Camden Wastewater Department staff are fielding questions and assisting homeowners who received a letter in January informing them that storm water drains or sump pumps are connected to the town's wastewater system, and that these connections need to be fixed.

The letters were sent out Jan. 22 to 92 property owners, informing them of the problem, and the need to fix it within 150 days, as well as $100 fines per day if the problem is not repaired.

The letters are part of a program to eliminate the infiltration of storm water into the sewer system, which can cause an overflow of wastewater into Camden Harbor, the Megunticook River and local streams. Last summer, the Camden Conservation Commission hired two interns to boost the effort to clean up Camden Harbor, with one intern focused on voluntary home inspections.

Wastewater Department operator John Cummins said Feb. 14 that he and other staff are fielding telephone calls regarding the letters, and visiting homes to help owners understand the problems. Everyone he has spoken to have been very cooperative and understanding, he said.

Wastewater Department Superintendent David Bolstridge said that overall staff has had a good response, once they explain the effort to improve water quality and keep pump stations from discharging untreated wastewater into the harbor. He said that when property owners have questions, staff offers to visit the residence "to look at the situation and help owners choose the least expensive options to fix the problems."

He has also spoken to owners who will not return to their Camden properties until later this year. He said he has heard from such residents that they are scheduling work to be done when they return. Bostridge said the 150-day period to fix the infiltration of storm water into the sewer extends into June, allowing for some properties that may need earth work to fix the problem.

Camden Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell is hearing from residents who are unhappy about the letters, and spoke to their concerns at the Feb. 6 Select Board meeting. She assured property owners "that the town is committed to working with you to address this issue."

She recognized that home owners voluntarily allowed plumbing surveys of their homes.

"We greatly appreciate your willingness to work with us to solve a problem that is compromising the water quality in our harbor and the river," she said.

Caler-Bell said the town did not intend to penalize homeowners for cooperating with the surveys, and that any fines are "a last resort, and would only be considered in the event that someone was completely unwilling to work with us to fix this problem."

She said the town will work with property owners, and a number of Select Board members are interested in discussing ways to help residents, who may need financial assistance to fix the problems.

Caler-Bell also suggested that board members use $15,000 from a Wastewater Department reserve account to hire two summer interns to complete the study of erroneous connections between storm water and the sewer this summer. The interns work with both the Conservation Commission and and the Wastewater Department.

Roger Rittmaster, chairman of the Conservation Commission, explained that the group applies for grants to pay the interns, but the reserve account funds would allow them to advertise for the interns now, and would fund the interns in case the grants are not received. Last year, grants were matched by the Wastewater Department.

Board members unanimously voted to use $15,000 from a wastewater reserve account to hire two interns to assist the Wastewater Department complete the inflow and infiltration survey.