November 21, 2012

Portland seeks to resolve EPA fines, sewer overflows

The city faces a penalty of as much as $177,500 as well as millions of dollars for improvements to its aging system of sanitary sewage pipes.

By Randy Billings
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

According to the Maine DEP, a mechanical failure on June 2, 2008, discharged about 27,000 gallons of raw sewage into a small brook next to the Castine Road pump station.

In a separate case, Bobinsky said, a pump failure at the Riverton pump station discharged sewage into Back Cove for several hours before crews discovered the problem. The city has since invested $700,000 in an electronic monitoring system, he said.

The pending settlement serves as a "big Post-it note" that the city needs to address issues with its sewer and stormwater system sooner rather than later, Payne said.

"We have to pay for infrastructure now or it is going to cost a lot more later," he said. "The combined sewer system was ignored for decades and the price now to fix the combined sewer system is huge."

The city is poised in 2014 to begin spending $170 million over the next 15 years to address its remaining combined sewer outfalls. The city has already invested $100 million on similar projects over the last decade.

Bobinsky said the city is spending $700,000 to study the needed upgrades in the sewer system and a plan to address those needs.

That report could result in another expensive capital program, but Payne said the upgrades are sorely needed.

In its press release, the city highlighted the hundreds of millions of dollars spent in trying to update its systems to meet increasingly strict environmental mandates.

Ratepayers are bearing the burden of funding all but $3 million of the $280 million in planned or finished combined sewer overflow work.

The city has spent $1.5 million to maintain its Municipal Separate Storm Water Systems permit by cleaning catch basins, sweeping streets and doing public education.

The city said that, this year, the EPA adopted new restrictions on the amount of impervious surfaces -- such as pavement, buildings and sidewalks -- allowed in coastal communities.

"It's unclear how the EPA will apply these new rules, yet it is expected that they will have a significant impact on Portland," the release says.

Rees said in an interview that Clean Water Act requirements fall under four "silos" -- combined sewer overflows, sanitary sewer overflows, stormwater, and treatment plants.

Rees said the EPA, which is concentrating on sanitary sewer overflows nationwide, suggested working toward an integrated approach. Such an approach would enable the city to prioritize the improvements that would make the greatest impact.

"This is not unique to Portland," Rees said. "This is a nationwide problem."


Staff Writer Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

Twitter: @randybillings

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