Bangor’s ongoing, multi-year project to install a long-awaited new sewage storage tank along its waterfront has been sped up thanks to decreased traffic, and because of a lower water table due to drought.

That lack of traffic — in large part because the entire 2020 season at Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion was canceled due to the pandemic — also has meant that staff at Waterfront Concerts have been able to get more work done planning upgrades to the concert site.

Because there has been almost nothing getting in the way of continuous work on the project, crews may finish well ahead of a planned July 2022 completion, Amanda Smith, Bangor’s director of water quality management, said.

“As horrible as 2020 has been, one of its advantages is the fact that since there hasn’t been as much traffic on the waterfront, it has really helped speed the project along,” Smith said. “And even though it was really awful for so much of the state, the drought was also very helpful for the project, because the water table remained much lower than anticipated.”

A higher water table in the ground can make subsurface infrastructure projects more difficult, because the holes dug by workers fill with water before the work is done.

Construction crews worked to demolish abandoned asphalt tanks on the Bangor waterfront on Jan. 29. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

The project will bury a 3.8-million-gallon tank in the waterfront park so raw sewage can be collected during times of heavy rain and snowmelt. Like many cities, Bangor has storm sewers that are connected to the city’s sewage lines, which can result in overflows during heavy rain or melting events.

When the new tank is in place, it will allow the city to gradually send that collected sewage to its wastewater treatment plant, and keep it from getting into the Penobscot River.

Smith declined to make an estimate as to how many weeks or months the project was ahead of schedule. She said if crews can continue working into part of the winter, she expects to know sometime next year just how far ahead they are.

The project is part of a larger set of changes Bangor is making over the next decade to comply with a 2015 consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That agreement requires the city to make an estimated $62.9 million worth of infrastructure changes by 2031 to stop the flow of sewage into the Penobscot River.

The first leg of the project happened last summer, when the city replaced pipes and a piece of equipment known as a sewage regulator in the grassy area off Railroad Street, between the Bangor Savings Bank campus and the Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion.

Though 2020 has been a devastating year for the live music and entertainment industry worldwide, Alex Gray, president of Old Town-based Waterfront Concerts, said the company has been able to take advantage of the downtime to make some small improvements to the pavilion, and to firm up a larger plan to revamp the venue.

Waterfront Concerts shared photos on social media of its plans for more updates to the concert venue, including the addition of a new Main Street entrance and new tiered seating for the lawn.

A number of views of various updates to the Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion planned for 2021, including new entrances and seating areas. Credit: Courtesy of Waterfront Concerts

“The one silver lining of the pandemic is that we’ve had time to refine our whole approach to designing the venue we’ve always wanted,” Gray said. “We’re always under the gun to get things done as quickly as possible so the venue is ready in time for the summer, but we’ve been able to actually take our time, and make a comprehensive plan for the venue.”

Gray said that, unsurprisingly, his company has taken a major hit this year. In addition to canceling its entire 2020 concert season, Waterfront Concerts has had to furlough staff, though Gray is hopeful he will be able to bring them back soon.

“This time of year is normally when we start selling premium seats for the next year. We’d be coming off our biggest year ever, if COVID hadn’t happened,” Gray said. “Obviously, we’re not there. Our industry isn’t there. We’ve got hurdles to get over. We’ll need some help. But in the grand scheme of things, we know we’re going to get through this.”

That said, Gray said the state’s Stage 4 reopening plan, which began this month, was a positive step in the right direction, and that he’s hopeful that means they can have a 2021 concert season — though he said it’s up to the scientists to tell him and other venue operators when they can resume shows.

“The state’s Stage 4 plan brought us in a direction where we can finally see where things are headed,” said Gray, who said having a vaccine would be the major key in allowing them to reopen. On Friday, The state submitted a plan to federal officials for distributing the eventual vaccine.

“The timeline of when things can happen is the hardest thing to answer,” he said. “We just need good news from scientists. I think the state’s inoculation plan is a really positive step.”

Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.