NORTH READING — The hot button issue of the past two years – planning for a potential wastewater connection to the Greater Lawrence Sanitary District – was terminated by the town Monday.

By a 3-0 vote of the Select Board on May 20, Chairman Vincenzo Stuto and members Liane Gonzalez and Nick Masse voted to approve a motion to “terminate planning activities for a wastewater connection to the Greater Lawrence Sanitary District.”

Prior to the discussion and vote, Select Board members Steve O’Leary and Rich Wallner both recused themselves and sat in the audience because they both have family members who own property along the proposed route. They retained their right to speak as individual residents but did not speak during the board’s brief discussion.

“As everybody knows from the last meeting, we finally completed the study. To make a long story short, now that we have all the data, wastewater will not be the silver bullet to solve all the fiscal problems,” Stuto said. “The study did show that it paid for itself and made some progress…that was the big conclusion of it. However, it has been determined that it is not the most appropriate time to do it. A lot has changed. One is MassDOT and the way they were looking at it has changed. They have ‘kindly hinted’ that they don’t like what happens if they do it in conjunction with us and we get funding which has restrictions that they can bypass,” Stuto explained.

“But more importantly, we didn’t lock down a route because of changes in North Andover’s plans. There were a few things going on there that failed at (North Andover’s) Town Meeting for what they were trying to do by Merrimack (College). So when that is all taken together, plus the fact that we are not exactly voting to give back money on June 10, it is just not the appropriate time to take this up,” Stuto said.

Gonzalez said, “When this started we were being rushed, and we didn’t want to be rushed. But we were given a timeline that you have to be ready to go when we open this road up here…That made me uncomfortable to go so quickly into such a huge project. Then that twisted and turned and changed. And now we have an override and we have a fire station, and I think that at this point in time it is the right time to put a stop to this.”

“When I was running for this position I met a lot of people. I think the pulse of the town is exactly what we are doing right now,” Masse said. “I don’t think my opinion of this project is a secret, so I am glad that we are doing this. But I do want a clarification on ‘planning activities.’”

Town Administrator Michael Gilleberto explained that there are invoices that need to be paid for work that has been done up to this point and they will be asking the contractors to close out their books and submit their final bills, some of which will be paid from grants received and others from the town’s funds. Unspent funding in grants will likely be lost, however, unless another project meets the specific criteria.

“The DPW Director is working to assign work to grants as much as possible. There will be grant funding that will be lost,” Gilleberto said. “We will look to see where it could be allocated but I am not hopeful.”

After the vote, Stuto said, “I am happy we got past this. There is a lot we still have to do…if tomorrow you hear that something is not getting done in North Reading because of sewer, I am pleased that you can say that is now impossible. Starting tomorrow I might lose my mind if someone said the reason that the sky is falling is because of sewer because we no longer have that project on the agenda.”