Published in the October 15, 2015 edition
By BOB TUROSZ
NORTH READING – The town still plans to join the MWRA district for water supply by July 2019 and last week Town Meeting helped keep the plan on track.
The meeting voted unanimously to provide $200,000 in seed money for a “jump start” for preliminary design, engineering, surveying and additional cost estimates for the MWRA water connection project.
Selectman Michael Prisco gave a detailed explanation of the plans, which Selectmen and town officials have been working on for several years. A connection to the MWRA for water supply is necessary for the long term health, quality of life and growth of North Reading, Prisco explained.
North Reading does not produce enough of its own water to meet the town’s growing needs, Prisco explained. Currently, the town’s purchases two-thirds of its annual water consumption from Andover, (300 million gallons out of about 500 million gallons of annual use). North Reading production wells are old “and pretty much maxed out,” Prisco said. “The only way we can get to 500 million gallons is by placing water restrictions on each and every one of you and your homes and your businesses” every summer.
In the future, North Reading’s annual use is projected to reach 580 million gallons. But the town’s wells are “old and tired and it’s very expensive to pull water from the Ipswich River water basin and treat it,” and besides, the state has put a cap on the amount of water North Reading can draw from the basin because the Ipswich is one of the most stressed rivers in the country.
North Reading and Andover recently signed an extension of the water sales agreement between the two towns, but Andover has said it cannot supply North Reading with any more water than it does today, Prisco said. Meanwhile, North Reading is growing and needs to expand its commercial base and the lack of a dependable water supply is holding the town back.
The long term solution for the town, which has been under discussion for several years, would be for North Reading to join the MWRA for water supply “to support sustainable growth.”
If the town doesn’t join the MWRA, Prisco estimated it will need to spend about $21 million over the next three to 15 years to upgrade and improve the existing water infrastructure and connections but this will not support growth in the town’s commercial base because Andover cannot boost the amount of water it sells to North Reading and the town will continue to have water restrictions in the summer months.
A connection to the MWRA would cost an estimated $17 million in infrastructure and connection costs but North Reading will gain a reliable water source that will also relieve stress on the Ipswich River basin. “We will be able to have the 580 million gallons a year we need for our future and we will have that without restrictions.”
A reliable water supply will help support plans for development of the JT Berry property on Lowell Road and other tax-base enhancing projects, the Selectman said.
“Seventeen million dollars is a lot of money,” Prisco admitted, but he said the town is making a major effort to help reduce the size of that number through the governor’s office. The Town of Reading and the MWRA are making a major commitment to aid North Reading’s application and the Reading Town Manager Bob LeLacheur, Selectman Dan Ensminger and three MWRA officials were in attendance in support of North Reading’s project.
In addition, State Rep. Brad Jones Jr. and Sen. Bruce Tarr are very engaged in assisting the town’s efforts. Prisco said he is confident the overall cost to the town will be reduced.
A well maintained water infrastructure system is vital to the community’s long term environmental health and economic development, Prisco said. If the town had a prospective buyer ready to move in today and develop the JT Berry property, they would have to be told North Reading lacks the dependable water supply needed.
With the support of Reading and the MWRA, North Reading feels confident they can have everything in place by July 2019. The MWRA has the capacity to serve North Reading’s future needs and help it achieve economic growth and it will relieve the stress on the Ipswich River and improve the town’s water quality.
The MWRA connection would come to town through Reading and the two communities have been collaborating since 2014. The projected cost breaks down this way:
• $9.45 million for North Reading to do permitting, design and construction. This would be bonded over 20 years. This is where the state aid opportunities come in. Prisco said they’re pretty confident the town can obtain a low interest rate, perhaps even zero, from the state.
• $7.68 million “buy-in” to the MWRA that will be spread over 25 years with zero interest. This will be financed by the MWRA but repaid by the town and may be grant-eligible.
The plan is for North Reading to sign an agreement with Reading in the spring of 2016 and come back to Town Meeting next June to request funding for the project’s next phases.
The target date to tie in to the MWRA system remains July 2019, Prisco said and will solve the town’s water problem for future generations. “A long term water resource is good for the environment and the economic needs of the town,” he added.