SEABROOK — Seabrook is weighing a request to extend the town's sewer system to allow its northern neighbor to boost commercial activity along Route 1.
Hampton Falls is seeking to hook into Seabrook's sewer system to help existing businesses and encourage more development along the roughly three miles of highway — the town's only commercial district.
Before considering moving on such as proposal, Seabrook selectmen said a detailed plan must go before voters. Most agreed that Hampton Falls has a lot of research to do before those details will be known.
This is the first time Seabrook has ever considered allowing anyone outside town limits to tie into its sewer system. Town officials have turned down requests from neighboring residents and businesses, as well as from the state of Massachusetts, which has for years wanted to connect its Interstate 95 visitor center in Salisbury to Seabrook's sewer lines.
While the answer in the past has always been "no," Seabrook selectmen offered Hampton Falls officials a "maybe" this week.
According to Hampton Falls Selectman Richard McDermott, the town's request includes expanding Seabrook's sewer system solely down the Route 1 corridor. The expansion would be done in three stages: first to Whittier Pond, then to the town center and finally to the border with Hampton. The request was initiated by Hampton Falls Planning Board, which asked that selectmen approach Seabrook with the idea.
Route 1 in Hampton Falls is surrounded by wetlands on both sides, making the placement and size of septic systems problematic and limiting the size and type of businesses that can be there, McDermott said.
McDermott said he has spent time speaking with every business on the road in Hampton Falls, and everyone indicated that the first thing they need to expand and reach their potential is a sewer connection.
Seabrook's sewer treatment plant has additional capacity. Selectman Bob Moore said that the plant currently runs at about 50 percent capacity and can accept more sewage. Even with the additional development planned in Seabrook, including an approved 500,000-square-foot shopping center, Moore believes the plant could process the additional effluent.
"I'm in favor of looking out for our neighbor, as long as you'll be paying the bill," Moore told McDermott.
Selectman Brendan Kelly agreed. But while Selectman Aboul Khan found the proposal interesting, he said the decision should rest with townspeople.
"It will have to go to voters," Khan said. "If the residents approve, I will support this."
The details of just how the system would be extended and how involved Seabrook would be are to be determined. Seabrook officials appeared to favor simply allowing Hampton Falls to hook into the system and take responsibility for all the construction and administrative work.
Seabrook Town Manager Barry Brenner said taxpayers spent more than $62 million initially to build the town's sewer system and treatment plant and have added to that capital investment over the years. He said a contract with Hampton Falls should probably include compensation for a portion of that up-front capital investment. Such conditions are often part of intermunicipal agreements of this nature, he said.
McDermott hoped that Seabrook would undertake the construction of the sewer expansion, adding that Seabrook has the expertise, while Hampton Falls doesn't have highway, sewer or water departments.
But Seabrook selectmen didn't see that as an option.
"I don't see Seabrook as a construction company to build another town's sewer system," Khan said.
Officials from both towns agreed that the proposal is in its infancy. But since Seabrook selectmen didn't turn down the idea outright, Hampton Falls officials intend to proceed with the research required before moving forward.
However, McDermott said that should the project proceed, Hampton Falls would be willing to offer Seabrook something it needed, as well, such as additional water from new Hampton Falls wells.
"We never envisioned doing this without giving Seabrook something in return," McDermott said. "So, everybody could have a good feeling about this."