At its Jan. 22 meeting, the Thomaston Board of Selectmen heard a presentation by Pollution Control Superintendent John Fancy on a project that, if approved by the state Department of Environmental Protection, would allow the discharge of treated wastewater into an area known as the Black Swamp.

Located just north of the treatment plant and a storage lagoon, the Black Swamp is actually named after a prior owner of the area, according to Fancy.

The project, which has been studied by Stantec Consulting Services Inc. and is now being reviewed for approval by the DEP, will serve as a "buffer for the future without tremendous expense," Fancy said.

The study began more than five years ago, when Dragon Products started discharging millions of gallons of wastewater into the public sewer.

"I got to thinking about our collection system and where we may run into a problem," Fancy said.

He explained that the treatment plant currently handles less than it is designed to, even with the influx of double the amount during the recent rains and snowmelt.

"Where we ran into a roadblock is the handling of wastewater after it's treated," he said, adding that there are two options. One is to spray it over existing collection fields, which can only be done in the warm months, or discharge it into the St. George River, which can only be done in January, February and March, because the river is used for fishing at other times.

"The rest of the time we are kind of stuck," Fancy said.

Since the study began, however, the DEP has said that spraying the discharge over its system's field can be done from March through November, leaving only one month without a solution.

Fancy said each of the five spraying fields — which are approximately 12 acres each — are pretty well at capacity and take up a lot of land.

Fancy said the system runs short of water to spray during the dry summer months, has more water than needed in the wintertime, and is full to capacity in the spring.

"There is no way DEP will allow us to increase our discharge into the river," he said, adding that 900,000 gallons a day is the limit in January through March. "Their goal is to have us eliminate the discharge," he said.

So Fancy said he started considering other possibilities and began looking at wetland discharge, either in a constructed wetland or an existing wetland that is used, which he said is commonly done in other states.

He explained that the treated discharge is released into the wetland and ends up running into a receiving body of water — in this case, the St. George River.

In October, Stantec monitored discharge at several points in Thomaston's system and evaluated the amount of organic material in the wetlands. Then, in November, another study revealed that the consultant did not feel there could be enough discharge from the lagoon and wetlands to affect the stream.

Fancy said another option he tested was having the discharge sprayed into ice piles, however, the temperature has to be no higher than 15 degrees for it work well.

He said that although the system has been improved, it is not going to solve the long-term problem. He also said that, adding in rainwater totals, there are some months the storage lagoon is at full capacity, and that is not the way to handle the system.

Therefore, he looked into the possibility of adding the Black Swamp as a discharge area.

Fancy said this would allow the storage lagoon's capacity to be cut to 40 percent, and would decrease the amount of spraying needed in other areas, leading to an additional storage capacity of 35 million gallons — a buffer for the future.

"Plus, there's zero discharge to the river," Town Manager Valmore Blastow said. "That's what's important."

"A great thing, given the fact that the St. George River is one of the largest shellfish areas in the state of Maine," Fancy said.

Fancy said once the DEP determines whether to approve the project, an engineer will be hired to get design and operating costs.

"This seems like a no-brainer," Selectman Bill Hahn said.

Courier Publications reporter Beth A. Birmingham can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or via email at bbirmingham@villagesoup.com.