ELIZABETHTOWN - Residents here have voted down a plan to establish a sewage treatment system, but a viable alternative may be on the horizon.
A Jan. 25 referendum on the proposed Sewer District no. 1 was rejected by a vote of 78-44, turning down a plan that had been unanimously approved by the Town Board.
The turnout represented roughly half the number of eligible voters - those who own land in the proposed district. About a dozen absentee ballots sent out had yet to be counted Jan. 26.
Many residents, including several members of the town's planning board, expressed public opposition to the project prior to the vote, raising concerns about its cost and environmental impact.
Elizabethtown Supervisor Noel Merrihew said, after having spoken with engineers and state agencies about possible alternatives, he intends to solicit an exit survey of voters to find out their reasons for rejecting the plan.
"Was it specifically the plant siting, or was it generally the economic burden?" Merrihew said, noting his belief that a "mobilized faction" opposed the project mainly because of the plan to build a sewage treatment plant on Woodruff Lane.
Meanwhile, Merrihew said, the board will consider whether to revisit previously considered sites for the proposed sewage plant.
"I think they all would like to take a step back, regroup, and see what everybody's input is going to be," said Merrihew, adding that it would be foolish to go forward without the support of residents for an alternative site.
"Everything is time sensitive right now," said Merrihew, noting state and federal funding for the project is in danger of disappearing if no acceptable alternative is found.
Much of the project, which was estimated at $9.5 million, was to be defrayed by grants from U.S. Department of Agriculture and the state-run Environmental Facilities Corporation.
Most recently, the town was awarded a $2.5 million grant for the project to come from federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds that, added to previous grants, would have covered 80 percent of the total cost.
"That will be reallocated unless we can display that we have a definitive plan of action with a definitive timeline," said Merrihew.
However, that latest funding may allow a previously rejected plan for a sewage plant site to become reality.
Property on the town-owned Cobble Hill Golf Course was among at least six parcels that had been considered as potential sites. It was considered for an environmentally-friendly treatment plant that would not discharge effluent into a waterway, but instead utilize an expansive underground leach field system to dispose of waste.
Last spring, the town applied for a Green Innovation Grant through EFC that would have paid 25 percent of the cost of the plant and put the project within the target cost to taxpayers, but a stipulation in the grant prevented it from being used on a municipally-owned golf course and the plan was abandoned.
When the $2.5 million ARRA grant was announced Dec. 1, the wheels had already been put in motion to vote on the project with Woodruff Lane as the site of the plant.
"Now that that has gone down and the $2.5 million is unencumbered, we now could pursue the possibility of the golf course," Merrihew said.
And Merrihew is hopeful that those who have been opposed to the sewer project - or at least the idea of a treatment plant on Woodruff Lane - might now welcome the alternative site with open arms.