Zoning changes and potential development surrounding Lake Auburn, background, has sparked a complaint to the Public Utilities Commission with area residents calling for an investigation into actions taken by the Auburn Water District. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal file

AUBURN — A group of Lewiston and Auburn residents have filed a complaint with the Maine Public Utilities Commission alleging the Auburn Water District has failed to uphold its duties to ratepayers and has failed to intervene in decision-making that could jeopardize the lake’s water quality.

The complaint, filed late Thursday afternoon, requested that the PUC open a formal investigation into the “acts and practices” of the Auburn Water District, including the “actions and inactions of its Board of Trustees, which threaten the continued quality of water in Lake Auburn, the district’s source of supply, and which may also lead to an unwarranted increase in the rates of the district.”

The complaint also requests the PUC issue a temporary order halting “such acts and practices” until an investigation is completed.

Bruce Rioux Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Joseph Donahue, an Augusta-based attorney with Preti Flaherty, is representing the residents in what is known as a 10-person complaint. Bruce Rioux, a former Auburn city councilor and Auburn Water District trustee, is listed as the lead complainant. He is joined by eight more residents from Auburn and two from Lewiston.

“The Auburn Water District has a regulatory obligation to protect the ratepayers from these negative actions as they did in 2008, 2011 and for the past 100 years,” Rioux said in an email Friday.

“Instead, the AWD has refused to adopt bylaws that will protect the lake from destructive development. In fact, the AWD has paid roughly $97,000 of ratepayer funds in lawyer fees to fight a city of Lewiston lawsuit brought about by changes to the watershed made by the Auburn City Council,” he said, adding that it’s “time for the PUC to intercede.”


The PUC has broad authority over all water utilities in Maine, including the Auburn Water District. While actions taken by the Auburn City Council and administration are described in the complaint, the PUC does not have authority to investigate them.

The crux of the complaint is based on what the group contends is the water district failing to meet its responsibility to protect the quality of Lake Auburn as laid out in its charter and a 1993 “basic agreement.”

According to the complaint, in the agreement signed by the water district, the city of Lewiston and the town of Turner, the district committed to “exercise its regulatory authority of the lake and the watershed … to such extent as is required or advisable to control and protect the watershed or waters of Lake Auburn.”

The complaint contends that by not exercising its authority to enforce land-use control measures to push back against moves from the Auburn City Council to ease water protection ordinances and efforts to develop the lake’s watershed, the district has failed to uphold its duties to ratepayers.

Such land-use control measures “have proven essential to preserving the purity of Lake Auburn and maintaining the (federal Safe Drinking Water Act) exception.”

The cities have a federal waiver under the act that allow them to supply drinking water to residents without filtering the water first, as long as the high quality of the water in Lake Auburn is maintained. Otherwise, the water authority must install a costly water filtration system, according to the complaint.


It also points to two commissioned reports — one by the city of Auburn, one by the Lake Auburn Water Protection Commission — that say the economic benefit of developing the watershed for housing and other uses did not outweigh environmental impacts and costs associated with a water filtration system.

“Auburn has plowed ahead with changes to ordinances that are crucial to the lake’s protection while the district has sat silent, violating its obligations under the Basic Agreement in the process,” the complaint states.

Auburn Water District Superintendent Mike Broadbent said in an email to the Sun Journal that the district will be reviewing the complaint and “filing an appropriate response,” but declined to comment further.

Water District board of trustees President Steve Milks could not be reached for comment Friday.

Reached for comment, Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque said the complaint “doesn’t matter.”

“It’s a moot point. … This is just political posturing (and) honestly doesn’t rise to a comment,” he said.

In a statement Friday, Lewiston Mayor Carl Sheline said he’s “heard numerous concerns from residents and businesses on both sides of the river” about the costs associated with a filtration system.

“The feedback is clear: Our families and businesses can’t afford higher water bills and this PUC complaint provides pushback against the total disregard being displayed for Lake Auburn and our water supply,” he said.

Donahue, the lawyer representing the residents behind the complaint, said the PUC will review the complaint, formally notify the district and determine if it meets the criteria for an investigation, which will likely take a few weeks.

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