FRENCHVILLE, Maine — State and local officials last week turned the final valve to complete a $3.5 million wastewater treatment project shared by two St. John Valley towns.

The project joins Frenchville and St. Agatha in a regional partnership with a single wastewater facility that eliminates discharges into the St. John River and Long Lake.

The two towns now use the existing site along Route 1 in Frenchville to serve 523 customers, and officials don’t foresee any changes to those customers’ bills in the immediate future.

“This is a bit unusual for towns to join up like this,” Nick Archer, regional director in the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s Presque Isle office, said Monday. “A large part of the project was DEP sitting down with the two towns to talk about obstacles and advantages for both towns.”

The upgraded facility went online last week, according to Archer, with a special “valve ceremony” attended by municipal, environmental and funding agencies.

“Through collaboration with state and federal partners, St. Agatha and Frenchville now have a state-of-the-art facility that better protects the environment and the public health of their residents,” Mick Kuhns, director of DEP’s Land and Water Bureau, said. “The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is proud to have provided technical and financial assistance so these two communities could combine their resources and ensure a more sustainable future.”

Archer, who helped spearhead the project, said the notion of the joint-municipality had been on his mind for years.

“We had missed an opportunity to do this years ago when St. Agatha did an upgrade on their facility,” he said. “When I heard the engineer’s proposal for the Frenchville upgrade I did not want to let it get by again.”

Several miles of pipe had to be installed to connect St. Agatha to the Frenchville facility, which was done over the past year.

“This gets all the waste away from [Long Lake] and all headed into Frenchville with a combined system, and everyone benefits,” Archer said.

After the wastewater is fully treated, it is discharged into the St. John River, he said.

Funding for the project came from three separate agencies with DEP awarding the towns $1.9 million through its Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund with principal forgiveness; $1.1 million from USDA Rural Development; and $500,000 from a Maine Economic and Community Development community development block grant.

“I’m pleased USDA rural development could provide $1.1 million to help fund this essential wastewater project [and] bring together two towns under one more efficient system,” Virginia Manuel, USDA rural development state director, said. “This project is about the teamwork of Frenchville and St. Agatha.”

While the combined treatment facility may be a new notion for the towns, it is certainly not the first time the two municipalities have joined forces.

“This is a good partnership between the towns,” Christy Sirois, St. Agatha town manager, said Monday. “We already collaborate on other projects and working together on this makes us that much stronger.”

Frenchville and St. Agatha currently have mutual fire response aid, prepare joint fuel bids and work together on various state and regional boards, Sirois said.

The old St. Agatha treatment facility will be demolished and a municipal green area will be created.

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.