WESTBROOK — The Portland Water District was fined $130,000 last month for failing to meet deadlines for projects meant to resolve problems with Westbrook’s combined storm and wastewater collection system.

But the fine will be cut to $30,000 if the updates are completed by 2019, and the city of Westbrook has already reimbursed the water district.

“They have agreed to pay all fines related to their project and grant us indemnification moving forward,” said water district spokeswoman Michelle Clements.

The water district owns the Westbrook Regional Wastewater Treatment plant, which serves about 17,000 people, and the main sewage transmission lines. The city was responsible for the sewer system upgrades.

When the state Department of Environmental Protection issued a notice of violation last July, Westbrook had completed only one of the required projects. Seven others were overdue by 2 to 3 years and still have not been completed.

“In the end, they just did not put the effort into it that they needed to get it done on time,” said Brian Kavanah, director of the DEP’s division of water quality management. This is the first time since the early 1990s that the department has issued a penalty for a sewer overflow issue, he said.

“It just didn’t happen, that is why this is a penalty action. That is not acceptable,” he said.

The city was supposed to replace a stone sewer on Seavey Street and leaky sewers on Cloudman, Foster and Dunn streets, and separate sewers on Rochester and Haskell streets by 2012. Projects due in 2013 included replacing sewers on Spiers Street, Stevens Avenue and Union Street, and separating the Cole Street gully sewer and catch basins on Maple Street.

The new deadlines for the projects run through the end of 2019.

Financing problems delayed construction, said Westbrook City Administrator Jerre Bryant. “There was tremendous pressure to keep sewer rates low,” and not enough money to invest in infrastructure projects that will likely cost $10 million, he said.

Sewer user fees cover the cost of the sewer system. Two years ago, the city issued $5 million in bonds to fund some of the work and will likely need to issue more bonds to pay for the rest, he said.

Completing the sewer upgrades won’t bring the city into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act, Bryant said. It also needs to treat its stormwater, he said.

“Once communities invest literally millions into separating it, they are going to have to pay to treat it anyway,” he said. “Basically, the DEP is under pressure by the U.S. (Environmental Protection Agency), … to start issuing fines, and they did. You can fine us, but that just takes money away from the repairs you’re telling us we need to do.”

Five combined sewer overflows in Westbrook release a mixture of untreated sewage and stormwater into the Presumpscot River when the sewer system is overwhelmed by heavy rain or snowmelt.

Annual releases from Westbrook’s combined overflows in the last 10 years range from a high of 40.6 million gallons in 2006 to 4.4 million gallons last year.

Maine started to mitigate combined sewer outflows in 1989. Since 2012, total annual discharges from combined outflows statewide have been 425 to 715 million gallons, compared to 6.2 billion gallons in 1989.

In the same period, communities statewide spent $503.5 million on sewer overflow projects and the DEP expects it will cost more than $286 million more to complete them.

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire