The Conservation Law Foundation is asking the Environmental Protection Agency to force businesses in the Maine Mall area to clean up Long Creek.

If the EPA complies, it would be an unprecedented mandate in Maine. Never before has the federal agency required businesses to retrofit storm water filtration systems to clean up a watershed.

While the move might seem like a heavy0handed tactic to some, it might be the only way to clean up one of the most polluted watersheds in the state.

Cleaning up the creek is not going to be easy, because it’s afflicted with one of the most difficult types of pollution to stop – runoff. There is no factory dumping pollutants into the creek. It’s surrounded by parking lots, retail stores, restaurants, car dealerships and drive-throughs. Pollutants, including oil, grease, silt and various metals, collect on all of these surfaces and wash into the creek’s watershed. Because the sources of the pollution are so diffuse, stopping them isn’t easy.

It requires filtering all the storm water that runs into the creek. Although new buildings and businesses in the watershed are already required to filter storm water, many existing buildings have no storm water management system at all. Getting all of those businesses to spend the money necessary to install systems is a huge undertaking.

Officials from communities in the watershed – South Portland, Portland, Scarborough and Westbrook – had been working with some of the big businesses in the watershed, such as the Maine Mall, Fairchild Semiconductor, National Semiconductor and Unum, on a voluntary cleanup plan. However, according to Steve Hinchman, a staff attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation, some businesses are resisting the effort.

That’s not surprising. With high energy costs and a poor economy, many businesses are strapped as it is, and some probably just don’t care about cleaning up a creek most people have never seen, despite repeated trips to the mall.

However, cleaning up the creek needs to be a priority. The creek itself might not seem important, but it drains into the Fore River and Casco Bay. Those businesses that have contributed to the pollution over the years bear as much responsibility as anyone for making sure the water quality improves.

While it would be nice to think all of these businesses would participate voluntarily, that’s not realistic. The businesses supporting the cleanup and those with the means to pay for the new systems will comply, but other businesses would likely hold out as long as they could. That’s why the EPA and Department of Environmental Protection need to step in and force the holdouts to participate.

The mandate should not place an undue burden on businesses by requiring them to install storm water systems immediately, but simply set a deadline and consequences for failing to meet it. That’s a fair price to pay for years of unchecked pollution. Without the mandate little progress would be made.

Brendan Moran, editor

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