BLUE HILL, Maine – Voters approved a $1.9 million plan to extend the town’s sewer lines.

The small group of residents favored all three options for extending the lines by a vote of 29-7 during a special town meeting Tuesday.

The project will extend the lines up West Main Street from the Congregational church to the Tradewinds Market at the intersection with South Street out South Street to the high point of land near the Barncastle restaurant and out Mines Road to the high point of land near Marlintini’ s restaurant.

The plan is to extend the lines as far as possible, relying on gravity to provide the flow to the treatment plant.

Bill Olver, engineer for the town’ s treatment plant, explained that the idea of extending the sewer lines out South Street has been considered since 1972 when the treatment plant was built.

“That part of town has always been seen as an area for growth,” he said.

The town balked at the high cost of extending the lines in 1972 and several other times when the project had been proposed. The area has poor soils and high groundwater tables, Olver said, and a number of septic systems have failed, with some sewage making its way to the surface.

The concern, he said, is that eventually raw sewage from failed systems could flow downhill and contaminate private wells in the area. The town does not have a municipal water supply, and all water for homes, businesses and institutions, including the schools and hospital, rely on wells for their water supply.

The project did not include extending the sewer lines along Beechland Road because the lots in that area are larger, and the homes and septic systems are newer. There have not been reports of failed systems along that road, Olver said.

In response to questions, Olver said the new lines will be run in the right of way on the respective roads and the town will not have to take any property for the project.

Residents posed questions about the costs of the project and who would pay. One resident asked if it was possible for the owners of properties with failing septic systems to tie into the treatment plant on their own.

Selectman John Bannister explained that the taxpayers will pay for the cost of the project. Questioned about why all the taxpayers were paying for a project that would benefit relatively few taxpayers, he said the project was like any other infrastructure project, including schools.

Bannister added that those using the system will continue to pay for the operation of the plant. The project could bring as many as 130 new users onto the system, which would increase revenues from the plant by an estimated $25,000.

Those new customers will incur some costs, Olver explained. The project will bring the new line to the end of the right of way, and property owners will be responsible for the cost of connecting the line to their buildings. Some owners whose property sits below the grade level may have to install a pump in order to reach the sewer lines. Olver said the cost cold be as high as $10,000, which he said would be less than the cost of installing a new septic system.

The selectmen indicated that they intend to provide a grace period for residents along the new lines before imposing a “willingness to serve” charge, which would impose a user fee on residents whether they connected to the line or not.

Selectman Jim Schatz said they had not yet determined how long that grace period would be.

If the full amount of the project cost is borrowed through a 30-year, low-interest loan from the state Department of Environmental Protection, the annual payments for the project would be $91,250 a year. The selectmen are looking into potential grant funds for the project, which would lower the amount the town would need to borrow.

The project will likely go out to bid early next year, Olver said, and construction would start as early as possible in the spring and be completed by fall 2009.