News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, October 3, 2013
No surprises at Stonington Water Company loan hearing

by Alice Wilkinson

In compliance with the law which states that a public hearing must be held before a utility applies for a loan, on Monday, September 30, the Stonington Water Company held a public hearing on a Rural Development Loan. The hearing was attended by seven people.

As the loan had been discussed at several previous Water Company meetings, the attendees, including the selectmen, had no questions about it.

The specifics of the $1.2 million needed were outlined by Water Company operator Annaleise Hafford, who said that taking out a loan is necessary to maintain the water company at the level it needs to be in order to provide enough safe water for the town.

The loan (which the town will have to borrow) is for $758,000, which will then allow the town to access $442, 000 in grant funds to reach the $1.2 million. Current interest rates for the loan are at 3.75 percent, but if the rates drop, the town will be eligible for a lower rate.

Part of the loan money will be used to refinance existing loans to stretch out the payment, and reduce immediate impact on the 297 water company users.

The money will be used for three main purposes: improvements to the wells, improvements to the pump house and improvements to the transmission and distribution system.

The immediacy of the need for work on the wells was brought home to any who needed convincing by one simple fact: in the summer the water tower drops a half-a-foot a day for two months. There are two wells that are not used, and it is suspected that others could produce more water were pumps upgraded and fitted with level controls, so the operators would be able to know what the level of the well is before it’s too late, and to know how hard each well could be pumped.

Water company customer Ray Dinsmore asked about the dropping levels in the summer, and was somewhat reassured by the response that dropping levels were due to usage, not undetected loss.

He also asked if Burntland Pond could be used as a regular source for water, and Hafford says that the rules for using surface water have changed and it’s cheaper to do what is being done.

Tony Bray asked about building another tower to store water for large demand, and Hafford replied that aside from the considerable cost, “you can’t hold water too long.”

Although the primary issues with water level occurs in the summer, once Labor Day comes, the standpipe ceases to drop and refills on its own. There is still concern, say officials about what would happen if there were a major fire downtown and the power went out. Although the water comes from the tower through gravity feed, the water gets into the tower through pumping.

The purchase and installation of a portable generator is one of the items on the list of things to do to improve the reliability of the wells. Right now, there are only two wells usable in winter, because the other available wells are connected to above-ground lines that have to be operated continuously to prevent freezing.

Brochures outlining the projects in more detail are available at the town office.

After the end of the hearing, the water company held its monthly meeting.

Hafford presented the new rate review, and a draft of a notice for a public hearing on those rates, tentatively set for November 4.