POTSDAM — Property owners in the town have voted in favor of a $10.3 million project to establish water and sewer districts on the Sissonville Road corridor off Route 56 following a referendum Tuesday, giving the area long-sought potential for new development.

According to preliminary vote tallies provided by Town Clerk Cindy Goliber, 18 eligible voters cast ballots in favor of the district while eight voted against it. Ms. Goliber said three ballots were cast as affidavits and still need to be processed. The 26 to 29 votes cast represent about one third of the total eligible property owners who could’ve voted in the referendum, according to Ms. Goliber’s estimate.

Since it’s not possible the affidavit ballots will change the outcome of the vote, the town can now begin what could amount to three years of legal work and construction on the districts.

Once finished, the new water and sewer lines will allow dozens of property owners in the hamlet of Unionville and east to Route 56 to connect to those municipal services. It will also allow for more intensive types of development in that part of town, with commercial or even light industrial operations now able to connect to the municipal water and sewer lines. The area has potential, given that it’s outside the village, but still relatively close to the Market Street group of big box retailers like Lowe’s and Price Chopper.

The project does not come without a price tag that will need to be picked up, to a degree, by property owners in the area. Last year, the town secured $5.5 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, but as of Tuesday, the rest will have to be picked up by property owners, even if they don’t choose to connect to the system.

C2AE, the engineering firm working on the project, projected the annual cost for a one-family residential home would be $457 for the water district and $810 for the sewer district for 38 years, until the remaining construction costs are settled. There is no cost to connect to the water and sewer lines during construction, but any later connections will have to be done at the property owner’s expense.

Any homeowner that doesn’t connect will still have to pay $291 per year for water and $625 for sewer.

There still may be potential opportunities for lowering the cost on homeowners further. Town officials and those involved with the project did not discuss the potential options during the formal referendum process.

Still on the table is a grant application to the U.S. Economic Development Agency that would cover up to $3 million of the project, thus likely cutting the cost per home in half.

The agency has been back and forth on the possibility of awarding the grant, due to a convoluted legal statute that has yet to be clarified. In June of last year, the EDA told the project engineers from C2AE that it was still possible the grant could be awarded, but there has yet to be an update on that feasibility.

The second potential relief for property owners is any larger scale commercial development that would occur in the district within the near future. Since a large industrial operation would account for more water usage, it would in turn lower other property owners’ costs.

One very likely possibility is that LC Drives, the innovative motor company currently operating out of Damon Hall in the village, will move forward with plans to build a facility in the district. Plans are already on-hand at the town planning office for the 127,000-square-foot facility, which could use up to 27 residential homes’ worth of water, thus sharing that much more of the cost burden.

The town cannot wait for too long to move forward with the project. The USDA Rural Development grant expires four years after being awarded, meaning the town must break ground soon, though that timetable isn’t yet set.

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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