This diagram shows the area around the wastewater treatment facility at Loring Commerce Center, located on the former Loring Air Force Base in Limestone. Expected upgrades to Loring's sewer lines could save officials thousands in annual wastewater treatment costs. Credit: Courtesy of Limestone Water &; Sewer District

LIMESTONE, Maine — The Loring Development Authority will use $1 million in federal funds to fix a 70-year-old wastewater system and potentially save thousands of dollars.

For decades, the wastewater treatment plant at the former Loring Air Force Base in Limestone has treated more water than it should, costing the town and Loring Development Authority upwards of $360,000 a year.

The development authority operates the Loring Commerce Center, a 3,800-acre industrial, commercial and aviation complex that employs 750 people.

With monthly water and sewer bills topping $30,000 due to extra water flow, the project could slash costs dramatically. The upgrades come at a crucial time, as the center prepares to welcome a $4 billion sustainable aviation fuel facility. Because the development group is trying to attract more large employers, dealing with aging infrastructure will make the region more attractive.

The wastewater treatment plant and adjoining pipes were constructed around the time that Loring opened as an Air Force base in 1953. In recent decades, the vitrified clay pipes have broken and cracked, allowing groundwater and rainwater to seep in and flow to the treatment plant on West Gate Road in a process known as inflow and infiltration.

The Limestone Water & Sewer District pays yearly volume charges, determined by water flow and electricity usage, and for chemicals used to treat water. Both costs doubled in 2022, a year that saw high rainwater runoff during April and May snow melt.

“Our volume charge is around $150,000 a year when we have high runoff,” District Superintendent Jim Leighton said. “Our chemical costs are typically around $3,000 per year, but they are at least $2,000 more in a high runoff year.”

Ideally, the plant should only be treating the less dirty water from nearby residential and commercial properties’ septic systems. But extra water flowing through means more costs for the Limestone Water & Sewer District, which operates the treatment plant, and for the development authority, a district customer.

The Loring Development Authority typically pays the district $30,000 per month to cover water treatment, but those charges tend to double when more ground and rainwater flow in, Leighton said.

The $1 million in congressional funds — proposed by U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat, and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, as part of the omnibus spending bill signed by President Joe Biden in December — will help the authority finish sewer upgrades that they hope will decrease those costs.

Starting in 2004, engineers constructed a new pipeline from the northeastern, mostly residential, side of the Loring Commerce Center to the treatment plant.

With the new funds, the LDA will finish that project in six phases, the first of which will tackle high priority areas in 2023. Those areas will be the ones with the highest recorded levels of inflow and infiltration, said Carl Flora, president and CEO of the Loring Development Authority.

“It will involve your basic earthwork: digging trenches, installing new sewer lines, connecting existing lines to new lines and replacing manholes,” Flora said.

That work will likely begin around the same time that the LDA takes on one of its most major projects since taking over Loring in 1994.

In 2021, the authority was awarded $3.1 million in congressional funds proposed by Collins to convert four-lane roads to two lanes and demolish blighted buildings that have gone unused since the area’s Air Force days.

Starting this year, development authority officials plan to discuss which roads are in most need of repair and what buildings to tear down first. They hope to go out for bid on the sewer upgrades and other projects before this year’s construction season, Flora said.

As Loring’s infrastructure continues to age and the development group moves forward with future business ventures, the upgrades will be necessary for growing the number of large-scale employers, he noted.

“If things aren’t in good shape, it’s only going to be more costly to deliver and treat water for people who need it,” Flora said. “[These investments] will only get more costly if we don’t address the problems now.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated legislative sponsors of the Loring wastewater funding proposal. Both Jared Golden and Susan Collins sponsored the funding.