A portion of Thatcher Brook near I-95 in Biddeford is pictured on Sept. 14. The brook has been heavily polluted for years, and efforts to clean up the water are currently underway as the city awaits potential funding from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

A portion of Thatcher Brook near I-95 in Biddeford is pictured on Sept. 14. The brook has been heavily polluted for years, and efforts to clean up the water are currently underway as the city awaits potential funding from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

BIDDEFORD — It’s been seven years since a major plan to restore Thatcher Brook to its former glory was established, when the brook was listed as an “impaired stream” by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

Now, efforts to save the brook and the surrounding 4,500-acre watershed are in full swing, as city officials await potential funding to bolster remediation efforts.

The 7.7-mile-long Thatcher Brook is a tributary of the Saco River. Beginning in west Biddeford, it flows into Arundel and crosses the Maine Turnpike twice before flowing back into downtown Biddeford, where it empties into the Saco River.

The MDEP listed the brook as impaired in 2009 for failing to meet water quality standards for its classification as a Class B stream, which means the brook must meet certain swimmable and fishable standards because of its location.

About 2.7 miles of Thatcher Brook are heavily polluted, according to the Biddeford Conservation Commission.

The cause of the pollution, said Ken Buechs, vice-chair of the BCC, is runoff from impervious surfaces such as rooftops, roads and parking lots.

“The major issue is runoff; that’s what pollutes our streams. It consists of oil droppings, dog poop, pesticides and herbicides that pollute,” Buechs said.

In 2009, the city received about $60,000 from the MDEP to prepare a watershed management plan for the Thatcher Brook Watershed area, with the goals of improving the quality of water in Thatcher Brook, maintaining that quality, and reaching out to the public to garner community support for preservation of the watershed.

“To restore it to the level (it once was), that’s what our goal is,” said city engineer Tom Milligan. “(The brook) wasn’t that far gone that it hasn’t had a chance to be restored. (The plan) certainly will improve the water quality to meet its Class B standards.”

Total cost of the project, which is currently underway, is projected at just under $1.3 million. Phase 1, which includes public education and outreach in addition to construction work, comes in at about $500,000, Milligan said.

In June, the city applied for a grant under Section 319 of the Clean Water Act through MDEP to fund remediation efforts. While the amount the city may be awarded is unknown, Buechs said he anticipates an announcement of MDEP funding within the next couple of weeks.

So far, Milligan said, he expects the project to be completed on time. Phase 1 is set to be finished by 2020, and Phase 2, which involves heavier construction work and increased outreach programming, is scheduled to be completed by 2025.

In the meantime, Milligan said, there are two sewer separation projects underway in the city, which will ease the burden on the city’s drainage system during heavy rains.

“When anything comes in front of the Planning Board about that watershed and elsewhere in the city, we make sure to use good erosion control techniques, best management practices and manage anything that could carry runoff to a water body,” Milligan said.

The next step, he said, is to continue educating the public about what steps it can take to reduce the environmental impact.

“A lot of the parts of that management plan are public education, public outreach so that we can educate the public on what the sources of the pollution are, how they can reduce them on an individual level,” Milligan said. “The Conservation Commission has been a great asset and ally on providing that type of information to the homeowners.”

In July, the BCC sent out 955 mailers to homeowners in the watershed detailing the extent of pollution in their backyard and illustrating steps they could take to mitigate runoff, such as reducing pesticide use.

“We’re trying to raise the consciousness of the people who actually live and contribute to that (pollution) problem,” Buechs said.

Pollution from runoff has been talked about at length recently, as the city continues to evaluate proposed changes to its Shoreland Zoning Ordinance that would exempt naturally-occurring rock outcroppings from counting as non-vegetated surfaces on buildable property.

For property owners within the shoreland zone, of which Thatcher Brook is a part, no more than 20 percent of their property may consist of non-vegetated surface. However, naturally occurring, non-vegetated surfaces would not be counted in the calculations.

Non-vegetated surfaces do not allow for proper absorption of pollutants that make their way to the watershed, Buechs said.

“The exception of outcropping of ledge just, to our point of view, flies in the face of runoff,” Buechs said. “The whole idea of controlling runoff is to have it either seep into holding ponds or seep into the ground, and obviously, outcropping of ledge doesn’t absorb any of the pollutants.”

The City Council has given preliminary approval of the ordinance amendments, and is expected to take up the issue again in October.

In the past, Buechs has said he is dissatisfied with the proposed exemption. At a council meeting in August, he said the changes didn’t make any sense.

“This proposed change, if approved as presented, would add to our problems,” he said. “It is counterproductive. It is illogical.”

— Staff Writer Alan Bennett can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or [email protected]


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