Despite opposition from neighbors, the South Portland Planning Board on July 24 approved a special exemption for storage of construction materials at the Willard Hose Company fire station at 20 Pillsbury St. Krysteana Scribner / The Forecaster

SOUTH PORTLAND ⁠— Despite protests from neighbors, the Planning Board on Wednesday authorized an after-the-fact request from the city to temporarily store construction materials and debris at the Willard Hose Company fire station.

Several conditions were attached to the approval to try to mitigate concerns from nearby residents, who also received an apology from a city engineer.

The construction project responsible for the debris is a sewer separation and street improvement project, now in its second year, along Preble Street, Drew Road, Danforth Road, Chip Channel Road and Leighton Street.

Planning Director Tex Haeuser said the request for a special exemption was made because the city’s Water Resource Protection Department did not have to obtain approval for “laydown yards” in the past and was not aware the approval would be needed this time.

The fire station is in a residential neighborhood on Pillsbury Street, near Willard Square, where municipal buildings and associated uses are only permitted with special exemptions approved by the Planning Board, according to Director of Code Enforcement Barbara E. Skelton.

“I wish I could say no,” Planning Board member Kevin Carr said after hearing objections Wednesday from nearly 20 people. “But we are within bounds of what the board has to do. We don’t have a lot of choices. We can attach a number of conditions and that’s what we’re doing.”

Board member Linda Boudreau moved to authorize the use, citing conditions she believed were necessary to ensure residents felt their needs were being addressed.

The conditions include contacting the contractor, Dearborn Brothers Construction, to make sure it is aware of concerns about truck drivers speeding through the neighborhood; installing fencing to keep children from playing in the dirt piles; reducing the hours of operation to 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; removing materials not to be reused from the site as soon as possible, and implementing best practices to control dust from becoming airborne.

The goal of the construction project is to fix the deteriorating combined sewer system, which collects rainwater runoff, sanitary sewage and wastewater in the same pipes. While the system typically transports all wastewater to the city’s water treatment plant, heavy rainfall or snowmelt can cause overflow that discharges into the Fore River and Casco Bay.

The $1.9 million project is part of a larger series of work being done to address combined sewer overflow throughout the city.

According to Justin Gove, the city’s civil and transportation engineer, other locations were considered for the laydown yard, but didn’t make sense. A lot on O’Neil Street was suggested, but he said the driving distance to drop off materials would be twice as long, would extend the project schedule, require an additional truck, and add $50,000 to the cost.

“Why not use that lot? Doesn’t it make more sense? I received no notice, no information, nothing,” Pillsbury Street resident Shawn Reins said in reference to O’Neil Street. “What about the individual rights in this neighborhood? This is a wide-open space, no fencing, nothing to keep kids or pets out. It’s dusty, dirty, filthy, loud and it doesn’t belong there.”

Margaret Comerady, who lives at 433 Preble St., said dust and noise have kept her from opening her windows all summer. Steve Doyle, who lives at 34 Pillsbury St., had similar concerns.

“A couple of us have swimming pools, and the money it’s taking to maintain those this year is significant. We like the project, (but) we want your contractor to live up to some standard,” Doyle said. “There were children seen on (the dirt piles). We’ve tried to keep them out of there because of the nature of the beast, because of people coming in with vehicles. It’s just dangerous.”

Tom Journey, who lives on Lowell Street, said he returns late at night from his job as an airline pilot, and the construction activity four days a week has made it difficult for him to sleep past 7 a.m., when work would begin.

Gove said the project, which was originally supposed to be completed by September, will likely extend into October or November because of the reduced hours of operation. She apologized for its impact on the Willard Square neighborhood.

“We did not make an effort to notify people abutting people in the area,” Gove said. “It was a lapse and poor judgement on our part.”


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