A mid-tide laps up against the riprap in front of Blue Hill's wastewater treatment facility on July 20, 2022. The facility is getting $1 million in upgrades because its susceptible to backups during the more frequent extreme high tides. Credit: Ethan Genter / BDN

State and town officials said this week that they plan to put $1 million toward protecting the wastewater treatment facility in Blue Hill that is increasingly in danger as sea levels rise.

The funding, announced by Gov. Janet Mills Tuesday, will be used to upgrade the imperiled municipal facility on Blue Hill Harbor as it becomes more susceptible to backups at extremely high tides, potentially causing issues for the entire region.

Blue Hill Select Board member Ellen Best said the state is contributing $975,000 via a grant and the town is responsible for a $25,000 match. The town and other climate change groups are also working on securing millions of dollars in other funding, which could help set the facility on track to resolve its estimated $3.5 million in immediate concerns. 

“It’s a big chunk of what we needed to spend,” Best said. “We’re having more higher tides and it’s making this a serious issue.”

The plant was built along the town’s main harbor in 1975 and is one of the community’s most vulnerable assets. For the past few years, exceptionally high tides have caused water to rise above the pipe that releases final effluent from the facility. That sea water can then cause backups in the chlorine tank and strain its filtration system.

While no lasting damage has happened yet, officials across the region fear what a failure at the facility would mean for the region. The plant services most of downtown Blue Hill, the hub of the Blue Hill Peninsula. The downtown area has the area’s only hospital, the only two major grocery stores and the peninsula’s high school.

“You don’t want that stuff backing up,” said Randy Curtis, a member of Blue Hill’s sea level rise task force. “It’s the hospital, it’s the schools, it’s Tradewinds, it’s the YMCA and all the retail downtown.”

The treatment plant’s susceptibility is so concerning that 17 officials from surrounding towns wrote letters of support so the project could get the money from the Maine Infrastructure Adaptation Fund.

This initial funding will help pay for a new pump that would push the sea water and backed up effluent out of the facility during storm surges and higher tides as the town looks at better long-term solutions. It’s likely that Blue Hill will cover its portion of the costs with American Rescue Plan Act money it received earlier in the pandemic.

Blue Hill was one of 13 Maine communities that the state gave about $20 million funding in total through the program, which received money through the recent federal bipartisan infrastructure spending package.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated how much money the state and town would contribute to the project. The state will contribute $975,000 via a grant and the town is responsible for $25,000.