ELLSWORTH, Maine — Despite having spent $21 million on a new wastewater treatment plant less than a decade ago, the city of Ellsworth still experiences problems with untreated sewage sometimes overflowing into the Union River.
Because such discharges are illegal, City Manager David Cole said the city could spend roughly $1.5 million to replace a pump station off Water Street, near where Route 1 crosses the river, to fix the problem.
On Monday, councilors awarded engineering firm Woodard & Curran Inc. a contract not to exceed $183,000 to design a replacement pump station at the same site, located directly behind Coastal Interiors.
Michael Harris, the city’s wastewater superintendent, told the council that the pump station serves two-thirds of the city’s wastewater system. He said that, during heavy rain and runoff events that usually occur in spring, the pump station sometimes overflows and sends untreated sewage into the Union River.
“It discharges out of the manhole by the station,” Harris said.
The total pump station replacement project, including design and engineering, is projected to cost $1.5 million, but the city has a $500,000 grant from the Northern Border Regional Commission that it plans to use to defray the cost, Ellsworth officials said.
Lisa Sekulich, the city’s public works director, said Tuesday that construction on replacing the pump station hopefully will get under way this fall.
Repeated sewage overflows at the city’s former wastewater treatment plant, at a site further south on Water Street, resulted in the city building a new treatment plant off Bayside Road in 2012. The city faced repeated citations from the state Department of Environmental Protection for the incidents, which occurred whenever the former plant could not handle high volumes of storm runoff that flowed in through the sewer system.
Such sewer overflows are not uncommon at wastewater treatment plants and pump stations in Maine and elsewhere that were built decades ago, prior to heavy rainfall events becoming more frequent as a result of climate change.