Grant could help fix sewage problem

MERRIMACK – Eight of 51 septic systems at the Camp Sargent Road Cooperative Park have failed in the last six months, creating a health and safety problem for the manufactured housing park deemed one of the few sites for affordable housing in Hillsborough County.

To remedy the problem, the town will seek a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant.

The Board of Selectmen voted last week to apply for the grant, administered through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The total project cost is $1.1 million, which includes sewer connections, drainage improvements, paving and administration of the grants. The rest of the money will come from the cooperative, including $475,000 from a refinancing package and $125,000 in resident equity.

The only cost to the town will be $25,000 from its annual road-paving budget to repave any town roads disturbed by the construction.

That money could be recovered from the grant, town officials said.

The cooperative park has been in existence for more than 30 years. The park has 97 households and about 50 septic systems, with every two homes sharing a leach field.

Due to a lack of general maintenance and care, conditions deteriorated at the park because of the failure of many of the on-site septic systems. The situation has created a public health and safety problem, with evidence of open sewerage on various occasions.

When a leach field fails, sewage backs into basements or collects in pools on the ground, Gerald Coogan, a planning consultant for the project, told the selectmen at their meeting on Dec. 4.

Failing septic systems in the area date to the mid-1970s, said Selectman Norm Carr, a former health officer for the town.

Sewage “constantly backs into homes, or finds a spot where it settles in the ground,” Carr said.

The households share leach fields, so the failure of one system can impact another, Coogan said.

Officials said septic systems usually have to be pumped out every two years, but at the development many systems have to be pumped one or more times a year.

Part of the reason for seeking the federal money is that the park provides housing to low- and moderate-income families, officials said.

“Through the cooperative’s bylaws, the manufactured housing park provides an affordable housing opportunity for low-to-moderate-income persons in an area of the state that needs affordable housing,” Town Manager Dean Shankle wrote in a letter to the block grant program manager.

“This project is a unique opportunity to address the housing needs in our town and to improve a manufactured housing park with serious infrastructure problems,” Shankle wrote.