Handling business

Municipal officials during Tuesday night’s special town meeting in North Walpole at St. Peter’s Church.

NORTH WALPOLE — At a specially convened town meeting Tuesday night, village voters authorized up to $700,000 in loans for a water-treatment project.

About two dozen people gathered at St. Peter’s on Church Street for action on the article, which passed by unanimous voice vote.

The chemical 1,4-dioxane has been found in part of the North Walpole Village District’s water system, and the borrowed funds would go toward a new filtration system.

“It is drinkable, but we want to make it safer,” Walpole Selectman Cheryl Mayberry, a North Walpole resident involved in the water project, said after the meeting.

Last year, the N.H. Department of Environmental Services revised its ambient groundwater standard for dioxane down from 3 micrograms per liter to 0.32 micrograms per liter.

Recent tests for the affected part of North Walpole’s water system have been below the old standard but above the new standard, and the environmental services department has notified the village of the violation, according to local officials.

Before the vote Tuesday, Mayberry told residents that the village might only need to borrow a smaller amount, possibly as low as $200,000, depending on whether a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture comes through. The article was drafted to authorize up to $700,000 so that village officials don’t have to return to voters once again in case a higher amount is needed, she said.

Mayberry also presented estimates of the article’s possible impact on customers’ water bills, ranging from about $34 per year for a 30-year, $200,000 loan to about $270 per year for a 10-year, $700,000 loan. A $700,000 loan paid back over 30 years would mean an increase of about $120 per year, according to the numbers, which officials said are not the final figures.

The water project could cost as much as $1.4 million total, with $700,000 covered by state grants, Mayberry said previously. The USDA grant, if awarded, could bring the village’s contribution down to $200,000.

North Walpole’s water system has two parts, and dioxane has been found only in the lower part, which serves a few hundred residents in the Church Street and Main Street areas, municipal officials have said.

“We believe that there’s contamination in an aquifer that runs under the Connecticut River, and that was drawn up through it into the wells,” Mayberry said Tuesday.

Dioxane has industrial applications, and is also present in some consumer goods, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The dioxane levels have dropped steadily in recent years, with occasional blips, like a temporary increase seen several months ago that has already receded, officials said.

Long-term exposure to low doses of dioxane — the equivalent of 3 micrograms per liter of water for humans — has been linked to liver cancer in animals, according to the Department of Environmental Services.

The lower part of the North Walpole system tested at around 1.2 micrograms per liter earlier this year, part of a temporary spike. A more recent test this spring showed a level of 0.58 micrograms per liter, according to Patrick Kiniry, chairman of the North Walpole Board of Commissioners.

Those levels would have been acceptable until Sept. 1, when the new state standard of 0.32 went into effect. Mayberry said the village waited until after the standard changed because officials wanted to avoid imposing a financial burden on North Walpole water users “to treat for something that wasn’t mandatorily required by the state.”

After Tuesday’s meeting, Mayberry said the village could hear about the USDA grant “any time.” The entire project — including testing that will inform a decision on what type of filtration system to install — is expected to take 18 to 24 months, she said.

Paul Cuno-Booth can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1409, or pbooth@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @PCunoBoothKS