ROCKPORT, Maine — The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has warned Rockport that deficiencies at its neighbors’ sewer plants may prevent those facilities from handling additional waste from planned Route 1 sewer line extensions.
The DEP sent a letter Dec. 29 to officials in Rockland, Camden and Rockport in response to plans by Rockport to extend sewer lines for potential development. Rockport does not have its own treatment plant and pipes its sewage and stormwater runoff to facilities in Rockland and Camden.
“Please be advised that both Camden and Rockland would be liable for any and all waste discharge permit violations that might occur as a result of taking on additional flow from Rockport,” according to a letter from James Crowley, compliance supervisor and pre-treatment coordinator for the DEP water quality division.
“While it is a serious issue, it is not one we need to panic over immediately,” Rockport Town Manager Richard Bates said to Select Board members in a memo last week.
He said the problems in Camden and Rockland are not caused by Rockport’s sewage being sent to those two communities.
“It is our opinion that this letter is to get everyone’s attention to a potential serious problem if Camden and Rockland do nothing to control their (inflow and infiltration),” Bates said.
Rockland is facing more than $51,000 in penalties to correct wastewater treatment deficiencies at its plant. The Dec. 29 letter pointed out that Rockland is involved in an effort to renew its state license for its sewage treatment plant as well as agreeing to an administrative consent agreement with the department.
Rockland has been cited for more violations during the past two years than any other community in Maine, and the fine is the largest that has been assessed in those two years by the state agency.
Rockland has been cited for more than 100 violations dating to 2008 and continuing through 2014, according to the DEP.
Terry Pinto, Rockland’s wastewater plant superintendent, previously has stated that many of the sewer lines there are more than 100 years old, rainwater is pouring into the sewer lines and added water is overwhelming the sewage treatment plant during times of heavy rains. The plant typically processes 1.8 million to 2 million gallons of water in a day, but up to 19 million gallons can flow through the facility during heavy rains.
The city will need to spend $1.4 million over the next four years to come up with a plan to repair its extensive and aging sewer system, Pinto said. Then the city will need to invest many millions more to repair it.
The DEP said the Camden plant is able to adequately treat its sewage flow, but the town also has issues with stormwater overflow affecting the treatment plant.
There have been overflows at two pump stations, at Mount Battie and Sea Street in Camden. The department acknowledged the town is in the process of upgrading those pump stations, but the “collection system problems may be exacerbated by additional raw wastewater contributions, such as those from the Rockport sewer extension and subsequent connections.”
At a special town meeting last month, Camden voters overwhelmingly approved borrowing $550,000 for replacing those pump stations.
The DEP official pointed out that the state permit for Camden’s plant is scheduled for renewal in 2018 and that it needs to address the amount of inflow and infiltration into the sewer lines.
David Bolstridge, who was appointed to serve as director of the Camden plant after serving as assistant director in Rockland, said Camden has been addressing that issue and will be conducting a house-to-house survey in the Sea Street area to determine whether sump pumps and perimeter drains are flowing into the sewer lines instead of storm drains.
The sewer lines that serve the southern section of Rockport— including Pen Bay Medical Center — send an average of 50,000 to 60,000 gallons of wastewater per day to the Rockland treatment plant. The northern section of Rockport’s sewer system sends 40,000 to 55,000 gallons per day to Camden. In addition, about 50,000 gallons per day of leachate water from the Midcoast Solid Waste quarry landfill in Rockport is sent to the Camden plant.
The DEP official stressed the department has no problems with the extension of public sewer lines along Route 1 in Rockport, saying there is an environmental and economic benefit to those projects.
Bates said Monday he expects Rockland and Camden will be able to continue to meet Rockport’s needs, but the town needs to keep an eye on what the neighboring communities will do with their sewage systems.
Rockport has a small extension planned northbound on Route 1 at the intersection of Route 90 that would connect to Camden. It also is considering two extensions on Route 1 — north from the hospital and south from where the town just finished an expansion at Sea Light Lane — to connect to Rockland. He said the first project could be done this fall while the other two are five to 10 years away.