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$6 million earmarked for water supply.

Byline: Debbie LaPlaca

CHARLTON -- A $6 million provision to aid Charlton in developing a permanent source for its municipal water system is included in the House version of the state environmental bond bill.

The $6 million amendment by state Rep. Peter J. Durant, R-Spencer, and Rep. Paul K. Frost, R-Auburn, was included in the bill adopted by the House last week.

"This is a difficult situation in that Charlton's water issues have been going on for decades. As Charlton's state representatives we took action to provide support in developing a long-term and sustainable solution for the community's water concerns,'' Mr. Durant said.

State Rep. Anne M. Gobi, D-Spencer, House chairman of the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Committee that recommended the bill for adoption, said she supported the amendment.

"Given the water contamination issues in Charlton, it is absolutely critical for them to get another supplier for clean water. Unfortunately, they cannot do that without some money,'' she said.

The bill is before the state Senate.

State Sen. Stephen M. Brewer, D-Barre, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said he supports the $6 million provision.

"Water has been the No. 1 problem that I have encountered in Charlton for the last 12 years. We've worked very hard to heal the terrible gasoline leak caused by Exxon,'' he said.

An ExxonMobil Corp. storage tank at the Massachusetts Turnpike 6 West service plaza leaked a large amount of gasoline in the early 1980s. The ensuing underground plume carried gasoline additive methyl tertiary-butyl ether, known as MTBE, into the water table.

The state Department of Environmental Protection ordered Exxon to install infrastructure to supply clean water to tainted properties.

Charlton began constructing its $4.6 million water system in 1999. The intended water source fell through, and town officials have been seeking another source since.

Negotiations with Southbridge that began in 2004 for 500,000 gallons of water per day led to a temporary agreement in 2009 for 100,000 gpd for about 120 properties with MTBE-tainted wells.

Talks continued toward an agreement for 500,000 gpd but stalled early this year when Southbridge officials said the 72 properties that have connected to date are using only a portion of the 100,000 gpd.

With too few properties drawing water through the lines, it stagnates. To keep the water moving, operators leave open a hydrant in a wasteful process known as blow off.

A municipal water need for the $73.8 million renovation underway at Bay Path Regional Vocational Technical High School in Charlton, and the discovery of MTBE in the school's drinking water, brought all parties, including state officials, to the table.

Exxon is paying to install a water line that would supply Bay Path as part of its mitigation plan for a second underground spill in 1986 at Route 20 and North Main Street. The MTBE plume from this spill has been traveling south and seems to have arrived at Bay Path.

Mark E. Baldi, of the DEP in Worcester, said Exxon wanted the 500,000 gpd agreement secured before installing the new line. Southbridge said water-quality issues had to be resolved before sending more water into Charlton. The stalemated matter was turned over to engineers.

"We're waiting for the engineers to tell us if the system will work,'' Town Administrator Robin L. Craver said.

The main issue, she said, is the low usage, and town officials are working to attract more water line abutters to connect.

"We are hoping the $6 million will come through to assist us. A portion of the money would be used to hire a consultant to review the many studies and help us determine what our options are,'' Ms. Craver said.

The $11 million Exxon project would run about six miles of water line off Main Street along Old Worcester Road, across Morton Station Road and up Old Muggett Hill Road to reconnect with Main Street. The loop would supply Heritage School, Charlton Middle School, Bay Path and residences.

Edmund J. Coletta, DEP spokesman, said ExxonMobil and Charlton officials are "tackling technical issues.''

"The main challenge in constructing this loop is maintaining a high-enough amount of water circulation to prevent stagnation. A lot of service connections are needed to the draw the water through,'' he said.

With no municipal water in sight, Bay Path officials recently made the $250,000 decision to install a 20,000-gallon water tank during renovation construction this summer. An added filtration system will remove the small traces of MTBE from the water.

For Mr. Durant and Mr. Frost, the neighboring town of Oxford was also considered when writing the $6 million amendment.

"It's possible that a regional system can be developed that would also serve Oxford because they don't have water on that side of town,'' Mr. Durant said.

Mr. Brewer noted the environmental bond bill is a five-year spending plan that will be executed at the future governor's discretion.
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Title Annotation:Local
Author:LaPlaca, Debbie
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jun 9, 2014
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