March 13, 2010

Long Creek runoff plan a good approach

— Conservation Law Foundation attorney Steve Hinchman has it right: If a single factory were dumping as much pollution into Long Creek as the properties in the Maine Mall area actually do collectively, the U.S. Marshals would have already served papers and shut it down.

But unlike a factory's effluent, the untreated storm water that is harming the creek, Clarks Pond, the Fore River and Casco Bay is not coming from a single pipe. It will require a complex solution that will demand participation from all levels of government working with property owners.

Such a solution is currently under way, and it promises to result in big improvements for the entire watershed.

The key to the project's success will be as many as 110 property owners who are now on notice from the federal Environmental Protection Agency to reduce the polluted runoff that starts from roofs, roads and parking lots and ends up in Long Creek.

An all-voluntary effort had been under discussion for some time, but Hinchman's group filed a lawsuit pressuring the EPA to take action. That should get greater participation and make the cleanup more effective.

The project is not expected to be completed overnight. It will be introduced in phases over a 10-year period, giving property owners a chance to see what works best.

The first phases will be the easiest and least costly approaches, such as planting trees, sweeping parking lots and covering salt and sand piles.

Later interventions would likely be more expensive, such as building retention ponds to catch the runoff before it hits the stream.

Like any environmental cleanup, there will be substantial costs associated with this project, which is estimated to cost $2.5 million. But there may be grant funding, or money in the federal stimulus program, to cover some costs.

That would take some of the pressure off the property owners, who are feeling the pressure of this economic downturn.

If it's successful, however, the cleanup could restore Long Creek to what it once was -- a place where people could take a swim or catch a fish.

That would add value to the land in the Maine Mall area, as well as restore the watershed.

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