WILLSBORO — A major step for the Town of Willsboro's water system is in the works.
Since 1996, when the town had a water-system improvement plan done, projects to tackle weaknesses in the system have been done each year.
"We knew we had a lot of deficiencies in our water system, and we had a firm do an analysis of inadequacies in a phased format," Town Supervisor Teresa Sayward said.
"We pulled it apart and prioritized what was most critical and the cost of each (project)."
Willsboro has been upgrading its water system in phases because of the complete project's prohibitive cost, estimated at $2.78 million.
"Our local forces, especially Water Superintendent Gilbert Belzile, have been pecking away at this," Sayward said.
Grant wasn't big enough
"When the great and glorious Bond Act money became available, we made an application for funds because we already had plans done," Sayward said.
The town was approved for funding in the first round, in February. It was eligible for a $2.1 million low-interest loan and $600,000 as grant money.
"(The Town Board) didn't say anything because we felt it was unaffordable for residents in the Willsboro Water District," Sayward said.
A bond payment of about $106,000 a year would skyrocket taxpayer's bills, she said.
"Many folks in the Water District also live in the Sewer District. They pay about $300 in sewer alone, plus taxes and water. There's no way the Town Board would put our residents in that kind of situation.
"Lo and behold, the Department of Health, which is administering these funds for the Bond Act, is finding most small communities can't afford these projects," Sayward said.
So the idea was temporarily shelved.
Improvements, though, were still happening.
The town conducted a successful leak-detection survey, completed a stretch of water pipe on Sabousin Drive and changed to the water system to make the Water District completely compliant with the federal Surface Water Treatment Act.
More to come?
A Health Department representative recently approached Sayward, asking her what the town would like to see done.
Phase B of the water-system improvement plan was at the top of the list. It includes construction of a 300,000-gallon tank and the new water main that would be required to go out to it, with about 9,600 feet of 10-inch water main and water meters for all 1,100 residential users.
About $220,000 would cover water meters and their installation; $250,000 for the steel tank; and $336,000 for a new water main, including construction.
The total cost, about $1 million, would be included in a 20-year low-interest loan from the Bond Act money.
Sayward said the difference between the original and recent fund offers is the amount of money.
"We just couldn't afford to do that large of a project. We're hoping we can scale it down.
"But we absolutely have to have a new water tank," Sayward said. "The one we have now was built in 1942. It has to be filled four times a day, and we have to look at constructing a new one."
The town anticipates a reply from the Health Department in January.
"If we're able to use the Bond Act money, we could take care of that part of the project, Sayward said.
The Water District will have no debt by 2001.
"If my calculations are correct, the bond payment we would have on this new project would be very close to what we will have paid off in the district ($40,000 a year)," Sayward said.
Should this project get the OK, Willsboro would be left with a small section of above-ground water in the community that can only be supplied in the summer. The town is hoping to construct underground lines.
Sayward said replacing part of the Willsboro Point two-inch water line with eight-inch pipe is part of the improvement plan.
"About $1 million more would bring the system to where it should be.
"It's kind of exciting, and we're guardedly optimistic."
Louise Spring is a reporter for the Press-Republican.