two new failures every time it met.
Voicing what many at the Oct. 22 meeting were thinking, Cunningham believed that eventually a sewer system would need to be constructed at Lost Lake, but it would likely be more expensive. For that reason, the whole Groton community would need to be convinced that it was in its interest to share the cost of its construction.
"At the end of the day, what it comes down to is finances," concluded Cunningham.
Schulman noted that it was "no contest" that the project was supported at least by most town officials but wondered what next steps should be.
Fellow board member Jack Petropoulos was certain that if an "air tight" argument could be made for a new sewer system, then the community at large would agree to help pay for it.
"I think we have to move forward," said Petropoulos. "But I think this can be done."
Agreeing in principle, Selectman Joshua Degen suggested that streams leading into Lost Lake should be monitored for the phosphorous that was purportedly polluting the lakes to make sure that argument for a new sewer system held.
Agreeing not to let the issue drop, board members decided to form a new Lost Lake Sewer Committee and called for volunteers to staff it.
In the meantime, Haddad was authorized to meet with selectmen and the state's Department of Environmental Protection to find out where it stood on applications and enforcement of Title 5 regulations around Lost Lake.