Lunenburg Boards Open Spigot on Draft Water Pact
By Mina Corpuz
LUNENBURG -- The Water Board of Commissioners and Board of Selectmen met Wednesday to review a draft intermunicipal agreement that would allow the Water District to sell water to Lancaster.
Selling some of the district’s excess water would help it generate income for capital improvements, which would help prevent rate hikes for customers, said Commissioner Mark Bursch.
“If we don’t sell water to Lancaster, voters will have to pay for the capital improvement plan,” he said.
The agreement, which was drafted by Lancaster, is a starting point that will be worked on in future meetings between the commissioners and Lancaster’s Board of Selectmen.
Lancaster is asking for about 185,000 gallons of water per day, which would translate into about $350,000 for the Water District per year, Superintendent Fran McNamara said.
Lancaster wants water service in the northern part of town to support economic development in the areas around Route 70 and for extending fire hydrant water lines.
McNamara said the town’s goal is to pursue a grant next summer and start work in 2020.
Under the agreement, Lancaster would pay for all the construction of water lines to connect to the district’s system.
The goal is to have Lancaster water customers pay the same rate that Lunenburg residents pay with an additional maintenance cost, McNamara said. Lunenburg rates already include those costs, he said.
Board of Selectmen Vice Chair Bob Ebersole said the rate should be just right to make sure the Water District can get what it needs and that the rates aren’t too high to scare Lancaster away.
“You need to make sure you get a certain amount back to cover capital planning,” he said.
In addition to working out details like rates and responsibilities, the Water District needs to know if it will be allowed to pump additional water from its wells to sell to Lancaster, said Board of Selectmen Chair Jamie Toale.
The district would also need to get a new withdrawal permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection. Its current permit is to pump 540,000 gallons a day and covers current water service in Lunenburg, McNamara said.
He said the district has applied for a new permit to pump an additional 185,000 gallons a day to serve Lancaster.
The Water Board is looking for selectmen to support the intermunicipal agreement. They are open to the concept of an agreement, but can’t support it until more work is done.
“The agreement as is now is pro-Lancaster,” Ebersole said.
As a separate municipal entity in Lunenburg, the Water District technically doesn’t need approval from selectmen to sign the agreement, but it wants to work with the town to make sure everyone is on the same page.
Selectman Phyllis Luck said part of gaining her support would be getting support from the public. She said there should be opportunities for voters from the district to learn about the agreement.
Luck invited the commissioners to come speak at a televised selectmen meeting, which the Water Board said it would be interested in doing once the agreement is ironed out.
During conversation about the agreement, the commissioners said they are still in favor of a Water District expansion because it would be more of a long-term solution and give it more control over water sources found outside of the district.
The Water District tried in 2015 to expand into North Lancaster, but voters didn’t support the effort. They wanted to make sure the district had its current and future needs met and to put Lunenburg first.
If the district and town find a water source in Lancaster in the future, they would need to come to an agreement of who would have ownership of it and how the two would sell water to each other.
Follow Mina on Twitter @mlcorpuz.