ROCKPORT — Town officials from Camden and Rockport have exchanged some strong words and even threats in a dispute over sewer costs.

The two towns have had an interlocal agreement for about 30 years to have Rockport send some of its wastewater to Camden.

On Monday night, March 21, the Camden Select Board voted unanimously to give Rockport 30 days to pay the approximately $145,000 it owes its neighbor for sewer fees or face possible court action.

This vote was followed by unanimous approval of a motion to give Rockport 90 days to present a plan for discontinuing sending its wastewater to Camden’s system. Camden officials have also said they will not consider taking on any additional wastewater from expansion of Rockport’s wastewater system, and Camden might even reach out to agencies that provide funding and grants for sewer projects to prevent Rockport’s expansion efforts.

Camden Select Board members argued Rockport has simply decided it will only pay what it wants to in terms of sewer fees rather than paying the full bill. Camden board member Marc Ratner said he would like to be able to only pay what he wanted to when it comes to bills.

“We have not seen any cooperative spirit from Rockport,” said Camden Select Board member Sophie Romana. “Nothing is going to change my mind.”

Camden Select Board Vice Chair Alison McKellar talked about the history of the towns’ agreement on sewerage going back to 1989. She said there were major concerns in Camden back when it was first proposed to take on sewerage from Rockport, including opposition from businesses that did not feel it was fair that Rockport businesses sending their waste were not subject to the same regulations that Camden businesses were.

She added that all of the wastewater comes out of a pipe near the windjammers in Camden Harbor and questioned what value there is to having Camden have this waste from other places dumped in its waters.

Town Manager Audra Caler said she knows Rockport believes they tried to negotiate in good faith. She said Rockport officials wanted to pick through the wastewater budget and take out anything not directly related to Rockport. Caler said that ignored the 30 years of agreement between the towns. She said there was a disregard for Camden’s burdens in providing the service.

Rockport Town Manager Jon Duke issued a press release Wednesday, March 23, saying, “That doesn’t sound like cooperation between communities, it sounds like extortion.”

He argues Rockport has raised questions about why the wastewater rate has doubled since 2016 and why Rockport users are billed for Camden’s needs that have no relations to treatment of Rockport’s waste. In each case, the town has received no response from Camden, he argued.

“The only response? Take it or leave it. Or better yet… take it or we will cut the pipe, let wastewater back up and create an environmental and public health disaster of Camden’s own choosing,” the release states.

“Rockport’s residents, like Camden’s, want our harbors and waterways protected but one simply cannot in good faith look at a town that sends an average of 70,000 gallons of waste to Camden’s wastewater plant, which is permitted to process 1,000,000 gallons, and state Rockport is to blame,” the Rockport press release states. “If Camden wants to say that they cannot manage their wastewater collection and must take back the 12.7% of capacity Rockport is allocated in their system, then so be it.”

It calls the assertions of the Camden Select Board “incorrect” and “misleading.”

“Only for the Camden Select Board to double down on these inaccuracies with a threat to reach out to funding agencies and work against Rockport’s efforts to improve our community,” the Rockport release states. “…Camden can cut pipes; Rockport wants to find solutions. We remain ready to meet with Camden at their earliest convenience to resolve this matter for the residents of both communities.”

Duke also included a letter he has written to Caler seeking a meeting with the “Administering Committee” concerning the Camden Select Board’s actions.

The Camden Select Board had begun the discussion at its March 21 meeting with information that Rockport owed on one payment $66,217 and on another $77,106.

The dispute should not affect the YMCA or the Midcoast Solid Waste Facility in Rockport, which have their own agreements with the town of Camden. In addition, Pen Bay Medical Center sends its wastewater to the Rockland system.

Camden officials noted that the Maine Department of Environmental Protection does not want Camden to shut down the flow from Rockport, but Caler said the department could not prevent that if it came to it.

Romana said she was saddened to see it come to this at a time when town governments are trying to work together in many areas and regionalize.

A plaque at the Camden Water Pollution Control Plant. Photo by Daniel Dunkle

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