Bob Flagg and Geeta Ramani walk along Baxter Boulevard and the pipes lining it on Sunday. The pipes will be used for a sewer system upgrade designed to keep untreated sewage and stormwater from flowing into Casco Bay. “Its a good thing they are doing, separating the wastewater from the sewage,” Flagg said. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Portland officials will close down Baxter Boulevard between Vannah Avenue and Payson Park starting Thursday as part of a project meant to keep sewer overflows out of Back Cove.

The Back Cove Trail will remain open as the work takes place over the next three months, city officials said in a news release Thursday. Workers have already installed a fence along Baxter Boulevard between the trail and the road, keeping trail users away from the construction.

The work is part of a larger ongoing project meant to keep untreated storm- and wastewater from flowing into the ocean, which can occur during heavy rain.

A 3.5-million gallon set of four storage tanks has already been dug into a field at the southern end of the cove. Now, city contractors are building a conduit along Baxter – the Back Cove West Storage Conduit – to connect the storage facility to a pump station just south of Payson Park.

Residents interviewed Sunday said they recently received notice that blasting was to begin this week, and not all were looking forward to it.

Rosie DeQuattro of Cape Elizabeth reads a notice about sewer system upgrades in the Baxter Boulevard neighborhood while walking with her daughter Elly Berke of Somerville, Mass. The sewage upgrade will cause disruptions along the heavily traveled thoroughfare. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

“Oh, it’s a nightmare,” Holly Lord said. “I’m just thinking about what it’s going to be like in the coming months.”


Lord was staining teak furniture outside her daughter’s house off Vannah Avenue; Lord lives nearby. She said the already ongoing work has caused shutdowns and delays on torn-up Ocean Avenue, as well as traffic backups on Forest Avenue.

Lord often walks the Back Cove Trail with a friend, but in past months the construction has forced them to meet at odd corners of the cove to find parking, she said.

But, she added, “It’s no one’s fault. It has to get done sooner or later.”

Trail users and nearby residents should expect noise, vibrations from construction equipment, traffic disruptions, temporary disruptions to driveways and home water and sewer lines, and dust raised by the work, according to the city website. Contractors will install temporary water lines running across yards to connect to homes disrupted by the project, and residents will receive notice beforehand, the city says.

Sargent Corporation of Old Town is building the $27.2 million, 2.25 million gallon storage conduit, which will stretch 1,700 feet in 8-by-20-foot precast concrete, along with another 2,133 feet of 60-inch sewer pipe. Along the way, Sargent will replace local sewers and storm drains, as well as build new diversion structures, which help direct the flow of water.

Construction in the Back Cove West area will likely continue through 2022, the city says, with final repaving of the streets as far off as 2023.


Portland operates a combined sewer system, which brings together wastewater from homes and businesses with storm runoff from parking lots, roofs and storm drains, treating the combined water at the East End Wastewater Treatment Plant.

When there’s heavy rainfall or snowmelt, however, the extra volume can overwhelm these systems. For that reason, combined systems are designed to overflow occasionally into nearby bodies of water – a phenomenon known as a combined sewer overflow, or CSO.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identifies CSOs as “a major water pollution concern” for the roughly 772 U.S. cities with these systems.

The latest stage of Portland’s ongoing project will consolidate the city’s eight CSOs – that is, the eight points where overflows can run off from the system – into two.

Boston-area cities are also grappling with CSO contamination in the Charles River and nearby waterways. Authorities there over the past few decades have closed some overflow points and installed treatment and monitoring systems in others. As of December 2015, CSOs had been eliminated from 34 of the 84 outflows that once dumped untreated water into the Charles and Mystic Rivers, as well as Boston Harbor, according to the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority.

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